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Women's NCAA Tournament Final Four Breakdown

March 30, 2012

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament was loaded with its usual surprises, such as 15 seeds beating two seeds and several big-name teams experiencing struggles when they least expected it.

At the end of the day, all four No. 1 seeds weren’t alive come Final Four time.

The women’s tournament was a different story. It turns out if your school had a 1 behind it in reference to seeding, your ticket to Denver was already punched.

The national-semifinal matchups involve strong clubs all vying to be the team holding the trophy at the end of Tuesday’s championship game. Here is a look at the two semifinal games:


No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 1 Connecticut (6:30 p.m. Sunday at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado)

The two powerful teams of the Big East Conference meet in the first national semifinal, and if the prior matchups are any indication this game could be a classic.

Notre Dame (34-3) has lost to Baylor (94-81), West Virginia (65-63) and Connecticut (63-54) this year, but the Connecticut loss was the only one in three games against the Huskies. Notre Dame beat UConn 74-67 in overtime and 72-59, both of those wins coming in Big East regular-season play. That enabled Notre Dame to win the Big East’s regular title by two games over Connecticut and St. John’s.

The Fighting Irish began the tournament with wins over Liberty (74-43) and California (73-62) in action at South Bend. When action moved to Raleigh, the Irish were just as potent with victories over St. Bonaventure (79-35) and Maryland. The Maryland game, which many thought would be closer than it was, turned out to be surprisingly lopsided as the Irish scored the 80-49 victory. Skylar Diggins, who was the Big East’s Player of the Year, lived up to her billing with 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Natalie Achonwa scored 18 points, Kayla McBride ended up with 16 points and Natalie Novosel had 14 points for Notre Dame, which will need that balanced scoring when it goes up against Connecticut.

Connecticut (33-4), in addition to its two losses to Notre Dame, fell to Baylor and to St. John’s. The Baylor loss was by just five points (66-61) and the St. John’s loss was a 57-56 heartbreaker. To reach Denver, the Huskies rolled over Prairie View (83-47) and Kansas State (72-26); at Kingston, Connecticut beat Penn State 77-59 and Kentucky 80-65. Tiffany Hayes scored 22 points, and freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 points to show signs that she will be a major force on this team for the next three years.

Let’s just say one thing: The margin in this game will be MUCH closer. These teams know each other very well and know what it takes to win the tough contests. On the surface, Notre Dame has more scoring weapons at its disposal, and Connecticut has the Final Four stamina (five straight trips to the national semifinals). In the end, Notre Dame should have just enough to advance to Tuesday night and play for the NCAA title against…


No. 1 Baylor vs. No.1 Stanford (9 p.m. Sunday at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado)

The magic number here is 12, as in Big 12 vs. Pac-12. The teams have only one loss between them and this game should be quite entertaining.

Baylor (38-0) has a chance to make history. No college program, men or women, has ever won 40 games in a season. The Bears have dispatched all challengers in the regular season and in the tournament. Baylor started with an 81-40 dismantling of UC-Santa Barbara before it stopped Florida, 76-57, in the second round. When action shifted to Des Moines, Baylor was just as dominant with wins over Georgia Tech (83-68) and Tennessee (77-58), in what may have been the last game for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. In that game, Brittney Griner just missed a triple-double with 23 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks, and Odyssey Sims led the team in scoring with 27 points.

Summitt was diagnosed with early-onset dementia before the season and has had assistants handling some press conferences, lending speculation that Summitt may call it a career. Baylor coach Kim Mulkey had a health scare of her own late last week when doctors diagnosed her with Bell’s palsy, a condition that causes face muscles to droop. Mulkey has been treated with antibiotics and should be good to go for Sunday.

Baylor beat Notre Dame and Connecticut, as mentioned previously, but has not faced Stanford this year. The Cardinal’s lone loss was a 68-58 defeat against UConn in the fourth game of the season, but Stanford has won 31 straight games since to improve to 35-1 overall. Translation: Someone’s long winning streak is going to end on Sunday.

Stanford defeated Hampton 73-51 and West Virginia 72-55 in the first two rounds before moving downstate to Fresno for its regional. Stanford defeated South Carolina 76-60 in the regional semifinals and defeated Duke 81-69 in the regional championship. Nnemkadi Ogwumike led the way with 29 points and nine rebounds and Chiney Ogwumike had 12 points and 17 rebounds.

As with the first game, this matchup should be a dandy. Griner vs. Ogwumike is a matchup many women’s basketball fans have wanted to see, and Griner wants 40 wins badly to end her junior season. Baylor should win by a nose.

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