March 29, 2001
By The Associated Press
GAME: No. 1 Notre Dame (32-2) vs. No. 1 Connecticut (32-2). National Semifinal
TIME: Friday, 9:30 p.m. EST.
SITE: Savvis Center, St. Louis.
Once again, Notre Dame's road to a championship could be blocked by
Trying to reach their first national title game, the Fighting Irish
get by their Big East rivals as they face the defending national champion
Huskies in the second national semifinal.
Every time the Irish have been on the verge of a championship, the
seem to be in their way. Notre Dame has reached the Big East championship
four times, with each ending in a loss to Connecticut.
The Irish finally beat the Huskies for the first time on Jan. 15,
UConn's 30-game winning streak with a 92-76 victory and earning the No. 1
ranking for the first time in school history.
Connecticut avenged that loss on March 6, winning 78-76 in the Big East
tournament championship game on Sue Bird's jumper at the buzzer.
UConn has had no answer in either game for Ruth Riley, the player of
year in women's basketball. The 6-foot-5 center had 29 points, 12 rebounds
five blocks in the first game, then added 23 points and nine boards in the
second meeting. She has made 16 of 24 shots in the two games.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, will have to counter UConn's outstanding
Bird and freshman Diana Taurasi. Taurasi averaged 20.5 points in the last
games and was the most outstanding player of the East Regional, while Bird
scored 25 points combined in the last two contests.
Bird and Taurasi have stepped up in place of injured All-Americans
Abrosimova and Shea Ralph, who are gone for the season. Taurasi was also the
MVP of the Big East tournament, and her 3-point shooting will be key against
Notre Dame's strong zone defense.
"Any time you lose two first-team All-Americans, you better replace
with someone really, really good," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I knew
were OK. I knew who we had left. As long as we have those two guys in the
backcourt handling the ball, we're going to be OK."
Despite the injuries, the defending national champions are back in the
Four for the fifth time since 1991. They have won 10 straight NCAA
games, one short of the school record set in 1995-96.
"We're going back to the Final Four and that's hard to do," Bird said.
think a lot of people didn't believe we could do it when we lost our two
Notre Dame reached its only other Final Four in 1997, losing to
champion Tennessee. The Irish feel they are better this time.
"I think this team is so prepared, in terms of the places that we have
played," coach Muffet McGraw said. "When you go to big arenas and you have a
great crowd, I think it really prepares you for what you are going to face,
I think that we are a lot more ready for this than they were in 1997."
They also are very talented. Riley is complemented by point guard Niele
Ivey, another All-American and St. Louis native who averages 7.1 assists.
Fellow guard Alicia Ratay is the nation's best 3-point shooter, hitting 54.7
This is the second year in a row the Big East has landed two teams in
Final Four. UConn was joined by Rutgers in 2000.
The winner will play either Purdue or Southwest Missouri State in
night's championship game.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Notre Dame - F Kelley Siemon (11.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), F
Ericka Haney (10.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg), C Ruth Riley (18.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg), G Niele Ivey (11.8
ppg, 7.1 apg), G Alicia Ratay (13.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg). Connecticut - F Asjha Jones (8.7
ppg, 5.4 rpg), F Swin Cash (12.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg), C Kelly Schumacher (6.1 ppg,
3.9 rpg), G Bird (10.6 ppg, 5.0 apg), G Taurasi (11.2 ppg, 3.3 apg).
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Notre Dame - At-large bid, Big East, beat Alcorn
98-49, first round, beat Michigan 88-54, second round, beat Utah 69-54,
Regional semifinal, beat Vanderbilt 72-64, regional final. Connecticut -
Automatic bid, Big East tournament champion, beat Long Island University
101-29, first round, beat Colorado State 89-44, second round, beat North
Carolina State 72-58, East Regional semifinal, beat Louisiana Tech 67-48,
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Notre Dame - 14-7, 8 years. Connecticut -