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Irish March On In Tournament Again

One of the last places folks expected to find coach Muffet McGraw’s Notre Dame women’s basketball team on St. Patrick’s Day 1998 was in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

And one of the most unlikely paths the Irish could have taken to the final 16 was through Lubbock, Texas, where, as a youthful No. 9 seed, Notre Dame upset No. 1 Texas Tech before 8,700 partisan fans on the Raiders’ home floor.

Next up for Notre Dame is Purdue in Saturday’s regional semifinals, also in Lubbock.

Notre Dame reached the Final Four last year, but four starters graduated, including the No. 1 and No. 3 scorers in the 1997 NCAA Tournament, Katryna Gaither and Beth Morgan.

Along with guard Mollie Peirick, a senior and the only holdover regular, the Irish start junior Sheila McMillen and three first-year players: 6-foot-5 freshman center Riley, 6-2 Kelley Siemon and Niele Ivey. Danielle Green is the first player off the bench.

Kari Hutchinson, formerly of St. George’s school in Spokane, played in the second-round win over Texas Tech but did not score.

Expectations were not as high this season, and the Irish were just hoping to make the NCAA field. Still, they will take a 22-9 record against Purdue, also 22-9.

The Irish defeated the Boilermakers 77-71 in South Bend earlier this season.

Magic is back from Rutgers

In her first two years as the women’s basketball coach at Rutgers, Vivian Stringer struggled. Her team lost more games than it won. Some players missed their old coach and left the team.

People wondered if Stringer had lost the magic that had helped her lead Cheyney State and Iowa to Final Four appearances.

The magic is back. Rutgers, an 11-17 team last season, is 22-9 in Stringer’s third season. The team has reached the round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament with nine freshmen and sophomores, all recruited by Stringer, among its 12 players.

“They probably have no fear,” Stringer said. “They’re like innocent babies who take chances. Kids will stumble and get up because ultimately they will walk. As we get older and more experienced, we are less likely to take chances. This group doesn’t know about that.”

Just as well. In the last minute against Oregon, Tomora Young buried a 3-point shot and Linda Miles applied the icing with two free throws. Against Iowa State, Natasha Pointer won the game with two free throws with 9.3 seconds left.

NCAA seals coach’s lips

Alabama coach Rick Moody has been ordered by the NCAA not to talk about the controversial finish in the Crimson Tide’s second-round NCAA Tournament win over UCLA.

“They sent us a bulletin stating that any further comments would have to come from their office,” Moody said Tuesday during telephone interviews with reporters.

The NCAA has admitted that officials erred in not checking the replay before leaving the court following Alabama’s 75-74 victory over UCLA on Sunday.