March 20, 2009

Notre Dame has enjoyed plenty of success at Joyce Center, including the NCAA tournament. Minnesota has some proud history of its own there.

Facing a setup similar to their first-round letdown 15 years ago, the seventh-seeded Fighting Irish open their 14th straight NCAA tournament with a matchup at home against the 10th-seeded Gophers on Sunday.

This is the fifth year Notre Dame (22-8) will be hosting first- and second-round matchups. The 23rd-ranked Fighting Irish have gone 6-1 in games played at the Joyce Center in the NCAA tournament.

Notre Dame's only loss was against Minnesota (19-11) on March 16, 1994. The teams' seedings were identical to their spots this year, and the Gophers beat the Fighting Irish 81-76 in their first NCAA tournament appearance.

Now, Minnesota is making its seventh tournament appearance despite losing four of its last five and a 6-6 road record.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, is 11-2 at the Joyce Center this season, outscoring opponents by an average of 14.6 points. The Fighting Irish are 38-7 at home over the last three seasons.

"We are thrilled ... to play in front of the best fans in the country right here at the Joyce Center," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "Minnesota is a quality team from the Big Ten and we're going to have a challenge on our hands in the first round."

Notre Dame is in a strong Trenton Regional that is anchored by top-seeded Connecticut. The Irish, though, gave the Huskies one of their tougher games of the season, losing 76-66 on Feb. 22 to a team that has outscored its opponents by an average of 31.5 points en route to an undefeated record.

Still, Notre Dame had plenty to work on in two weeks following a 58-47 loss to Villanova in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament March 8. Senior guard Lindsay Schrader was held to nine points and the Irish shot 36.4 percent (20-for-55).

Schrader, a first-team All-Big East selection, averages 12.9 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Minnesota is also led by an experienced backcourt, with Emily Fox and Brittany McCoy starting every game for the Golden Gophers the past three seasons.

Fox, a senior, is a three-time All-Big Ten pick and is averaging a team-high 12.8 points. McCoy, a junior, leads Minnesota with 4.1 assists a contest.

Fox and McCoy combined for 28 points and seven assists against Iowa in a Big Ten quarterfinal matchup March 6, but the Gophers lost 79-64.

Despite a poor finish, Minnesota was able to get into the NCAA tournament thanks partly to quality wins against Boston College, Ohio State and Michigan State.

"We did everything necessary to put our team in the NCAA tournament," Gophers coach Pam Borton said. "I'm glad the NCAA committee looked at the entire body of our season and rewarded us with an NCAA tournament appearance."

It's Minnesota's sixth bid in seven seasons under Borton, and it is 10-7 in seven previous appearances overall. The Gophers lost to Texas in the first round last season.

Notre Dame went 25-14 in its previous 15 trips, losing to Tennessee in the Oklahoma City Regional semifinals last year.

The winner will face second-seeded Texas A&M or No. 15 seed Evansville in the second round Tuesday.