No. 1 vs. No. 2 in preseason WNIT final at Baylor
Baylor and Notre Dame know there is no way to win a national championship in November or December.
Or lose one.
Still, a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the preseason WNIT championship game Sunday at Baylor could certainly tell a lot about both teams.
''It's a huge game and a great measuring tool for us. We're up against a great team and it's going to be a great atmosphere,'' Irish guard Skylar Diggins said. ` We're playing the No. 1 team at their house. ... We will see where our mental toughness is.''
For top-ranked Baylor (3-0), this is the start of maybe the most difficult regular-season stretch in school history. The Lady Bears go to third-ranked Tennessee next weekend, and have a home game against fourth-ranked UConn before Christmas.
''We could lose all of them, and we're not going to continue to not think that we're pretty darn good and we hope to win a national championship,'' Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. ''Because if you play them now, you can correct all the things that need correcting. So that when you're back in that position to get to a regional final again, you'll have played the best in the country.''
No. 2 Notre Dame (3-0) was the national runner-up last season after losing to Texas A&M in the championship game. The Aggies had defeated Big 12 rival Baylor in a regional final.
But long before the Irish became the first team to beat Tennessee and UConn in the same NCAA tournament, they lost 76-65 at Baylor last Dec. 1.
Mulkey didn't watch the national championship game, but saw some film of it when scouting Notre Dame.
''I thought they were very similar to when we played them here, but just a little bit more fluid in what they were doing,'' Mulkey said. ''You'll see two competitive teams, two competitive coaches. And regardless of what happens, I'm glad that we can play these teams early, so that we can get better.''
This is the second 1 vs. 2 game for the Lady Bears, but their first as the No. 1 team. They lost 65-64 at top-ranked Connecticut in an early November game last season.
Their rematch against Notre Dame features a pair of preseason AP All-America picks, Diggins and Baylor's 6-foot-8 phenom Brittney Griner.
''Any player loves to play these types of games, knowing that it's going to be a battle every play,'' Griner said. ''You have to execute. One play can cost you in a game like this, a 1 vs. 2. We're just excited to play.''
Notre Dame has been in two previous 1 vs. 2 matchups, both against UConn in 2001. The Irish were No. 1 when they lost 78-76 in the Big East tournament final, and were No. 2 when they beat the Huskies in an NCAA tournament semifinal a few weeks later.
This will be the 47th women's basketball 1 vs. 2 game. UConn has played in 14 of the past 19 since 1999, winning 12 of them. The Huskies were the No. 1 team, and the winner, in each of the past five such matchups.
''It's really a great opportunity this early in the season to take a look at a team that is No. 1 in the country,'' Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. ''We haven't learned a lot about ourselves yet, what our weakness would be. We've been able to do what we want in the first couple of games and this is going to be a chance for us to evaluate our team.''
The Irish won by 20 over Akron in their WNIT opener, and won the past two games by 65 and 55 points. Baylor's wins have come by an average margin of 49 points.
In last year's Baylor-Notre Dame game, Diggins scored 21 points. Griner had 21 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.
''You can't simulate (Griner) in practice. She's a special player that changes the game,'' Diggins said. ''We have to contain Brittney and slow down Odyssey Sims. They have great team speed. We need to make sure we execute the defensive assignments we have. We need to execute on offense and have to play a total game here. We're going to see where we're at.''
Sims, Baylor's sophomore guard, was on the USA Basketball World University Games gold medal-winning team in China with three Notre Dame players - Diggins, Natalie Novesel and Devereaux Peters.
''They execute the offense. Skylar Diggins, she's a great player,'' Sims said. ''That's going to be a challenge for me just being able to guard her.''