Final Four Preview: Notre Dame vs. UConn
WHERE: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, Louisiana WHEN: Sunday, April 7, 8:30 p.m. EST TV: ESPN Bottom line: Can senior Skylar Diggins and the Irish beat the Huskies for the fourth time this season and for the fifth consecutive time (dating back to the 2012 Final Four) to advance to their third straight national championship game? ----- Skylar Diggins has done just about everything possible in women's basketball – except win a national championship. A senior, the South Bend native's got one more shot to bring a national championship to her hometown. But first, the Irish will have to beat one of the most storied programs in women's college basketball history, something they've already done three times this year. Notre Dame beat UConn on the road 73-72, at home in triple overtime 96-87, and most recently in the Big East Tournament Championship game 61-59. If you add up the total point differential at the end of regulation in their three meetings this season, Notre Dame has a mere three points on the Huskies. There were 26 lead changes, and UConn led at half in two of the three meetings. "Yeah, it's tough to beat a team three times," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "It's tough to beat a team two times. And the battles we have had this year have gone back and forth and down to the wire. Every one of them. So we've really done some really great things at the end of the game to win the game. We've made some huge plays. When you look back at every game, whether it was a defensive stop or a huge basket or something good, we've been able to make something happen at the end. So we would certainly hope that the karma continues." When you think of women's basketball, history tends to lend your train of thought to UConn and Geno Auriemma, who has led the Huskies to 14 Final Fours and seven national championship wins. "Well, all his teams are really talented," McGraw said. "I mean, they get great players. He's a very good coach offensively. I think the way their team moves and the style of game they play I think really fits what he has. He tinkers with it year to year, based on what he has. They're a very good defensive team. They rebound. They do everything really well. He's a really good coach." Notre Dame's balanced scoring attack was too deadly for Duke to combat in the Elite 8, and though the Irish graduated three key players from last year's Final Four trip, young players have stepped up to complement second consecutive Nancy Lieberman winner Skylar Diggins. "Skylar Diggins leading the team in just about every way possible, but [there's been] great performances by Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa and [freshman] Jewell Loyd," McGraw said. "We've had some fun along the way and we're so blessed to be back for the third time." "This has been a dream season for us,"McGraw said. "I think when you looked at us in the beginning of the year, nobody predicted us to be in the Final Four and certainly the improvement we've made throughout the year. But how well we've played throughout the year has been just so fun to watch." VIDEO: Notre Dame Final Four prep in New Orleans, courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics
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