TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne outlined her team’s plan for trying to pull off a monumental upset against unbeaten Notre Dame.
“We’re thinking of shooting about 80 percent,” she joked. “We feel like that will do it.”
The ninth-seeded Sun Devils will indeed have to be almost flawless Monday night if they’re going to knock off the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has been to three straight Final Fours and has won its last 14 games this season by double digits.
The Irish (33-0) are a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season and showed no signs of slowing down in a 51-point win over Robert Morris in the first round Saturday.
“I think when you’re playing well you just can’t wait to get back out there,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “Arizona State’s a very good team — very balanced, very versatile and very physical.”
Turner Thorne was being facetious when she talked about shooting 80 percent against the Irish, but the Sun Devils (23-9) did finish at 62 percent in their first-round win over Vanderbilt, overcoming turnovers and foul trouble to eliminate the Commodores.
Now, Arizona State faces the same question as so many other underdogs: Will the Sun Devils try to slow the game down against Notre Dame in an effort to keep it close?
“When you’re playing a team that wants a high-possession game and they’re favored, do you play the crawl ball?” Turner Thorne said. “I’ve definitely done that before. With our team, I think with Notre Dame, you’ve got to be aggressive and you’ve got to take the good look when you get it. I don’t think we can come down and hold the ball and then expect to get a good shot.”
Here are five things to watch when the Irish take on the Sun Devils:
CROWN JEWELL: McGraw had some high praise Sunday for sophomore guard Jewell Loyd, Notre Dame’s leading scorer. The 5-foot-10 Loyd is averaging 18.4 points per game — and a remarkable 6.3 rebounds.
“There’s no question, she’s the best athlete we’ve ever had,” said McGraw, the coach of the Irish since 1987. “She does some phenomenal things with and without the ball that nobody has ever been able to do before at Notre Dame.”
FOUL TROUBLE: Arizona State beat Vanderbilt despite a 27-9 disadvantage in free throws attempted. That’s not an ideal formula, obviously.
The Commodores went only 14 of 27 from the line. Notre Dame shoots 75 percent from the stripe on the season.
The Sun Devils will try to force the Irish to rely on their half-court offense.
“If we can limit their easy looks, take away their transition, take away their second shots, don’t put them on the free throw line — that takes away about 30-35 points,” Turner Thorne said. “Now you may be in position to beat them.”
McGraw hinted that she hopes the game will be called tightly.
“We do like to have some freedom of movement on offense,” she said. “We hope that we’ll be allowed to do that.”
ALL HANDS ON DECK: Arizona State’s depth was on full display in the first round, when 11 players were in the game for at least six minutes. That’s part of the reason the Sun Devils were able to overcome their foul problems.
“We can’t let up,” Notre Dame’s Kayla McBride said. “They play 11 deep. They’re going to be putting them in and out and pressuring us. We need to get them out of their comfort zone.”
SCOUTING OPPORTUNITY? Notre Dame played after Arizona State on Saturday, so the Sun Devils had a chance to watch the Irish a bit in their 93-42 win over Robert Morris.
Turner Thorne smiled during a question about whether Notre Dame’s performance was intimidating.
“They executed their game plan yesterday, and they had a pretty large lead, but we’re just really excited for this challenge,” Arizona State’s Kelsey Moos said.
Later, after the players had left the news conference, Turner Thorne seemed proud of their refusal to give away the team’s strategy or provide any bulletin board material.
“They kept it pretty close to the vest there, huh?” Turner Thorne said. “They’ve been coached up well.”
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: The Irish won a national title in 2001, but Turner Thorne said this might be the best of McGraw’s teams at Notre Dame.
“I think they are as good as any team I have ever prepared for,” Turner Thorne said. “They have the statistics and the balance. I think they have had more depth than they have had in the past. … This is the deepest team that Muffet has had.”
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