Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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48 APRIL 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY LOU SOMOGYI A dramatically shortened season merited a short summary. Playing their best basketball of the season, head coach Muffet McGraw's Fighting Irish (13-17 overall, 8-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) entered the ACC Tournament March 4 at Greensboro, N.C, riding a three- game winning streak before facing a woeful 4-25 Pitt team that was 1-17 in the league, had lost nine straight and had already lost twice to Notre Dame, most recently 74-52 Feb. 9. Remarkably, the Panthers pulled off the 67-65 upset. Panthers reserve guard Ismini Prapa, averaging only 1.5 points per game, converted all four of her three-point attempts for 12 points. That's the kind of season it was for Notre Dame, whose streak of 24 con- secutive NCAA Tournaments since 1996 was snapped. "Just another disappointing game in a disappointing season," McGraw remarked in her one-sentence curt summary of the contest. The ending to the season on March 4 was the second-earliest ever for the program, behind only March 3 in 1979 — the program's second sea- son when it was still in the AIAW. Over the past decade, late March and mostly April is when the sea- son concluded for McGraw and Co., while becoming one of the two or three most dominant programs dur- ing the 2010-19 decade that featured seven trips to the Final Four, an NCAA title in 2018 and a near miss last season. Since joining the ACC in 2013, the Irish had posted a 108-6 record (.947 winning percentage) in the league, including 17-1 in the postseason tournament that it had won five out of six times prior to this year. Seldom in history in any sport has there been a more striking decline from one year to the next, although 2019-20 did see two other dominant basketball superpowers suffer a simi- lar fate. The University of North Carolina men's basketball team finished in a three-way tie for last place in the 15- team ACC, and posted the same over- all record at the end of the regular season (13-18) as McGraw's squad. The NBA's Golden State Warriors, who advanced to five straight NBA Finals from 2015-19 and won three of them, suddenly owned the league's worst record by March 10 (15-49). In addition to losing all five start- ers that comprised the most produc- tive scoring quintet in NCAA history, this Irish season fell apart for reasons similar to the Tar Heels and Warriors: some crucial recruiting misses in the last three years, significant attrition via transfer, injuries and turning pro early, a lack of cohesion with virtu- ally new faces everywhere, and a fair share of coaching blunders or strate- gies while desperately trying to right the ship. Maybe the best example of an in- ability to get out of its own way was at Boston College Feb. 13, a team Notre Dame dominated the past de- cade until losing 75-65 at home Jan. 9. In the second meeting, the Irish held a 43-26 advantage before allowing a 20-0 run by the Eagles. Notre Dame's Destinee Walker then put her squad ahead 55-54 with 1.2 seconds left. Yet, with nobody guarding the in- bounds player, Boston College con- verted a perfect lob pass in the side court that led to an Emma Guy lay-in at the horn for the win. That encapsulated the whole sea- son: Whatever could go wrong often did. Muffet McGraw's squad won six of its last nine regular-season games, but was bounced in the first round of the ACC Tournament and finished 13-18 overall. It marked just the second losing season in McGraw's 33 years as a head coach and snapped a streak of 24 consecutive NCAA Tournament appear- ances for the Fighting Irish. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER Short & Not So Sweet Nightmare 13-18 campaign ends early after late surge

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