Finding right February formula is key

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- February has the fewest days of any month on the calendar, but for Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, it's the longest month of them all.

McGraw has become an expert at diagnosing the symptoms that catch up to her players in February after a long season. Fatigue sets in, both mentally and physically, she says, and players are eagerly awaiting the start of postseason play.

"February is a grind," McGraw said before a recent home game at Purcell Pavilion. "You're ready for the tournaments to begin, you want to see where you're going to finish and what the seeds are going to look like, but you know you have to get through February to get to March."

McGraw says the top teams can push through the month, and Notre Dame has proved in recent years it is one of those teams. The Fighting Irish are 25-1 in the past four seasons during February, with wins over several ranked opponents such as Connecticut, Duke and Louisville.

But McGraw says winning isn't her focus until March rolls around.

"The regular season is just about getting better," she said. "It's not about winning and losing. At the end of the game, you might win by 10 or 15 and play horribly and have plenty of things to work on."

Along with continuing to push her team to improve, McGraw tries to carve out time in February to give her players rest.

"Having a day off is key to the players' psyche," she explained. "They need to be able to have that time, especially if you can do it on a weekend when they don't have to go to class; then it's a true day off."

While McGraw does her best to help her team navigate the month of February, she is also aware of the importance Notre Dame basketball plays in curing cabin fever for thousands of northern Indiana residents.

"February's a great time to be in South Bend," she said. "Our stands are packed because people are just looking for a reason to get out of the house."