Duke hopes to keep leprechaun from dancing
Posted March 9
Greensboro, N.C. — On Saturday, women’s basketball fans in Greensboro heard the famed Notre Dame Victory March for the first time at an ACC Tournament. On Sunday, the Irish will play Duke for the conference championship, and unless the Blue Devils can stop the heavily favored Irish, folks in Greensboro will experience another moment of Notre Dame lore – Lou the Leprechaun kicking up his heels in a victory dance! But more on Lou, later.
Notre Dame has beaten 31 opponents, by an astonishing average of 23 points per game. Certainly NC State Coach Wes Moore became a believer after the Irish thumped the injury-riddled Wolfpack Saturday 83-48.
“They pretty much always have five players on the floor that have a high basketball IQ,” Moore observed. “They can shoot the lights out, and they run their stuff extremely well. They react to how you defend them.”
So thorough was Notre Dame’s dominance Saturday that about the only positive takeaway for State is that star center Markeisha Gatling did not suffer any structural damage in Friday’s knee injury. Moore believes she’ll be able to go when State begins NCAA play in two weeks.
UNC Acting Head Coach Andrew Calder has also joined the ranks of the Notre Dame admirers.
“This has always been a defensive league,” Calder noted when asked to size up the Irish. “But because of the precision of their offense, you have to score against them. I think they’re going to change the league. Teams will have to execute better on offense to keep up with them.”
Calder’s Tar Heels nearly earned a rematch with Notre Dame after leading Duke much of the night in Saturday’s second semifinal. But turnovers and missed free throws helped generate a gritty Duke comeback. Down by as many as eight points in the second half, the Blue Devils tied the game at 60 on a rebound basket by Elizabeth Williams, then took control a moment later when Williams, playing with four fouls, blocked a rebound attempt by Stephanie Mavunga. Duke never trailed after that, although the Devils did have to weather a near miss on Diamond DeShields’ potential game-tying three point shot in the closing seconds.
And so now Duke faces Notre Dame. Again. The Irish won by 21 points in Durham and 11 points in South Bend, but Williams believes those scores are not indicative of what we’ll see Sunday.
“We had some good stretches in those games, but also some bad stretches. Sunday we’ve got to play for 40 minutes," she said. "And get our hands up on defense.”
Williams and the Duke front line helped limit Carolina to 34 percent shooting and also dominated the backboard.
But defending Notre Dame is unlike defending any other team in the ACC, because the Irish have so many weapons. Not only do they start Jewell Loyd, Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa, all of whom made the All ACC first or second team, but Coach Muffet McGraw says this team has the deepest bench of any she has ever coached. Super sub Michaela Mabrey is first off the bench. Says McGraw: “Michaela’s probably the first player I’ve had in a long time that has the absolute green light to pull up on the break and do whatever.” Mabrey is 8 of 12 in this tournament; 6 of 9 from three.
Notre Dame has piled up an impressive 78 bench points in its two tournament wins, far more than any other team. This has led to easy wins and plenty of rest for the Irish starters. Loyd, McBride and Achonwa played only about 20 minutes against NC State and 25 minutes against Florida State.
Duke’s key players had to play heavy minutes even in a 30-point win over Georgia Tech Friday. Because of injuries, there are now fewer of those key players to share the load. And then of course came the tense game with arch-rival UNC.
Duke’s senior sharpshooter Tricia Liston says Duke can prevent fatigue from becoming a factor.
“We can’t think about our legs,” Liston said after the 66-61 win over the Tar Heels. “We can’t start out shooting long jump shots, because our legs may not be there. We have to attack and rebound and get involved in the game that way.”
Despite injuries to Duke’s three point guards, Chelsea Gray, Alexis Jones and Chloe Wells, Notre Dame’s McGraw respects the team her Irish will have to defend Sunday.
“Duke probably has as many All-Americans on their roster as any team in the country,” she said Saturday.
Notre Dame is chasing a unique piece of history. No team from outside the Triangle has ever won all of its ACC regular season games and the ACC Tournament. In fact, Duke, UNC and NC State have only pulled off the feat a combined four times in 37 years.
Here’s another historical obstacle for the Irish: Triangle teams have won the ACC women’s championship 21 times in 37 tournaments.
Lou Ganser, the fine young man who wears the leprechaun suit will have his dancing shoes on, history notwithstanding. Ganser showed his stuff Saturday when the Notre Dame band played the well-known Irish jig “Rakes of Mallow.” And after ND polished off the Wolfpack, “Leprechaun Lou” kicked up his feet on national television for the traditional Notre Dame “Victory Clog.”
If Notre Dame wins Sunday, the leprechaun will show us his championship victory jig, and he even hopes to persuade Muffet McGraw to join him. McGraw typically wears high heels on the sidelines, so it’s anybody’s guess whether she’ll do any high-stepping with “Leprechaun Lou” as the celebratory balloons drop from the ceiling of the Greensboro Coliseum.
Duke may also have something to say about all this dancing. But two things to remember about the Notre Dame coach: She does have an Irish last name. And she has one heck of a team.