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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Regional promises something for every women’s basketball fan

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, center, embraces a teammate as they celebrate after beating Stanford in a the Pac-12 Tournament n NCAA  championship game March 4  in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

Prepare to be entertained, Spokane basketball fans.

The Arena will host four of the nation’s most enigmatic women’s teams this weekend in the NCAA Tournament’s Spokane Regional.

They include top-seeded Notre Dame, which has overcome half a decade’s worth of ACL injuries to post one of the best seasons in school history; fourth seed Texas A&M and the most exciting freshman in the land; No. 2 Oregon and former Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves; and surprising 11 seed Central Michigan.

One of them will leave with a berth in the Final Four. All are sure to leave some indelible memories.

The fun begins at 1 p.m. Saturday when Notre Dame faces A&M. Oregon and Central Michigan will play at about 3:30.

There’s something for everyone in this foursome.

As the only Catholic-school team in the Sweet 16, Notre Dame could be a favorite for Gonzaga fans. The Irish are 31-3 and one of the top teams in the country.

They’re also one of the most inspiring stories in sports this year. Four players – “the Tore Four” – have suffered season-ending ACL tears.

The ordeal began last year. All-American forward Brianna Turner tore her ACL in last year’s NCAA Tournament and is sitting out this season. Guard Mychal Johnson was lost in preseason workouts and forward Mikyala Vaughn was ruled out just before the season began.

On the final day of 2017, in a game at Wake Forest, graduate transfer Lili Thompson tore her ACL.

“I’ve never seen anything like this many ACLs,” said coach Muffet McGraw, whose short-handed team also faced the toughest strength of schedule in the nation.

The Irish, who got here with easy wins over Cal State Northridge and Villanova, face a big challenge in Texas A&M and Aggies true freshman sensation Chennedy Carter.

The 5-foot-7 Carter scored 22 points a game this year to rank ninth in the nation, then saved the Aggies’ season last weekend.

A&M trailed DePaul by as many 17 points in its second-round game. The Aggies were still down by two in the final seconds when they turned to Carter.

Again rising to the occasion, Carter launched a long 3-point shot to beat the Blue Demons 80-79 and advance to Spokane.

For Oregon coach Kelly Graves, the regional is a chance to earn more success a mile from where he built Gonzaga into a regional power.

Now he’s done the same with the Ducks, who are 32-4 and coming off their first Pac-12 championship.

Oregon also has one of the top players in the country in Sabrina Ionescu, who averages 20 points and almost eight assists, and has set the NCAA record for career triple-doubles – and she’s only a sophomore.

“She’s so much fun to watch,” Graves said.

Fans at the Arena will watch Ionescu take on surprising Central Michigan. The Chippewas (30-4) are an 11 seed but didn’t play like it in a 95-78 second-round win at Ohio State.

“This team will not fold,” Chippewas coach Sue Guevara said after the biggest win in school history.

“This team is very tough, this team is very focused.”