We made it. Again. Last year, the women's basketball team's spurt to the national championship game was a magical run. It seemed unbelievable, and even though it didn't end quite like we wanted, it seemed like one of those seasons that doesn't come along too often. Who knew when we'd get to see a season like that again? Luckily, this Fighting Irish team and head coach Muffet McGraw didn't feel like waiting. They've had another spectacular campaign, and have once again gotten the entire campus behind them. Confession time: I had to watch today's game on ESPN3.com from the basement of Hesburgh Library. (Economics professors don't seem to get that we should keep the Final Four in mind when scheduling tests). But honestly, watching the game from the library was a really cool experience. As the game went on, I noticed that most of the students in the library had their laptops out and were keeping a close eye on the game. When UConn took a lead late in the second half, we all grimaced. When Natalie Novosel tied the game on a layup with four seconds left and sent the game into overtime, all of the supposedly studious people fist-pumped and got a huge grin. And when the clock ran out and gave the Irish an 83-75 victory, all of us got that special feeling of pride that comes from knowing your team will be playing for the championship. This team has proven time and time again that they're a special group. McGraw knows how to get the most out of her team, and the presence of veteran leaders such as Brittany Mallory, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters keeps this team on an even keel. And with All-American point guard Skylar Diggins running the show, this team is hard to stop. They're an incredibly fun group to watch. The student body and campus is 110% behind this team, and they keep giving us phenomenal performances to enjoy. This Final Four matchup was an instant classic, a physical matchup where the outcome was in doubt until the very end. It also made the victory that much sweeter to beat UConn, a perennial rival and a team who the Irish have struggled with in the past. We turned a corner against the Huskies this year (this is the Irish's third victory over UConn this season), and got some revenge tonight for our loss to Geno Auriemma's team in the Big East tournament. I think it's safe to say I'm not the only student who relished getting the chance to knock off the Huskies in the Final Four. So now we're back in the same situation we were last year: just one team standing between us and the national title. The Irish played tonight like they had unfinished business; as if they weren't satisfied with how their season ended last year. They've earned themselves a chance to end it the right way this time around, and if they play with the same fire and tenacity that they showed tonight, they'll be very hard to beat. There's going to be a game watch in the Purcell Pavilion Tuesday night where students can watch the national title game on the videoboard. I know I'll be there, and I hope that the entire student body will be also. After all, how many chances do you get to see history in the making? - Tom McGuire ('14)
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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:
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.
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.
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)
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