SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Ninth-seeded Villanova will meet an eighth-seeded South Dakota State team nicknamed the Jackrabbits when the two play in an NCAA women’s tournament first-round game at Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion.
But that does not mean that Friday night’s matchup in the Spokane Regional will be speed versus the Wildcats’ deliberate style of play.
“The way they play, the way we play, experience is a major factor,” said Villanova coach Harry Perretta, who has his Wildcats (22-8) back in the NCAAs for the first time in five seasons. “They know how to play in the tournament because they’ve played in it a lot.
“That’s my biggest concern, I don’t know how our kids are going to react, playing an NCAA tournament game. We were really young last year. We’re still young this year. They’re scary the way we they play.
“For me, it’s more familiar because of all the times we were here in the past,” said Perretta, alluding to competition in the old Big East before Notre Dame left for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“We would have rather drawn an opposite team because we’re so similar the way we play. It’s hard to play against teams who almost play exactly like you. It’s going to boil down to who makes the most shots.”
The Jackrabbits (26-6), champions of the Summit League, have made eight of the last 10 tournaments. They are motivated this year after being one of the two teams that barely missed making the 64-team field last season.
The two teams met once before at the outset of the 2012-13 season in a tournament at Minnesota. The Wildcats won that game, 71-47.
“We were experienced; they were not,” Perretta recalled. “The thing about them is not just that they can pass the ball, but they can pass the ball fast. My better teams were teams that pass the ball fast.”
The team stats are close, with SDSU having an edge in most categories.
“Our styles are very similar,” said Jackrabbits coach Aaron Johnson, now in his 18th season. “Both teams are skilled. Both teams can spread you out. The pace may be a little different.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, a St. Joseph’s graduate whose top-seeded Irish (29-3) played SDSU several years ago, called the team “unselfish and hard to guard because they have so many weapons.” But in making a comparison with the Wildcats and their former annual rivalry, she said: “Yeah, that’s another team no one wants to play.”
The Irish, who were in the top five most of the season despite suffering four key injuries, will open Friday’s doubleheader against 16th-seeded State Northridge (19-15), champion of the Big West. The Villanova game is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.
The winners will meet Sunday at a time to be determined for the second round.
“We really respect them in terms of their three-point shooting ability,” said Wildcats senior Alex Louin. “So hopefully our defense will be able to match their defense.”
Louin (12.7 points per game, 7.7 rpg.) is Villanova’s top scorer, while reserve Mary Gedaka (12.4) and Kelly Jekot (10.8) also score in double figures.
Macy Miller (18.1 ppg.) and Madison Guebert (14.8) are the Jackrabbits’ two scorers in double figures.