Both teams looking for their second ever National Championship. Both teams looking to redeem themselves after losing to the Lady Aggies of Texas A&M last year to end their season. Both teams with unfinished business. The Baylor Lady Bears and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish both have a lot to play for as they go head to head Tuesday night in Denver.
These two teams played earlier in the season, way back in November in the championship of the Preseason NIT. Baylor hosted Notre Dame in a matchup of #1 and #2. Fittingly enough, this was just a warm up act to the real battle for #1 and #2.
While Britney Griner is always the big story going into any game, I am much more interested in the point guards in this battle. Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims are two of the finest point guards in college right now. Diggins is more of a scorer, while Sims might be the premier defensive point guard in the country. Both are excellent floor leaders and really lead their teams emotionally.
Notre Dame will need a huge game from Diggins to have a chance to win. She is their main scoring threat and facilitator. Notre Dame has scorers around Diggins with Natalie Novosel and Kayla McBride very capable of scoring over 20 points. They are a very well rounded offense that is very difficult to stop.
The Lady Bears though don't need a great game from Odyssey Sims, just a solid game. Their success is built on defense, getting the ball inside to Griner and hitting some 3-pointers to keep the defense honest.
Keys to the Game:
- Punish Notre Dame inside- Notre Dame runs a lot of 4 guard sets, and either Devereaux Peters or Natalie Achonwa in the post. The Lady Irish only have 4 players over 6 feet tall. Against Connecticut their starting lineup was just 6-2, 5-11, 5-11, 5-10 and 5-9 with a 6-3 post coming off the bench. They do not have a lot of size.
This is a very different team than what the Lady Bears played in the Semifinals. Notre Dame will not be able to have two taller players double covering Griner at all times, as they just don't have enough height to be able to do that. Baylor has to make them pay inside, with inside points, offensive rebounds, and not letting Notre Dame get many second chance points.
- Win the 3-point battle- While Notre Dame might not have much size; they might have the best backcourt in the country. They do a great job of spreading the court and making you guard them one on one. They are very good jump shooters and like to take mid-range jump shots. They also do a very good job of dribble penetration and drawing fouls.
Notre Dame has great versatility but their 3-point shooting has been sporadic this season. The Lady Bears are a much improved 3-point shooting team this season. They will have to hit shots in this game to get more room in the paint to operate.
- Slow the game down- Notre Dame likes to run. They are the second highest scoring team in the NCAA this year, just behind Tennessee Martin. In the first game, the Lady Bears hit shots and were able to win going away. It will be tough for Baylor to win this game with both teams over 80 points again. The 81 points that Notre Dame scored on Baylor were 13 more than any other team scored on them. Baylor wants to slow this game down and make Notre Dame work for their shots.
Baylor deploys a full court press to slow many games down, something that usually speeds the pace up in the men's game. However, with the lack of a 10-second rule to get the ball out of the back court, this slows the game down and wastes most of the 30-second shot clock. We saw this adjustment against another good offense in Stanford in the semifinal, and I expect to see it more against Notre Dame.
- Get to the Foul line- In the first game, the Lady Bears shot 47% from the field but also got to the line 38 times. Two Notre Dame players fouled out, while 3 more had 4 fouls. They Lady Bears attempted 10 more Free throws and were plus 7 on makes. They have to get to the line and convert those chances.
Luckily for the Lady Bears, there two best players at getting to the line both shoot over 80%. Sims and Griner combined to hit 16 of 18 Free throws in the first game between these two teams.
- Don't let the burden of greatness weight you down- Let's just be honest, the pressure is all on Baylor in this game. Notre Dame is not expected to win this game by many people outside of their locker room. Baylor cannot come out and play tight and play not to lose. They have to go out there and play like they have played all year. If the Lady Bears can play within themselves and not let the pressure get to them, they should win.