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
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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)
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:
Life on the road is not all fun and games when you're a student-athlete. Skylar Diggins returns in her latest video blog for ESPNW with a look at her study habits during the NCAA tournament.
Photo courtesy of Michael & Susan Bennett/Lighthouse ImagingThe top-seeded Notre Dame women's basketball team was recently featured in an article from Yahoo! contributor Eric Holden. But the story wasn't about the keys to victory or the Irish's best players. Instead, it focused on who fans should follow on Twitter. Of course it did. This is 2012. Check out Holden's list below:
According to a Yahoo! Sports report, Skylar Diggins is part of a special club of lefty guards who have been instrumental in guiding their teams to the regional semifinals of the NCAA women's basketball tournament that continues this weekend. "Lefties, they are hard to play against," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It takes you a little bit of time to get used to them. It throws you all off what you're used to doing." Diggins and the No. 1-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish will face the No. 5-seeded St. Bonaventure Bonnies on March 25 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. Here's a look at the top five Notre Dame Fighting Irish women's basketball players to follow on Twitter:With Sunday's 79-35 win against the Bonnies, the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight, where they will take on #2 seed Maryland on Tuesday at 9 pm ET on ESPN.
What a day to be a Notre Dame athletics fan. It started at 1:00 pm with another great crowd on hand at Arlotta Stadium, as the #6 men's lacrosse team opened up BIG EAST play against Rutgers. The Fighting Irish got four goals from Sean Rogers, two from Jim Marlatt and one apiece from six other scorers to win their fifth game in a row and improve to 6-1 overall. At the same time the laxers were locked in a close one at Arlotta, the Irish squad on the diamond had a tough BIG EAST game at nearby Frank Eck Stadium. It took seven different pitchers, but the Notre Dame baseball team also won its fifth in a row, closing out a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh with a 7-5 win. Notre Dame held a 4-3 lead going into the bottom of the eighth, but had managed just three hits through the first seven innings. Catcher Joe Hudson extended the lead to 7-3 with what turned out to be a crucial three-run double, as the Panthers were able to plate a pair of runs in the final frame. Freshman Pat Connaughton picked up his first career victory, pitching 2.2 innings in relief, while Dan Slania came on for the final out, striking out Casey Roche to record his sixth save of the season. The NCAA women's basketball tournament continued at 2:30 pm in Raleigh, N.C., as head coach Muffet McGraw's team took on St. Bonaventure in the Sweet Sixteen. After a dominant 79-35 win against the Bonnies, it's now "3 down, 3 to go" in the quest for a national championship. Natalie Novosel had 16 points, Kayla McBride scored 10, and Kaila Turner added 14 off the bench to lead a balanced offensive attack. The Irish take on Maryland on Tuesday as they seek to earn a spot in the Final Four for the second year in a row. Perfect spring weather in South Bend and three big wins from Notre Dame lacrosse, baseball and women's basketball. All in all, a great Sunday afternoon for the Fighting Irish. - Josh Flynt ('11)
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