For just the second time in NCAA women's basketball history, there's an all #1-seed matchup in the Women's Final Four this year at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The last time it happened was before most of the players on Baylor, Duke, Stanford, and Notre Dame were even born--1989.
And it just so happens that the most Catholic of coaches is coaching his NCAA women against the most Catholic of schools during the holiest week of the church year.
Since the Lord Jesus Christ is very big in sports this year ('Tebowing' anyone?), which team would He choose to win in a matchup of Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Palm Sunday? And what of the matchup of undefeated Baylor and five-time Final Four Stanford?
Frankly, I think the good Lord has a few more projects to attend to around the world. But I am sure He will be pleased if they all play their best and fight clean. And went to the church of their choice Sunday morning.
So, here is the breakdown:
Geno Auriemma has a special reason for hating Notre Dame. Nothing against head coach Muffet McGraw, but...."My relationship with the University of Notre Dame goes back to when I was a kid, " he told the South Bend Tribune. "When I was a kid, going to Catholic school all my life and not being able to get into Notre Dame. That probably (ticked) me off. It just escalated from there."
As the South Bend Tribune noted, Auriemma has railed on Notre Dame all season long, started at Big East Media Day, blaming the Big East's losing football teams to other conferences with Notre Dame's reluctance to join. Then, he railed on Notre Dame's piling points on lesser teams, such as the time they put 120 points on Pittsburgh...even though the Huskies themselves won more than a few games by 40 points or more.
Worst of all, it was Notre Dame in the championship game last year. They took down the Huskies in the Final Four in 2011 before losing to Texas A&M in a thriller at Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse, 76-70.
So Auriemma, who goes straight into coaching the US Olympic Women's Basketball team after the NCAAs, comes to this year's elimination matchup with more of a chip on his shoulder than usual. To get here, the Huskies defeated the second-seeded, exceptionally talented Kentucky Wildcats, 80-65 and Notre Dame took down a very determined, but exceptionally overmatched #2-seed Maryland Terrapins team 80-49.
The relative cakewalk they had in reaching the Final Four will be put to the ultimate test tonight in Denver. After all, the Look for Irish star junior Skylar Diggins, who had 22 points in the Maryland game, to team with senior Natalie Novosel (18 points) as they did against Maryland. And they''re taking Coach Auriemma's comments in stride. "You can't really think about it," senior Brittany Mallory told the South Bend Tribune. "People may say things to try to get you rattled. He's going to say some things. We're going to say some things. It's about what the players do on the court."
Who's going to win? Both are loaded with weapons...and defense. UConn had the nation's best point percentage, giving up only 46.1 ppg, while Notre Dame had the #1 offense in the Big East, averaging 79.2 ppg. In their matchups this season, the UConn-Notre Dame rivalry has been decided by 11 points or less, with three games this season going to Notre Dame before the Huskies took the Big East Championship crown. And both have an WBCA All-American, in Notre Dame's Diggins and UConn's Bria Hartley.
My prediction: UConn 65 Notre Dame 62.
It's somehow fitting that the Baylor Lady Bears have the opportunity to go 40-0 this season on the 40th Anniversary of the passage of Title IX. It is, after all, a reflection of how far women have come in creating their own mystique, backstories, and drama in the juggernaut known as "March Madness."
This matchup, however, has the future of the game..Brittany Griner, a 6'8 scoring and defensive phenonenon, whose teammates include "Odyssey" Sims and a woman named "Destiny." Is the universe saying something here? Not if the Cardinal, making its fifth appearance in a Final Four, has anything to say about it. After all, they were almost perfect, save a loss to UConn (37-1) They have a great threat in the Ogumwike sisters, senior Nneka and sophomore Chiney, a great post combination. If they can break free of the tight defense provided by the Bears, they might stand a chance. Let's just say that the Lady Bears are only a seven-point favorite. And that says something about Stanford's staying power and talent.
But winning will be difficult, if not impossible for Stanford, because of Griner's inside threat, as well as Odyssey Sim's outside shooting.
No team has season has found an answer to Baylor in any conference, and they have been an early favorite. However, with Stanford's resillience, and talent, they will make this game competitive.
My prediction: Baylor 55 Stanford 45