- Associated Press - Saturday, March 18, 2017

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - It took the NCAA Tournament to bring Purdue and Notre Dame, once a heated rivalry, together on the playing court for the first time in four seasons.

The two teams will play on Sunday with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Purdue coach Sharon Versyp blames the changing landscape of college athletics and trouble agreeing on playing dates as the reasons the schools 150 miles apart in northern Indiana haven’t played since the 2012-13 season. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw blames Purdue.

“We want to play them. We’ve called them and they said it was too late, we couldn’t schedule for that next year when we played them every single year. So it just turned into a ‘We can’t find a date’ answer,” she said. “We would love to get that rivalry going again.”

Versyp said Notre Dame wanted to play at West Lafayette during the week and wanted to play the games in South Bend on a Sunday.

“I didn’t think that was very fair,” Versyp said.

She said Notre Dame moving from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten expanding to 14 teams also were factors, along with an annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge game.

Purdue dominated the series initially, winning the first six games. The Irish won for the first time when the 12th-seeded Irish upset No. 5 seed Purdue 73-60 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Lubbock, Texas, in 1996. The Irish beat the Boilermakers twice in the 2000-01 season, including 68-66 in the national championship game.

Purdue, the national champions in 1999, then won four straight before the Irish won the next eight straight, winning the last three games by an average of 26 points.

McGraw, in her 30th season as coach of the Irish, said the rivalry with the Boilermakers was Notre Dame’s best outside of a conference.

“We’ve had some great games over the years,” McGraw said.

The Boilermakers (23-12) will be seeking their first Sweet 16 berth since 2009 while the Irish (31-3) will be seeking their eighth straight.

LATE-SEASON SURGE: The Boilermakers were 0-4 against ranked opponents this season before beating No. 9 Ohio State 71-60 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals for their seventh straight victory. Versyp said the key to the strong finish is the Boilermakers are healthy after struggling with injuries early.

“I think it’s team chemistry. I think it’s a mindset. I think it’s our captain’s leadership with younger freshmen and sophomores,” she said.

Guard Andreona Keys said Purdue embraces the role as underdog against the Irish.

“We accept the challenge all the time. No matter who we play, we’re ready,” she said.

INJURY REPORT: The Irish don’t know if 6-2 forward Kathryn Westbeld, who is averaging 8.6 points, will be able to play Sunday. She has missed five of Notre Dame’s last 15 games with an injured right ankle that initially was described as a sprain but is now described as a bone bruise.

McGraw said Westbeld hasn’t been practicing and whether she plays will be a game-time decision.

“We’re just taking it day by day,” Westbeld said.

LATE START: McGraw called the 9 p.m. Sunday start, set by ESPN, “ridiculous.”

“It’s bad for the student-athlete who has to get to class Monday, it’s bad for the team that has to travel and it’s really bad for our fans. I think it has the opposite effect on attendance. It is detrimental to our attendance where we’re really hoping to get a great crowd,” she said. “Really a bad decision to play this game at 9 o’clock.”

Notre Dame, which has a season-ticket base of just more than 7,000, has sold 4,900 tickets for Sunday. Attendance for the first-round games Saturday, with starting times of 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., was 5,685.

McGraw said the home team should have a say in the start time because it knows its fans.

“I just think Sunday is a great day to play in the afternoon. I wouldn’t want to tip after 5 p.m. I think that’s even late on Sunday.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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