Sweet Sixteen 1981.
Coach Digger Phelps, along with seniors Kelly Tripucka and Orlando Woolridge, led Notre Dame to an outstanding 21-5 regular season record in the 1980-1981 season. Though still an independent, by 1980 the Irish had some familiar names showing up on the schedule by today’s standards. Villanova, Marquette and Virginia, to name a few. Notable during the regular season were wins over 10th-ranked Maryland, second-ranked Kentucky and seventh-ranked Indiana.
Despite a loss to second-ranked DePaul in the regular season finale, the Irish earned a two seed in the NCAA Tournament. They faced James Madison in the first round, dispatching the Dukes 54-41 behind 21 points from Tracy Jackson and 13 from Kelly Tripucka.
In the Sweet Sixteen, the Irish ran into Danny Ainge’s BYU squad. BYU was on a roll; after defeating Princeton in the first round they steamrolled a higher-seeded and higher-ranked UCLA squad, 78-55. The Irish held the Cougars to 51 points, but unfortunately only scored 50 of their own. A disappointing end to the college careers for Woolridge and Tripucka; though they would both go on to do just fine in the NBA. 1981 marked yet another year in which Notre Dame beat the eventual national champion, as well, as Indiana would go on to win it all. This, as Notre Dame fans know, is kind of a theme.