Notre Dame, Baylor to meet for title
It’s been the mantra for both Notre Dame and Baylor all year. Now, one of them will cut down the nets following the women’s national title game Tuesday night.
The Irish beat Connecticut 83-75 in overtime Sunday night, and the Lady Bears topped Stanford 59-47 in the nightcap at the Pepsi Center.
Baylor and Notre Dame met way back in November, with Associated Press Player of the Year Brittney Griner collecting 32 points and 14 rebounds in the Lady Bears’ 94-81 victory.
”It’s going to be a good game,” Griner said. ”We beat them earlier in the season but we’ve got to get ready because this is the game they really want. So it’s going to be laid out on the floor.”
Natalie Novosel scored 20 points to help the Irish reach the championship for the second straight year. They lost 76-70 to Texas A&M in the title game last year in Indianapolis.
Griner led a balanced, efficient Baylor offense with 13 points. The Lady Bears will attempt to become the first basketball team in NCAA history to go 40-0.
The Irish just want to finish 36-3.
”There’s definitely some unfinished business,” Novosel said. ”That seems to be a common theme for everyone this year.”
Indeed, the Lady Bears even put it on green rubber bracelets to constantly remind them of their failure to even reach the Final Four a year ago.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey had the saying put up in the locker room, on notebooks and even handed out hundreds of those silicon wristband reminders to everyone associated with the program.
She isn’t the slightest bit encouraged by the Lady Bears’ earlier victory against the Irish.
”You don’t have comfort,” Mulkey said. ”There’s never comfort in this business. You go to the film room tonight and you get ready for the next game.”
Both teams are seeking their second national championship. Notre Dame won it all in 2001 and Baylor did it in 2005.
”Since we’re in the national championship game, we have to finish it now,” Baylor guard Kimetria Hayden said.
The Lady Bears are stacked but their most important player is Griner, the 6-foot-8 superstar and shot-blocking machine who has dominated the college game.
The Irish are an experienced bunch led by point guard Skylar Diggins, whose steady leadership helped Notre Dame overcome a letdown in regulation to blitz the Huskies in overtime.
Both have terrific supporting casts that promise to make Tuesday night’s tipoff the culmination of an epic Final Four in which all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the semifinals for the first time in more than two decades.
Diggins scored 19 points and had a game-changing block in overtime to lead the Irish to their third win this year over UConn (33-5), which has lost four of its last five games against Notre Dame over the last 12 months.
With the Cardinal focused on stopping Griner, her supporting cast stepped up and took care of Stanford. Terran Condrey scored 13 points, Odyssey Simms scored 11 and Destiny Williams pulled down 10 boards, eight of them off the defensive glass.
”We know they’ll double Griner, so the rest of us had to knock down some big shots,” said Jordan Madden, who scored nine points. ”When we hit shots, it opens up the paint so we can get it into Griner.”
Griner made just three field goals, missing six others.
”We’re not the Brittney Griner show,” Mulkey said. ”Brittney Griner is the face of women’s basketball, and she deserves to be, but this team is bigger than Brittney, she will tell you that.”
Sure enough, she did.
”I have all the trust in the world in my teammates,” Griner said. ”Like you said, three field goals, and I was never worried. I knew my team, my guards, would step up and knock down shots.”