NCAA Final Four Predictions...the Women of Notre Dame, Stanford, UConn and Maryland

NCAA Final Four Predictions...the Women of Notre Dame, Stanford, UConn and Maryland
A record ninth national title for UConn? The last person in the world to believe it is coach Geno Auriemma

So...how are your NCAA Final Four predictions holding up?

If only Warren Buffet were giving a billion dollars for predicting the NCAA WOMEN' Final Four correctly!

For me, it was all playing out just as I predicted three weeks ago. In mine, I had an undefeated #1-seeded UConn Huskies and #1-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish battling for the 2014 Women's NCAA Championship.

Then, this happened....

#1 Notre Dame vs. #4 Maryland

At first, I thought it was an early 'April Fool.'  Was Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa really out for the Women's Final Four?

Notre Dame senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa will miss the remainder of the 2013-14 women's basketball season after injuring her left knee Monday night in the second half of Notre Dame's 88-69 win over No. 5/6 Baylor in the NCAA Notre Dame Regional final (Elite Eight) at Purcell Pavilion.

As noted in a Notre Dame press release, Achonwa, a third-team All-American, posted career-high averages in scoring (14.9 ppg.), field goal percentage (.611), assists (2.8 apg.) and blocked shots (1.2 bpg.), along with a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game and eight double-doubles. She also ranked second nationally in field goal percentage, 11th in rebounding and 10th in blocked shots.

She  suffered the  torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee.  She's played her last game for the Irish, and  will undergo surgery to repair the injury later.

Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa is out after tearing her ACL

Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa is out after tearing her ACL

The ever-stoic Irish coach,  Muffet McGraw, weighed in with words that were meant to comfort Irish Nation:

"Natalie has been an extremely valuable contributor to our success, not only this season but throughout her career, and that won't change. I know that our team is going to continue to feed off her energy, passion and leadership as we head into the Final Four."

The #2-seeded Fighting Irish (36-0) will play in the NCAA national semifinals Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., against the Maryland Terrapins.  They're a surprise Final Four...and not in a good way for the Irish.

Maryland had been up 12 with 2:03 left when Louisville went on a furious rally. Maryland coach Brenda Frese let her Terrapins decide whether to foul or play defense. The Terrapins chose to double-team Louisville star forward Shoni Schimmel (31 pts) and try to get a hand up.

"Obviously, it paid off for us," Frese said.

It was a dramatic finish. On the strength of star forward Alyssa Thomas' 22 points and 18 rebounds and Lexie Brown's (daughter of former NBA star Dee Brown) 20 points, the Terps held their collective breath as Shoni Schimmel's potential game-tying 3-pointer flew to the basket....and clanked off.

After holding off Louisville 76-73 Tuesday night at the buzzer in the Cardinals' home arena, the Terps are headed to the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 2006. Can the Terps pull off an upset here, against perennial #2 Notre Dame?

Without Achonwa, that's going to be a strong possibility. Achonwa had averaged 23 points in the past four games, and really took over the floor when the going got tough against Baylor.  And...on January 27, Maryland came all the way back against the undefeated Irish, taking a one-point lead midway through the second half before falling, 87-83.

Maryland has also won eight of its last nine games. "They're very dangerous," McGraw told the Baltimore Sun of the Terps. "They're a team that has kind of hit their stride lately."

I'm predicting a damned close one here. It's up to first-team Irish All-American Kayla McBride, who's averaging 17.2 ppg, and sophomore guard Jewell Loyd, who scored 30 points, to take over the clutch position from Achonwa.

Token Female's Final score: Maryland Terrapins 75 Notre Dame, 73

#1 UConn vs. #2 Stanford:

"If they just wanted a Connecticut-Notre Dame showdown, what'd they make us do this for?"

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, to NPR.

Good point, Ms. VanDerveer.

Is there anything that can keep the undefeated UConn Huskies from its record ninth national championship. Coach Geno Auriemma always thinks its possible. He's told me so on a number of occasions.

But the record says differently. UConn has lost to no one in 44 games. It is now up to the Cardinal, who stopped the Huskies' record-setting, unbeaten 90-game run two years ago, to do it again.

Stanford is back in the Final Four for the sixth time in seven years. They missed 2013  after Georgia defeated them in the Sweet 16. Throughout that time, they have been led by Jayne Appel, Nneke Ogwumike, and now, Nneke's sister, All-American Chiney.

All year,  VanDerveer pushed and challenged her players to do more in support of Chiney Ogwumike. As reported by the Associated Press, from knocking down 3-pointers on the perimeter, to pounding the boards in the paint and even doing the little things like chasing down loose balls, Ogwumike needed help.

Ogwumike got help against North Carolina from  Mikaela Ruef, who scored a career-high 17 points and took regional MVP honors. It also helped that they were in front of a cheering home crowd in Maples Pavilion. But as noted by the Bleacher Report, Ogwumike  and Connecticut's Breanna Stewart are two of the best frontcourt players in the nation, and they both have plenty of talent alongside them.

Stanford also has Amber Orrange, who put in 14 points, and Bonnie Samuelson, whose outside shot added three 3-pointers for 13 points off the bench for the Cardinal, who are 33-3 this season.

UConn has Most Outstanding Regional Player Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who had 17 points against Texas A&M, Stefanie Dolson, who made her 150th career start to tie the NCAA record, had 14 points and 10 rebounds and blocked a career-high eight shots. Bria Hartley had 14 points, Breanna Stewart added 13 and Moriah Jefferson 11.

''It's not easy to beat anybody at this time of the year because everybody is playing their best basketball,'' Auriemma told the Associated Press. ''We beat a pretty good team today, and I'm proud of my team. I thought we were really, really good when we needed to be really, really good.''

Token Female's prediction:  UConn 79 Stanford 69

AND FINALLY....

National Championship:  UConn 83 Maryland 60

 

Music City will be rockin' with UConn, Notre Dame, Maryland and Stanford

Music City will be rockin' with UConn, Notre Dame, Maryland and Stanford

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