April 6, 2013
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Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie takes a look at the games in the women's Final Four. Her Blue Devils played Connecticut, Notre Dame and California this year.
This has been the matchup in women's basketball over the past few seasons and it's sad that it's coming in the semifinals again. It's a great showing by the BIG EAST conference having these two teams back in the Final Four, as well as Louisville. It's really difficult that they have to play in the semifinals for the third straight season.
They know each other inside and out, having played 12 times the past three seasons. The games this year have been so close that the teams are virtually dead even despite Notre Dame sweeping all three meetings by a hair.
Skylar Diggins is so critically important for the Irish. She'll never be stopped, but my concern is if she gets slowed, who will step up. She's a phenomenal player and definitely a game-changer. Diggins is playing with incredible confidence about her and seems to be on a mission. It's similar to when Angel McCoughtry carried Louisville to the national championship game a few years ago.
Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa will be important to relieve some pressure off Diggins. Of course, there's also the interesting matchup of the freshmen Jewell Loyd and Connecticut's Breanna Stewart - which one will be able to be more of a factor. All three of UConn's freshmen have been playing extremely well.
UConn is a different team from the one Notre Dame beat in the regular season and BIG EAST tournament. Stewart has been playing so well, and it will be interesting to see how she performs on the biggest of stages. UConn's been at home for the first four games of the tournament, so it will be the Huskies' first road test.
The Huskies have really stepped up their defensive pressure lately and done a tremendous job of controlling the tempo. Obviously, Stefanie Dolson is a little banged up from her injuries, and if they are really bad then that takes a huge presence off the court for UConn.
Still it's the Final Four and she'll find a way to keep being the factor she was in the regional.
Definitely not the teams that most people expected to be in the Final Four. Great job by both of them getting there. It's refreshing for the sport to have a new team in and one that no one thought could advance past Baylor.
This is going to be a track meet with a lot of shots going up. It may come down to offensive shot selection to determine who comes away with the victory. Whoever settles in the quickest will win the game.
Louisville may have the most exciting player left in the tournament in Shoni Schimmel. She carried the Cardinals to the upset over Baylor and then past Tennessee. She's so fantastically exciting to watch.
The Cardinals are definitely battle-tested and coach Jeff Walz has been here before, which gives him some experience on how to handle the Final Four. Louisville had incredible motivation. No one thought they'd beat Baylor, then no one thought they'd beat Tennessee. Now look where they are.
While Louisville had a tough road, Cal had a little bit of an easier time despite winning two games in overtime. The Golden Bears didn't have to face top-seeded Stanford or No. 3 seed Penn State after both were knocked out in earlier rounds.
Lindsay Gottlieb has a great head on her shoulders and has done a wonderful job, even though it's her first trip to the Final Four. When I took Michigan State to the Final Four I was fortunate to have Tom Izzo around to offer his advice. The culture he established at the school helped get us ready for the challenges.
When you look at that championship trophy the first time it impacts you, you want to just go and get it since you don't know when you're going to be back again.