And the winner will be ...
Notre Dame-UConn matchup will come down to ...
NOTRE DAME VS. UCONN: 9:30 P.M. ET SUNDAY (ESPN)
Why Notre Dame will win ...
Notre Dame is coming off of a historical win against Tennessee, capturing its first win in 21 tries. The Fighting Irish will have to carry this momentum into Sunday’s semifinal matchup against Connecticut, who they have lost to three times this season and are just 4-28 all-time against. Two of the three games this season were one-possession games with less than five minutes remaining.
Defense wins games for the Fighting Irish. In 18 NCAA tournament runs, Notre Dame is 18-2 when holding their opponent to 60 points or less, including Utah, Oklahoma and Tennessee this season. Not only will the energy that Devereaux Peters’ eludes be an important spark, but the Big East Defensive Player of the Year’s 7.4 rebounds per game and nearly 2 blocks per game can set the tone for Notre Dame.
Post-play will be another key that could ignite or hinder Notre Dame’s ability to take control of the game. If the guards can feed the ball in the post, then Peters, Becca Bruszewski and Natalie Achonwa can use their athleticism and physicality in the post to get the Huskies in foul trouble.
With only six players in UConn’s normal rotation, foul trouble could be just the edge Notre Dame needs to get past the Huskies. Also, if the Huskies have to hunker down on the blocks, it will open up more shots for the Fighting Irish’s perimeter threats in Skylar Diggins, Natalie Novosel and Kayla McBride who are averaging a combined 38 points per game.
The series matchup could be a bit of déjà vu, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish faced Connecticut in the 2001 national semifinals -- winning 90-75 -- and going on to win the national crown.
Indianapolis will also feel like ‘home sweet home’ for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has a home-state advantage, traveling only three hours from South Bend to play at Conseco. It’s certain that a wave of green is to follow and that the arena will be packed out with a crowd of Irish luck cheering them on. And in the end, maybe that’s all the Fighting Irish will need -- a little luck.
-- Summer McKesson, NCAA.com
Why UConn will win ...
Maya Moore and her supporting cast are ready to claim a third consecutive NCAA title, and Notre Dame is just the next victim standing in the way of that goal.
Moore is arguably the best player to play the women’s game, and she has no intentions of slowing down with the ultimate prize within her reach. Moore, a three-time Wade Trophy recipient, is averaging 22.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
“I'm not sure that you can stop her, and definitely you can't do it with one person,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think that she is just a phenomenal player. The way she can stop on a dime, elevate and release her jumper, which is just a beautiful shot, I think that she's incredibly difficult to guard.”
UConn’s stifling defense is also a huge contributor in the Huskies’ success. The Huskies rank No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense (49.5 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (32.0 percent), and are outrebounding foes by a 13.2 margin, which ranks second in the nation.
In their first three games against Notre Dame this season, they held the Irish to 33 percent shooting from the floor, much lower than the Irish’s 47.9 percent overall this season, which ranks fourth in the nation.
Look for the relentless Huskies to play a full 40 minutes of team defense, highlighted by the play of sophomore guard Kelly Faris and freshman forward Stephanie Dolson, who has stepped up her rebounding during the NCAA tournament with nine per game.
“I think our defense is such that over a period of 40 minutes, the intensity level and the focus on what we're trying to do stays pretty constant,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said.
The play of freshman point guard Bria Hartley, and her decision-making and vision, will also play a role in the Huskies success against the Irish. She is averaging 13.3 points per game with 19 assists during the four NCAA tournament contests, but has committed 15 turnovers in the last three games.
The familiarity of the opponent is also a factor as UConn and Notre Dame are meeting for the fourth time this season. The Huskies have won the three previous contests against the Irish, so it won’t be the scouting reports that make a difference on Sunday night, but if shots are falling.
“From the coaching standpoint, it's really not much we can do at this point,” Auriemma said. “It's probably like taking horses to the Kentucky Derby, the gate opens and they start running, and let's see who wins.”
-- Amy Farnum, NCAA.com