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As expected, it's a close one in Denver. And given how the Irish played for much of the first half, head coach Muffet McGraw has got to pleased that it's a one-possession game. Kayla McBride gave Notre Dame a much needed boost before the break, hitting a tough, tough buzzer-beater from the paint to cut a five-point deficit to three. Natalie Novosel leads the Irish offense with 11 points, while Devereaux Peters has eight. If the Irish are to advance to Tuesday's championship game, they will have to do a much better job of defending the backdoor cut and shutting down Connecticut center Stefanie Dolson, who led all scorers with 12 points in the first half. Back to the action in a few minutes on ESPN. Follow @NotreDameWBB on Twitter for more updates from Denver. - Josh Flynt ('11)
We are now only one day away from playing and the focus of the Notre Dame women's basketball team is as razor sharp as Ron Popeil's Ronco Showtime knives. Today was deemed "Final Four Saturday," which included open press availability, a free open practice for fans, an off-site practice, a tour of Sports Authority Field at Mile High and a hop-scotch competition with the locals (whoops, that last one was just me). After arriving at the Pepsi Center to begin the day's obligations, the team went through the required media availability that all Final Four teams must go through; Skylar, Brittney and Coach McGraw were interview on the dais in the media room while the rest of the team was interviewed in the locker room. Once the interview periods were over the team was ready to take the Pepsi Center floor for the first time. The hour-long open practice was a free event for all patrons. During the hour, the Irish went through a few drills and were greeted with cheers with every made basket. When practice ended the Irish met their adoring fans in the main concourse for a thirty-minute autograph session, which saw the line wrap halfway around the arena. Skylar was honored with a WBCA All-American accolade on the Pepsi Center floor along with nine other student-athletes. The team then rushed over to a local gymnasium to have another practice. While the team was away at practice, myself and a few members of the traveling party, including the voice of the women's basketball squad Bob Nagle, traveled to the southeast side of Denver to a 'Man vs. Food' location, Cherry Cricket Burgers. The constant stories and jokes from Nagle (example: What did the pony say when he had a sore throat? .......Sorry, I'm a little horse), and the incredible food at the establishment, allowed me to deem my first experience at any Man vs. Food restaurant a success. A few hours later, the entire traveling party boarded their respective buses, the team bus (players, coaches, support staff) and the Magic School Bus (everyone else including yours truly). Once the buses were packed, we headed to Sports Authority Field at Mile High (the home of the Denver Broncos) for dinner and a tour of the facilities. The dinner spread of BBQ chicken, salmon, turkey, salad and chocolate covered strawberries was amazing once again. The highlight of my day was getting the opportunity to meet and sit at the same table as Coach McGraw and Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame Director of Athletics) and get to know them on a personal level. Their sincere interest in what I had to say and their candor in the responses were greatly appreciated by this Notre Dame employee. After polishing off yet another chocolate covered strawberry, we left on a tour of the stadium. Our first stop was the players lounge, the place where all Broncos alumni sit and watch the game after they have retired. The walls were adorned with Broncos greats like John Elway, Tom Jackson and Tim Tebow (the latter may just be wishful thinking). From there we were ushered to the field and into the Broncos locker room. Once inside I had the strong urge to mimic the great Al Pacino "six-inches in front of your face" speech from Any Given Sunday, but held off and instead chose to 'Tebow' at every given opportunity. The arrival back at the hotel brought a special celebration for team photographer, Mike Bennett, who celebrated his birthday while in Denver. Earlier in the day Mike had mentioned that he may have photographed the Titanic tragedy in 1912 (I later figured out this was in fact, not true). As the night wound down, the girls once again put in time at the study tables to keep up to date with their studies while in the 'Centennial State.' Tomorrow is the day this team has been looking forward to since last season, and the moment is almost upon them. When the Irish women's basketball team takes the floor tomorrow they will be 'playing for the love of the game and the glory of Our Lady's University.' Keep up-to-date with your women's basketball team as they look to bring home their second NCAA Championship and first since 2001, by checking back with us at Irish Underground for daily recaps and following the minute-by-minute happenings via Twitter (@NotreDameWBB). - Aaron Horvath
Tip-off in Denver is just about 24 hours away. Here are ten things to know before the big game:
#3 Connecticut (#1 seed in Kingston Region) - 33-4 overall, 13-3 BIG EAST
Radio - Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) and UND.com. Bob Nagle (play-by-play).
