Ry’van Buchanan had just watched her team play with then-No. 14 Georgia for much of the first half only to watch things slip away.
“It would have been nice,” Mercer’s junior transfer said earlier this month, “to take down a Goliath.”
A bigger Goliath awaits.
Defending NCAA tournament runner-up and third-ranked Notre Dame brings a nine-game winning streak to the University Center when it faces Mercer in non-conference women’s basketball Friday night.
Notre Dame (12-1) hammered Longwood 92-26 on Wednesday, the same day Mercer (3-9) lost 88-74 to Winthrop.
Area women’s basketball and Notre Dame fans can thank Fraderica Miller for the Irish’s visit. Head coach Muffet McGraw wanted to get a game somewhere near Miller’s hometown of Atlanta before the Marist alum graduated.
“I’m sure she’s been looking forward to this game ever since the schedule came out, and I know we’re going to have a lot of her family and friends wearing the Notre Dame colors and cheering on the Fighting Irish on Friday night,” McGraw said. “We’re really looking forward to heading down to Mercer and getting to play in the state of Georgia, a place we haven’t been to in more than 15 years.”
The Irish haven’t played in the state since the 1996 Comfort Inn Classic in Atlanta when they beat Ohio and Georgia Tech for the tourney title.
The game is very much a coup for Mercer head coach Susie Gardner and the Bears.
“I played on a team like Notre Dame,” said Gardner, who was part of some of Georgia’s best teams in the 1980s. “I appreciate what they’ve done for the game. I respect Muffet and Notre Dame’s program because they do things the right way. We want to bring in programs that don’t come in the back door in recruiting. I have great respect for the coaching staff and the types of people that come with their program.
“I hope that the city of Macon appreciates the fact that Notre Dame will be competing for a national championship.”
Georgia was No. 2 when it visited Mercer on Feb. 4, 1985 and won 88-41.
This is the second time this season that the Bears have hosted a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, McGraw having joined Georgia’s Andy Landers (class of 2007) this year.
McGraw is 656-253 in her 30th season overall as a head coach, and 568-212 in her 25th season at Notre Dame. She has had only one losing season at Notre Dame, 14-17 in 1991-92, and the Irish still won the Midwestern Collegiate tournament and reached the NCAA tournament. Her second-worst season was 15-12 a year later, one of only two times the Irish haven’t won at least 60 percent of their games in a season under McGraw.
She went 88-41 at Lehigh, with 13-9 (58.1 percent) as her bottom mark.
And she played the game, starting at point guard for No. 3 St. Joseph’s (Pa.) in the late 1970s. McGraw is one of 16 active Division I head coaches to be in the AP poll as a player and coach.
Notre Dame was in the Horizon League -- known until the mid-1990s as the Midwestern Collegiate -- before joining the Big East. The Irish have one national championship (2001), a runner-up (last season), three Final Four and Elite Eight trips as well as nine Sweet 16 journeys, all since 1997.
And Notre Dame is not one to get upset. The Irish haven’t lost to an unranked team since the end of the 2008-09 season when Villanova won in the Big East tournament, and then Minnesota pulled off a surprise in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
More daunting is how long it has been since Notre Dame was shocked by an unranked team that wasn’t in the Big East or a major conference, or came in the postseason.
One has to go back 2002-03 when DePaul -- then in Conference USA -- won 75-59 at home. A year earlier, Rice of the Western Athletic Conference pulled off a 72-61 home win en route to a 21-9 season.
Before that, it was the 1995 Women’s NIT in Amarillo, Texas, when Notre Dame lost 103-93 to Northwestern State (La.) of the Southland Conference. Notre Dame also lost that season to Miami of Ohio, LaSalle and Northern Illinois.
All of that is why Gardner thought back to her playing days at Georgia, when the national championship contenders played scores of big games each year.
“One year, we had Cheryl Miller and Southern Cal come to Athens,” Gardner said. “This was before everything was on TV all the time, but Cheryl was a big deal because she was out in L.A. and she was a great player.
“There are certain games as a player, even though we played a ton of big games. ... I remember right now how it felt to have Cheryl Miller to come to Athens and what a big deal the fans thought it was.”
Mercer will face perhaps the new face of women’s college basketball in guard Skylar Diggins
Her résumé is dazzling: AP and ESPN preseason All-American, Big East preseason Player of the Year and unanimous preseason all-conference, candidate for State Farm Wade Trophy, John R. Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy. And that’s just this season.
She is a two-time Big East all-tournament pick, an honorable mention and third-team All-American, all-Final Four team and first- and second-team All-Big East pick.
The junior and Natalie Novosel are both 1,000-point scorers, Diggins 17th on the program’s all-time list with (1,266) and Novosel 22nd with (1,175). They were joined on Wednesday by Deveraux Peters.
It all adds up to quite an experience for Mercer.
“There are certain moments as an athlete that will stay with you forever,” Gardner said. “I think that this will be one of those moments.”