(Check back later Sunday for a UCLA-Stanford preview.)
(3) Michigan vs Notre Dame – 1:00 PM
To This Point:
Michigan have been frighteningly efficient to this point. They ran right over Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the opening round before easing past Illinois State on Friday night. When Michigan dumps you in a hole, you tend to stay there. That’s why taking the lead after three minutes was so huge for the Wolverines, who barely let up in putting thirty-three shots on the board. They’d put it away with two more goals to increase their lead to 3-0 just after the hour mark. Just as impressively, the Wolverines held both Hannah Leinert and Rachel Tejada without a single shot on goal. It’s the sign of a side peaking at the right time, though the pressure ramps up considerably from here on out.
It wasn’t quite the hammering some suspected it might be, but Notre Dame’s win over Western Michigan was comfortable enough in the end. With Western Michigan trying to keep the Irish from breaking them down easily, Notre Dame found themselves controlling play early on but going into the half still on level terms with their MAC opposition. Cari Roccaro would gave the Irish the much desired opener near the seventy minute mark as she snapped a shot off after Elizabeth Tucker’s throw-in. Notre Dame were probably never going to lose if they went in front, and they held out for a well deserved 1-0 win, setting up a glamour tie against the host Wolverines.
Names To Know:
Nkem Ezurike (UM) (CF) – Canadian got a ton of help from her supporting cast on Friday but still managed to break the program’s all-time scoring record with a goal early in the second half. Likely battle with Notre Dame center-back Katie Naughton could be one of the tournament’s best individual showdowns.
Holly Hein (UM) (CB) – May be on the shortlist of players who’ve most improved potential NWSL Draft stock after a tremendous senior season. Got a goal in Friday’s matchup but will be tasked with helping keep the Notre Dame attack quiet on Sunday.
Katie Naughton (UND) (CB) – Helped erase Tejada and Leinert from the equation on Friday. One of the nation’s best center-backs already but faces a huge test against Ezurike. Already looks like a possible first-round pick in 2016, and stopping Michigan’s battering ram would only enhance her reputation.
Cari Roccaro (UND) (MF) – Does it all really. Could be used up front to try and muscle her way through the Michigan defense or at center-back to give the Irish twice the power at the heart of the defense. She’s a game changer in midfield though, where her versatility and tenacity makes her a nightmare for the opposition.
The Bottom Line:
This might be one of the hardest games to call in the Sweet Sixteen. Both of these clubs are capable of beating just about anyone when at the height of their powers. It hasn’t always happened that way though. Michigan struggled with the likes of Butler midseason but looked to be the Big Ten’s in-form club going into the postseason, only to be bounced out by Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals in a shocking result. The Wolverines have recovered well and have shown a versatility on offense that hasn’t always been there with Ezurike’s tenure at the club. But the Wolverines also have been guilty of some wasteful finishing this season, and more of that will likely spell the end of their season.
The Irish almost always overachieve in this competition. They lost a lot of games close this season, some of them through self-inflicted wounds, some through what many would call controversial calls. There’s a lot of upside on Notre Dame’s roster, with the likes of Roccaro, Naughton, and Morgan Andrews all likely yet at their peak. The veteran leadership is there too through Mandy Laddish and Elizabeth Tucker, but Michigan’s probably got the experience edge from A to Z on the roster. Notre Dame has Randy Waldrum though, who’s conjured up gameplans to topple a lot of teams that have been favored on paper. I trust his big game record and think the Irish will move on.
(3) Michigan 0 – 1 Notre Dame [click to continue…]