Day/TimeSunday, April 1. 4:30 pm MT (6:30 ET).
Tale of the Tape#4 Notre Dame (#1 seed in Raleigh Region) - 34-3 overall, 15-1 BIG EAST
#3 Connecticut (#1 seed in Kingston Region) - 33-4 overall, 13-3 BIG EAST
BroadcastTV - ESPN/ESPN3. Dave O'Brien (play-by-play), Doris Burke (color), Holly Rowe (sideline) and Rebecca Lobo (sideline).
Radio - Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) and UND.com. Bob Nagle (play-by-play).
Beyond the BroadcastTwitter: @NotreDameWBB, @ndwbbSID (sports information director Chris Masters)
SeriesUConn leads, 29-7. Irish have won three of the past four. Huskies won the last meeting, 63-54. This will be the teams' fourth head-to-head battle of the season, and eighth in the past two years.
What's at stake?A spot in Tuesday night's title game against the winner of Stanford and Baylor.
NCAA HistoryIrish seeking their second straight appearance in the national championship game, and third victory semifinal victory over the Huskies (2001, 2011).
Opposing Players to WatchKaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Fr., F (15.0 PPG), Stefanie Dolson, Soph., C (10.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG), Tiffany Hayes, Sr., G (14.8 PPG)
The Road to DenverConnecticut: No. 16 seed Prairie View A&M (83-47), No. 8 see Kansas State (72-26), No. 4 seed Penn State (77-59), No. 2 seed Kentucky (80-65). Notre Dame: No. 16 seed Liberty (74-43), No. 8 seed California (73-62), No. 5 seed St. Bonaventure (79-35), No. 2 seed Maryland (80-49).
For All The Marbles (Well, Almost)It's the fourth meeting of the season, but it might as well be the first. Notre Dame's two regular season wins and Connecticut's BIG EAST championship game victory mean very little at this point. When people look back on the 2011-12 season, the only game between the Fighting Irish and Huskies that will matter is the one in Denver. Whichever squad steps on the big stage earns all the bragging rights, and more importantly, the chance to play for a national championship on Tuesday evening. - Josh Flynt ('11)
Our first full day in Denver began with what else, food. The great breakfast spread that was put on by our host hotel's staff was top notch, which led right into a 9:15 a.m. film session for the team. After a quick session in the film room, the women's basketball team, coaches and support staff piled onto the bus to head over to their first practice in the 'Mile High City.' As if the team needed reminding of the task at hand, while the bus was pulling into Metropolitan State University, the team's practice facility for the day, the Pepsi Center (the site of all three Final Four games) was clearly evident in the distance. Once the girls stepped foot off the bus they quickly put on their game faces (Coach Knight eat your heart out) and were ready to turn their thoughts to their game plan. Upon entering the arena at Metropolitan State, we were greeted by an NCAA host who was eager to get the team everything they needed, that included Baden brand basketballs... We are going to take a quick sidebar from the daily events. As you may know, each school may decide which basketball they get to use at their home games, but once you get to NCAA Championship play every ball must be a Wilson. Some people may not agree, but the basketball player in me (2010 Indiana University Coed Intramural Final Four participant) truly believes that every brand of basketball has their own distinct feel and weight. Thanks to the tremendous manager squad for the women's team and their support staff, the team did not have to run Coach Arthur Chaney's no ball drill from the movie Air Bud as they packed a full bag of NCAA Championship Wilson basketballs for this exact reason. Back to the action... As the girls started their stretching and warm-up routine you could tell that the team was lucky to have team nutritionist Kayla Matrunick rather than Eden Hall Academy's Greg Goldberg as their nutritionist as her preparation to ensure the proper diet for the team in the high-altitude of Denver was paying off. Throughout the practice you could feel that the entire team was 'locked in' and ready to compete. When practice ended the bus headed over to the Pepsi Center to drop off select players (Diggins, McBride, Peters, Novosel, Mallory, Achonwa) for ESPN promotional activities while the rest of the team headed back to the hotel for some much deserved R & R. Irish players were being herded from room to room fulfilling various interviews with ESPN talent to doing video shoots for the Pepsi Center's various videoboards. While the players were waiting to tape their intro video, they were asked to think up an interesting fact about themselves. Outside of the proverbial "I'm a shopaholic" and "I like shoes," there were also the pessimists that stated "I'm not interesting, I need one of your facts." After completing all their responsibilities at the Pepsi Center, everyone reconvened back at the hotel to get ready for the 'Final Four Salute,' a red carpet affair at the local performing arts center. Upon returning back to the hotel, players took care of their schoolwork and convened to their rooms for the night. Keep up-to-date with your women's basketball team as they look to bring home their second NCAA Championship and first since 2001, by checking back with us at Irish Underground for daily recaps and following the minute-by-minute happenings via Twitter (@NotreDameWBB). - Aaron Horvath
At this time last year, you might not have found Notre Dame and Connecticut women's basketball included on many lists debating the best rivalries in college sports. After all, the Huskies held a 28-4 series advantage and had not lost to the Irish since Jan. 2005. But as the BIG EAST foes prepare to meet for the fourth time in less than ninety days and eighth in the past two seasons, momentum has shifted and it's time to reconsider the rivalry's place among the greats. Notre Dame has won three of the past four matchups, including an upset of the top-seeded Huskies in last year's national semifinals, a win that snapped a 12-game series losing streak. This year, the Irish took both games, at home on Jan. 7 (a 74-67 overtime victory) and at the XL Center on Feb. 27 in the regular season finale (72-59). Eight days later, the squads met in the same venue for the BIG EAST tournament championship game, with the Huskies prevailing, 63-54. Here are a few other interesting facts (from Chris Masters' game notes) leading up to the big game.
