2013 Women's NCAA Title Game: LOUISVILLE (29-8) vs. CONNECTICUT (34-4) 7:30 pm, ESPN
This game is historical even before the Louisville Cardinals and UConn Huskies square off.
First, if March Madness is known as the Big Dance, then this is the 'Last Waltz' for the Big East Conference as we know it. The Cardinals and Huskies, known for their heated conference rivalry, are destined for different conferences next year. Louisville heads to the Atlantic Coast Conference. UConn will stay with the group of teams in the newly named American Athletic Conference starting next season.
Fresh off of Monday night's Men's NCAA Basketball title, the Louisville Cardinals have earned the chance to do what only eight teams prior have had the opportunity to do: win both mens and women's NCAA basketball titles.
The last time it happened was 2004, when the University of Connecticut Huskies took both titles.
Ironically enough, UConn comes into play again this year. They're taking on the Cardinals in the women's game.
As for assessing Louisville's chances at victory, I observe one rule when it comes to the University of Connecticut Lady Huskies: NEVER, EVER count Coach Geno Auriemma out in the postseason!
Auriemma assessed the possibility of a Louisville sweep with members of the media in New Orleans.
"If it were easy, it would have been done a lot of times, but the fact it's only been done once shows you how difficult it is to do," he told the Denver Post. "At the same time, this has been a magical year for Louisville. ... It's just amazing what they've been able to do, so I think we're playing against Louisville and we're playing against a certain karma maybe."
That said, this is his team's sixth straight NCAA appearance. Under Auriemma, who has coached the Lady Huskies since the 1980's, no matter where the Huskies have been on the AP polls, (this year, they've fluctuated between #2 and #3) they have proven a special breed in the postseason.
Somehow, whether his team was led by Diana Taurasi, Renee Montgomery or currently, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stefanie Dolson and Kelly Faris who earned earned AP All-America honors, they have consistently found ways to snatch a steely victory from the jaws of defeat.
Additionally, there is 6'4 freshman guard Breanna Stewart, who scored a career-high 29 points in their Final Four matchup with fellow #1-seed Notre Dame.
I'm hoping (Stewart) misses the bus," joked Louisville Coach Jeff Walz to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "She's playing like I think we all thought she would the entire year. I had the opportunity to sit next to (Syracuse men's basketball coach) Jim Boeheim at the Olympics, and he was like, 'Wow, there's this kid that plays open gym with our women up there at Syracuse. She's going to UConn, she's one of the best players I've ever seen.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I know.'"
Stewart is one of the women whose steel teeth are scary to watch. Never underestimate the power of determination.
And yet, there is the optimism of Louisville, which overcame low expectations and a #5 seed to get to the Championship game.
“We’re the ugly ducklings that ruined the party,” Walz told the New York Times "No one gave us a chance and we shocked everybody.”
For Louisville, the #5 seed out of the Oklahoma City regional, which earned the distinction of being the only 5th seed in history to reach a national championship: they had an easier time in an 86-78 win over the #2 Tennessee Volunteers and a 64-57 win over another #2 seed California Golden Bears.
The game against the Vols, who have been impressive this season even as they rebuilt under new Head Coach Holly Warlick, were simply no match for a Cardinals squad that built a lead as large as 20 points. They have been guided all season long by two Native American sisters who grew up tough on the reservation. Junior guard Shoni Schimmel and sophomore guard Jude are clearly on their way to greater glory as they finish out their season.
As reported by the New York Times, in a tense 82-81 victory over Baylor last Sunday, Shoni Schimmel made a sublime and maddening play at the same time, dribbling behind her back, flicking a blind shot over the 6-8 Brittney Griner, then screaming at Griner and risking a second technical foul.
“I tell her (Shoni) all the time, she’s talented enough to play for anybody,” Walz said. “But not anybody can coach her because she’s going to do some things that make you scratch your head.”
UConn knows that beating Louisville will be a challenge.
"We've got a problem Tuesday night, I think, because I think Louisville really thinks they're the best team in the country right now," Auriemma told the Denver Post. "After the way they've played and what they've done in these last couple weeks, they probably think there's nobody that can beat them."
That said, Louisville's only Final Four appearance resulted in a loss at the 2009 national championship game to UConn with star Angel McCoughtry.
My prediction: Coach Geno Auriemma of UConn and his Huskies will win the 2013 NCAA Women's Title.
As the New Orleans Times-Picayune pointed out, UConn has played great defense this season, holding teams to 49.5 points per game. They’ve also been good on offense, averaging 82.2 points.
Louisville's outside shots will keep them in the game. As will the Shimmel sisters.
After all, the Huskies have already won 12 straight games against the Cardinals. I especially remember the 2009 game, when UConn won their seventh title against Louisville, 76-54. Angel McCoughtry kept the Cardinals in the game for the first five minutes, then Renee Montgomery and the rest of the team overpowered the undermanned Cardinals.
In their last meeting in January, the Huskies chewed up the Cardinals, 72-58.
Second, winning the tournament will mean that UConn's Auriemma will tie retired Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt for winning the most national titles, with eight.
At one time, the rivalry with Summitt got so intense, the Lady Vols coach refused to match up on either floor during the regular season.
Finally, Auriemma, who also coached the US Women's National Team to a gold medal in the London Olympics, will want to finish out his long season as a winner. A National Championship is the only way Auriemma will be satisfied.
Karma may dictate otherwise, but in my opinion, lucky number 13 against Louisville will put the icing on the Huskies' eighth national title.
Final Score: UConn, 72 Louisville 62