Notre Dame Regional breakdown


Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw can't stand the idea of having regionals at home sites. It doesn't make for a truly fair tournament, she says. She's right.

But the way the Irish have played this season, the fact that Notre Dame is hosting a regional is hardly the reason they are favored to go to the Women's Final Four again. Rather, it's that this Irish team -- despite the loss of Skylar Diggins -- is an undefeated powerhouse no matter where it is playing.

Admittedly, so is that other former Big East giant on the other side of the bracket. While UConn travels to Lincoln, Neb., for what appears a not-very-challenging regional, Notre Dame is home, where the Irish have lost just two games over the past three seasons.

One of those was to Baylor in December 2012, and the Lady Bears are among the visitors to Notre Dame this weekend. But can they, Oklahoma State or Kentucky keep Notre Dame from Nashville?

Here are three X factors for each matchup.

No. 1 seed Notre Dame vs. No. 5 seed Oklahoma State

ESPN, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Big Mac: Notre Dame senior Kayla McBride -- who's averaging 17.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists -- is the basketball lover's basketball player. She always finds multiple ways to impact a game, and she's never afraid to take the big shot at the most crucial time. Admittedly, the Irish haven't been in a whole lot of close games this season, but if they face any from here on out, McBride will be ready for prime time.

Plus, she and fellow guard Jewell Loyd (18.4 PPG) do so much to make things easier for freshman point guard Lindsay Allen. They are always there to take some pressure off of her when she's in tough situations, and they've also helped Allen become a better decision-maker.

Peaks and valleys: While Notre Dame has been very steady this season, Oklahoma State has had a serious case of the ups and downs. Prior to the two consecutive victories in the NCAA tournament, the Cowgirls had alternated wins and losses since Jan. 22.

The key loss in that stretch came Jan. 26 at home against Baylor. Oklahoma State seemingly had that game won before a late 3-pointer by the Lady Bears sent it into overtime. The Cowgirls haven't defeated Baylor in senior guard Tiffany Bias' career, and that near miss really took a toll on Oklahoma State's psyche. But two wins in March Madness seem to have repaired that. Plus, the Cowgirls just got the boost of beating a good team (No. 4 seed Purdue) on its home court before facing Notre Dame at home. However, all of that is probably not enough to challenge Notre Dame.

Board dominance: The Irish average about 10 rebounds more per game than their opponents. The Cowgirls haven't been that dominant on the boards. And if they struggle shooting, the lack of second-chance opportunities could be very tough for Oklahoma State to overcome.

Pick: Notre Dame -- Mechelle Voepel

No. 2 seed Baylor vs. No. 3 seed Kentucky

ESPN, noon ET Saturday

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