In men’s basketball, a Notre Dame-Kansas Sweet 16 matchup would entail a traditional superpower No. 1 seed versus a Cinderella story. The storyline is the same in women’s basketball, except with a role reversal.
Skylar Diggins will face an excellent opponent in Kansas' Angel Goodrich.
The top-seeded Fighting Irish (33-1) put their school-record 28-game winning streak on the line Sunday at 12 p.m. EDT on ESPN versus No. 12 seed Kansas (20-13), which upset No. 5 seed Colorado (67-52) — on the Buffaloes’ home court — and No. 4 seed South Carolina (75-69) to advance to the Norfolk (Va.) Regional.
The winner plays Tuesday night against the winner of No. 2 seed Duke and No. 6 seed Nebraska.
After a 7-0 start to the season, the Jayhawks have been a pedestrian 13-13. During that time, Kansas never won more than two consecutive games but did lose four in a row. It finished merely 8-10 in the Big 12, and then 1-1 in the conference tournament.
Kansas had failed to make the NCAA Tournament 11 straight years from 2001-11, but last year it advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to Tennessee.
The strength of Kansas is its experience with the senior trio of 6-3 center Carolyn Davis (15.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game), 5-4 point guard Angel Goodrich (14.4 points per game) and 5-11 guard Monica Engleman, whose 9.9 scoring average was bolstered with a 27-point outburst in the upset of South Carolina. Goodrich led the country in assists last year with 250 and has 232 this season.
“I’m a fan,” Notre Dame All-America point guard Skylar Diggins said of Goodrich. “Her ability to get the ball to her teammates, her ability to push in transition, attack the basket and finish. ... It’s something that is dangerous to play against a guard like that.”
She ought to know.
There was a time when reaching the Sweet 16 defined a successful season for head coach Muffet McGraw and the Notre Dame women’s basketball program. Now that it has reached it for the fourth consecutive year, fifth in the last six years and 11th in the last 17, it is old hat, and anything less than a third straight Final Four would be a letdown.
The Irish have yet to trail in the tourney after routing Tennessee-Martin (97-64) and then winning on Iowa’s home court (74-57). Freshman guard Jewell Loyd (12.3 points per game) tallied a career-high 27 points against UT-Martin, while junior guard Kayla McBride (16.0 scoring average) added her own career high of 28 points versus the Hawkeyes. She has been on a tear while tallying at least 20 points in six of the last eight contests.
Versus Iowa, junior center Natalie Achonwa (13.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game) set a single-season school record with her 17th double-double. Junior Ariel Braker (5.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game) has been the inside complement and ideal role player to augment the star power.
Lurking in the background is Diggins — the team leader in scoring (16.8 per game) and assists (199) — who battled an illness during the first week of the tournament but has a proclivity to raise her game when the stakes grow.
The Irish played at peak performance in the regionals last year with crushing blowouts of St. Bonaventure (79-35) in the Sweet 16 and then Maryland (80-49) in the Elite Eight.
It might be that time of year again.
“I think we have a huge sense of urgency,” McBride said. “We have a lot of returning players who know what it takes to get [to the Final Four].”