- - All seven of Notre Dame's wins have come since the start of the 2000-01 season.
- - The Final Four matchup will be the 26th time in 37 games that both teams will be ranked.
- - At least one team has been ranked in every game of the series.
- - It will also be the 14th time both teams are ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll.
- - Notre Dame's seven wins against Connecticut since 2000-01 are the most by any team in the past 12 seasons. Rutgers (5), Tennessee (4), North Carolina (3) and Stanford (3) are the only other teams with at least three victories against the Huskies.
- - Sunday will be the third Final Four meeting between Notre Dame and UConn. The Irish have won both previous games, last season and during the 2001 national championship run in St. Louis.
Notre Dame hit the road for Denver yesterday afternoon, in preparation for its Sunday evening Final Four matchup against Connecticut. After four rounds, eight days of competition and 60 games, only the four #1 seeds remaining standing in this year's tournament. Before focusing on the game between the Fighting Irish and the Huskies, here's a look at some incredible statistics from the season so far, pulled from the game notes compiled by women's basketball sports information director Chris Masters.
- - Notre Dame has reached the Final Four for the second consecutive season and fourth time overall. The other two appearances were 1997 and 2001.
- - Posting a 15-1 conference record, Notre Dame earned its first outright BIG EAST regular season title and second overall.
- - The Irish rank second in the nation in scoring offense (79.2 ppg) and scoring margin (+27.7 ppg).
- - In 16 games against Top 25 opponents, Notre Dame has posted a 14-2 record, including a 10-2 mark away from home.
- - Eleven of the 14 victories against Top 25 opponents have been by double digits. Six of those have been by at least 25 points.
- - Notre Dame's 34 victories ties a school record (posted a 34-2 record in 2000-01 national championship season).
- - Of those 34 wins, 23 have come by 20+ points and 14 have been by at least 30 points.
- - The Irish have scored at least 100 points twice and have topped the 90-point mark nine times.
- - Notre Dame has appeared in the media rankings for 96 straight weeks and is currently ranked fourth in the latest polls.
- - Over the past 16 seasons (dating back to 1996-97), Notre Dame ranks fourth in the nation in victories, with 408.
