Mar 30, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
In less than two weeks, the Monogram Room will be the site of another great pre-game reception, as Monogram winners and their guests return to campus for the 85th edition of the Blue-Gold game. This weekend however, the Monogram Room is filled with laptops, cameras, video equipment, and busy reporters, as it serves as the media headquarters for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
For the first time in 31 years, Notre Dame is hosting the NCAA regional contests. In 1983, the university welcomed Tennessee, Georgia, Ole Miss and Indiana to the Joyce Center for the NCAA Mideast Regional games. At that time, the tournament field was 40 teams and March Madness was certainly not the drop-everything-you’re-doing-and-watch-basketball cultural phenomenon that it is today.
Though I can’t speak to the atmosphere more than 30 years ago, this year, there’s a special kind of buzz around Purcell Pavilion.
The excitement began on Friday with a full day of practices and press conferences for #2 seed Baylor, #3 seed Kentucky, #5 seed Oklahoma State, and of course top-seeded Notre Dame.
On Saturday afternoon, the Lady Bears topped the Wildcats, 90-72, in the first Sweet 16 matchup.
For most of the sellout crowd decked out in lime green, that game was just the opening act. In the second contest, Notre Dame came out firing. Coach Kelly would have been proud of the start, as the Irish put up two touchdowns worth of points before the Cowgirls could find the basket.
Led by Natalie Achonwa (23 points) and Jewell Loyd (20 points, 12 rebounds), the Fighting Irish cruised to a comfortable 89-72 victory to improve to 35-0.
Over the last few seasons, Purcell Pavilion has been home to a number of big games – notably, the men’s team’s upset of #1 Syracuse in 2012 and five-OT thriller vs. Louisville in 2013 and the women’s squad’s three-OT classic against Connecticut in last year’s regular season finale.
But there has yet to be a game as significant as the one on Monday evening (7:30 pm ET on ESPN), when Notre Dame and Baylor battle for a ticket to Nashville. The Irish are off to their best start in school history, hungry for a fourth straight trip to the Final Four and their first-ever victory over the Lady Bears.
The game is sold out, and with so much at stake, Purcell just might be even louder than it was for those victories over the Orange, Cardinals and Huskies. Let’s hope for the same result, and a post-victory Irish press conference right back in the Monogram Room.