What seemed like a foregone conclusion since November is finally official. Unbeaten titans Notre Dame and UConn will clash for the 2014 NCAA women’s basketball title April 8 in Nashville. Both teams routed lesser opponents April 6 to set up what some are calling the perfect championship game.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma has five AP All-Americans – Breanna Stewart, a unanimous first team selection, seniors duo of Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson on the second team and sophomore Moriah Jefferson and junior Pre-Season All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis were recognized as honorable mention. The team is 39-0 and looking to repeat as national champs.
The only road block is 37-0 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish offer a pair of all-Americans and the best shooting offense in the game.
This will be the 16th time since the 2009-10 season that UConn and Notre Dame have met. The Irish won seven of the last nine games, with three of those games going to overtime. It’s also the fourth straight year the two programs are meeting in the Final Four.
The Huskies weakness, if they have one, is on the bench. Auriemma only plays a six-woman rotation. ND has a strong bench. The Irish got 19 points from Markisha Wright and Madison Cable against Maryland. Wright also pulled down nine caroms. Taya Reimer, filling for Natalie Achonwa, played well.
The Fighting Irish embarrassed Maryland 87-61 in the earlier game. The pace was set on the opening basket. Terp Alicia Devaughn blocked ND’s Reimer’s first shot. Braker grabbed the carom and missed a jumper. Then Jewell Loyd grabbed her rebound and scored on a layup.
Maryland (28-7) is one of the nation’s best rebounding teams. Clearly Notre Dame was more intent on taking this game. By the time the game ended, The Irish outrebounded the Terps 50-21 – that might be a historic deficit for the women from College Park. It is a record for a women’s final four game.
ND bullied Maryland more in the paint, outscoring the Terps 42-28. Maryland only scored three second chance points for the game. The Irish scored 20.
Marylands’s First Team All-American Alyssa Thomas was double-teamed all night and found herself in foul trouble early. She was held to 13 points and a team leading six rebounds. Notre Dame First Team All-American Kayla McBride beat Terp defenders for 28 points. AP Second Team All American Jewell Loyd was limited to 16 points. Wright added 12.
In the later game, the Huskies overcame a sluggish start to win their 45th straight game 75-56 after overcoming another sluggish start. Breanna Stewart, the Associated Press player of the year, missed her first four shots and UConn was up just 28-24 at halftime.
But Connecticut outscored the Cardinal 47-32 in the second half. Mosqueda-Lewis scored all of her 15 points in the second half. Hartley added 13 points for UConn and Dolson and Jefferson each finished with 10.
Stanford (33-4) lost its third national semifinal since reaching the 2010 championship against UConn. All-American Chiney Ogwumike finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Amber Orrange scored 16 points and Lili Thompson had 12.
The Huskies ended the first half on a 12-0 run. Kiah Stokes hit a free throw, then Hartley hit the Huskies’ lone trey of the half with 4:42 left. Stewart finished the spurt stealing the ball from Thompson and finishing the fast break with a layup, drawing the foul for a three-point play and the Huskies led 28-24 at the half.
The Huskies used a 14-0 run in the second half to open a 44-27 lead with 13:48 remaining. After starting 10-of-21 from the field, Stanford missed 14 of its next 16 shots, including nine straight during a scoreless stretch of 5:11.