- - Jan. 23: Defeated No. 7/9 Tennessee, 72-44 - fewest points allowed against a top-10 opponent and the Lady Vols' fewest points scored in the Pat Summitt era
- - Jan. 31: Defeated No. 13/14 Rutgers, 71-41 - largest margin of victory ever on the road against a ranked opponent
- - Mar. 25: Defeated No. 21/25 St. Bonaventure, 79-35 - largest margin of victory against a ranked opponent
- - Mar. 27: Defeated No. 5 Maryland, 80-49 - largest margin of victory over a top-10 team
Well, add Tuesday night's 80-49 crushing of #2 seed Maryland to the growing list of impressive victories for the 2011-12 Notre Dame women's basketball team. By this time next week, the Fighting Irish hope to add another pair of big wins, and more importantly, a national championship to their stellar resume. The game started out as expected - a back and forth contest between two of the best teams in women's college basketball. But midway through the first half, Notre Dame began a 14-0 run, and at that point, could have kept on running to Denver. The Fighting Irish led, 40-21 at the break, and did not have a second half letdown against a team that erased an 18-point deficit in the Sweet Sixteen versus Texas A&M. Not one bit. As they have done multiple times this season, Notre Dame flat-out dominated its opponent - and on Tuesday, it was not just any opponent. It was the 31-4, ACC Champion, expected-by-many-to-pull-off-the-upset Maryland Terrapins. To say Skylar Diggins had a huge game might be an understatement. The junior guard scored 22 points, dished out 11 assists, pulled down 10 rebounds and grabbed five steals to record the first triple-double of her Notre Dame career, and the first for the program since Feb. 15, 1990 (more than five months before Skylar was born). Natalie Achonwa had a stellar game with 18 points and seven rebounds off the bench, while Kayla McBride (16) and Natalie Novosel (14) also scored in double figures. The Irish dominance was not just on the scoreboard, but also in the box score. They outrebounded the bigger Terrapins team, 40-26. Notre Dame will join the other three #1 seeds (Baylor, Stanford and Connecticut) in the Final Four, where it will take on the Huskies for the fourth time this season, in Sunday's first semifinal. The Fighting Irish won both regular season match-ups, but fell to UConn in the BIG EAST championship game. Sunday's game will air on ESPN at 6:30 pm ET. Stay right here at UND.com for more coverage from Raleigh, and soon, the Rocky Mountains, as the Fighting Irish chase a national championship. - Josh Flynt ('11)
Senior guard Fraderica Miller is not one of the stars of this year's Notre Dame women's basketball team. Her impact does not always show up in the box score, but as WNDU's Angelo Di Carlo explains, the Fighting Irish might not be where they are today - playing for a trip to the Final Four - if not for the future accountant and her scrappy defense. Check out Di Carlo's story below:
Fraderica Miller averages just two points and two and half rebounds a game for the Notre Dame women's basketball team. She's not a starter and she's not even Muffet McGraw's 1st option off the bench. But the top seeded Irish wouldn't be playing for a spot in the Final Four Tuesday night at 9pm against Maryland in Raleigh without the scrappy senior from Georgia. Miller could probably start for 80 percent of the college basketball teams in the country. But she plays for one of the nation's elite programs and starting isn't an option. It doesn't bother her one bit. "I love being a part of this team," Miller explains. "There's no other team I'd want to play for. No other coach I want to play for. No girls I want to be around all the time. Make no mistake, she's a difference maker. "When Fraderica comes in, the energy level changes," explains Irish coach Muffet McGraw. "She's really aggressive and so fast. I think they have a hard time believing she's still staying with them when they get by them." Her teammates rave about the spark she brings. "She's a burst of energy," fellow senior Brittany Mallory explains. "She comes in and she's running all over the place." "She just is able to come in here and create havoc for us and it really turns over into offensive points," says senior Natalie Novosel. Miller averages just 13 minutes a game but she's come up with 47 steals this season. That's a steal every 9.5 minutes, a better ratio than everyone on the team--including Skylar Diggins. "She's a blue collar player," Diggins explains. "She does whatever we need her to do." Fraderica doesn't care what it takes. She'll put her on body on the line every single play and she does---diving for loose balls, poking and prodding at her opponents. "it's just how I play," Miller says with a smile. "I've always been like that. Every time you hit the court you play as hard as you can." She's hit the court hard on occasion. She took a nasty spill against Providence earlier this season. Later in the night, she fainted and was rushed to the infirmary. Lucky everything was ok. She can joke about it now. "I've had my fair share of bumps and bruises along the way," Miller says with a laugh. "It's always been like that. I'm accident prone. I go out there and I have some war wounds." Deep down, Fraderica is a softy. On Senior Day, tears came out. Then after the victory over Cal in the NCAA Tourney last Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion, it happened again in the Irish locker room. "It just hit me that that was my last time playing in the Joyce Center," Miller says. "With the win and moving on to the Sweet 16, I just got a little emotional." That's how much Notre dame means to her. So you can understand why she's not ready to hand in that uniform. She wants to wear it for three more games. "Since the moment we lost last year in the Championship its been on our minds to get back to this point and we're really excited and really grateful to make it to this point and we're not done, we're motivated and focused right now and we're ready to get back to the Championship," Miller says. You know she'll give it her all to make that happen--even if it results in a few more war wounds. - Angelo Di CarloAnd while we're on the subject, here's a great UND.com feature on Fraderica from earlier in the season: