Nearly two weeks have passed since we’ve seen an upset in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
A 1 or 2 seed won every Sweet Sixteen game; and the 1 seeds swept the 2 seeds in the Elite Eight. So it’s fitting that Baylor, the number one overall seed, and Notre Dame, the number two overall seed, both prevailed in the Final Four and will face each other tonight for the national championship.
Baylor-Notre Dame Preview
Naismith Player of the Year Brittney Griner and sophomore guard Odyssey Sims lead the undefeated Baylor Bears, who will attempt to become the first Division I basketball team to win 40 games in a single season.
Meanwhile the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, led by All American point guard Skylar Diggins, are getting a second consecutive crack at a national championship after losing a close one to Texas A&M in last year’s final.
Notre Dame will try to contain the 6-8 Griner with a combination of 6-2 starting forward Devereaux Peters and 6-3 Natalie Achonwa off the bench. Meanwhile, Diggins will have her hands full with Sims. Though Baylor has a decided size advantage (Notre Dame starts only one player who stands 6 feet or taller, Baylor starts only one player who doesn’t), the Bears will have to contend with the nation’s best backcourt: Notre Dame’s four-guard combo of Diggins, Natalie Novosel, Kayla McBride, and Brittany Mallory.
Baylor and Notre Dame met earlier this season, in the Preseason WNIT final on November 20. Baylor won 94-81.
Tuesday April 3—Denver, Colorado
#1 Baylor (39-0) vs. #1 Notre Dame (35-3)
7:30 p.m. CST, ESPN/ESPN3
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Skylar Diggins, guard
5-9 junior; 16.8 ppg, 5.8 apg, 2.6 spg
Brittany Mallory, guard
5-10 senior; 5.9 ppg, 2.3 apg, 2.1 spg
Kayla McBride, guard
5-11 sophomore; 11.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.7 apg
Natalie Novosel, guard
5-11 senior; 15.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, .419 3-pt pct
Devereaux Peters, forward
6-2 senior; 11.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.0 bpg
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Brittney Griner, center
6-8 junior; 23.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 5.2 bpg
Kimetria Hayden, guard
6-0 junior; 9.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.4 apg
Jordan Madden, guard
6-0 junior; 4.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.9 apg
Odyssey Sims, guard
5-9 sophomore; 14.7 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.0 spg
Destiny Williams, forward
6-1 junior; 10.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, .541 FG pct
* * * * *
Ann “Muffet” McGraw has spent a quarter century in South Bend. In her 25 seasons as the coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, she has compiled a 591-214 record. She coached Notre Dame to a national championship in 2001 and to four Final Fours, including an appearance in last year’s title game.
Before coming to Notre Dame, she coached 5 seasons at Lehigh. Her career head coaching record is 679-255.
Kim Mulkey has won 337 games, against 79 losses, in only 12 seasons as the head coach at Baylor. She led the Bears to a national title in 2005. Her teams have won at least one NCAA Tournament game in each of the past nine seasons and have advanced to three Final Fours in that span.
Mulkey came to Baylor from Louisiana Tech, her alma mater, where she was an assistant coach for 15 seasons. She won two national championships (one AIAW and one NCAA) as a player for the Lady Techsters and another as an assistant.
Mulkey recently announced that she is struggling with Bell’s palsy, a type of facial paralysis. She is being treated and has said that the condition will not affect how she coaches.
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Notre Dame is 35-3. They went 15-1 in the Big East regular season, with their only blemish a 65-63 loss to West Virginia.
The Irish picked up non-conference wins against Duke, Kentucky, and Tennessee (three of the four 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament). They faced fellow top seed Connecticut four times beating the Huskies twice in the regular season and in the Final Four but losing to them in the Big East Tournament final.
Notre Dame advanced to the championship game with wins over #16 Liberty (74-43), #8 California (73-62), #5 St. Bonaventure (79-35), #2 Maryland (80-49), and #1 Connecticut (83-75, OT).
Baylor is a perfect 39-0. The Bears were a perfect 18-0 in the Big 12, won the Preseason WNIT (beating Notre Dame 94-81 in the final), and won the Big 12 Tournament.
Baylor won non-conference games against Notre Dame, Connecticut, Tennessee, and St. John’s. Beating Stanford in the Final Four gave Baylor wins over all three of their fellow 1 seeds. The Bears won 34 of their 39 games by double digits.
Connecticut and Texas Tech came closest to beating Baylor, both losing by only five. Baylor advanced to the championship game with wins over #16 UCSB (81-40), #9 Florida (76-57), #4 Georgia Tech (83-68), #2 Tennessee (77-58), and #1 Stanford (59-47).
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Denver Colorado’s Pepsi Center is this year’s Women’s Final Four host. The Pepsi Center, home of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, seats just over 19,000. A sell-out crowd watched Sunday’s semi-final games.
The NCAA came up with a simple, classy, four-tone brown design for the floor then decided to add a mountain range opposite the scorer’s table. The floor of the Pepsi Center tonight will look like this: