The grind of the NCAA Tournament is one of the most difficult aspects for a team to overcome when wanting to make a deep run to the Final Four.
The Irish women's basketball team is getting a bit of a break from that grind this week thanks to being the host of the NCAA Regionals. Notre Dame is not on the road all week long--instead at home preparing to face Oklahoma State Saturday at 2:30 in the Sweet 16.
"The tournament is a marathon, it's not a sprint," senior Natalie Achonwa explains. "To be at home during that marathon is very comforting to be in your own locker room, to be on your own court, in your own and see the green in the stands--it's a lot of extra motivation."
"It's a comfort level," Irish coach Muffet McGraw adds. "The Girls went to class today--we didn't have to miss any classes today. We're not traveling--we're at home. They are sleeping in their own beds--in their normal routines. I think its been really good for us."
The Irish practiced on their home floor for the final time on Friday. It's got a different feel. The NCAA signs are in full force and the traditional Irish colors are gone in favor of the NCAA's neural blue and black design. It means gameday is just about here.
"It was nice to see the logo out their and it just got real," McGraw said. "The intensity got ratchet up a bit at practice."
Saturday's Regionals, which will begin with a clash between Baylor and Kentucky at Noon with Notre Dame and Oklahoma State to follow, is a sellout and the Irish know the majority of the fans in the stands will be there to cheer them on.
"I think it's going to be electric," McGraw says of the atmosphere. "I think its going to be so much fun to walk in and see the green in the stands for the Irish. We're so excited to be able to play here in front of our fans."
And because they are playing in front of their fans--the Irish want to ensure they send their crowd home happy.
"I feel very protective," Irish senior Kayla McBride says. "I feel comfortable because we get to play in front of our fans but I also feel very protective. As a senior, no one wants to go out and lose their last game on their home court."
Notre Dame enters the game with a perfect 34-0 record. They have no intentions of allowing a blemish to come now.
"At the very beginning of the year--one of our goals was to not lose on our home court," says Achonwa. "So you have the motivation to not lose in the Sweet 16, the motivation to not lose at home--and especially for the seniors, you have the motivation of not wanting to end your Notre Dame career."