DENVER – The UConn-Notre Dame semifinal matchup at the women’s basketball Final Four offers no secrets or surprises.
The Big East bullies are meeting for the fourth time this season and for the eighth time in the past 14 months. By contrast, the other game pits Stanford and Baylor playing for the first time since 2008 and for just the fourth time in history.
Coaches Geno Auriemma of Connecticut and Muffet McGraw of Notre Dame say this grudge match between such familiar foes will come down to execution and effort with a dollop of desire mixed in.
Forget the X’s and O’s and leave the bag of tricks behind. They know each other’s plays and personnel about as well as they know their own.
“There’s no mystery left,” Notre Dame guard Brittany Mallory said. “There’s not going to be any surprises. It’s all about heart, who is going to play the hardest, who is going to execute and play well.”
The Huskies are motivated by revenge – they lost to the Fighting Irish 72-63 at the Final Four last year after sweeping the season series and beating Notre Dame in the conference tournament as well.
The Fighting Irish are driven by the mantra of unfinished business – after dumping UConn, they lost to Texas A&M in the title game a year ago.
“It (stinks) being the bridesmaid, you know what I mean? I want to get married. I want to be the main one, I don’t want to be the side chick,” said Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins, the Big East’s player of the year.
To get that chance, the Fighting Irish (34-3) will have to get past the Huskies (33-4) again tonight.
Buoyed by that win in last year’s Final Four, Notre Dame swept UConn in the regular season only to lose to the Huskies in the Big East tournament title game.
“That’s pretty incredible how many times we’ve played each other, so there’s definitely not much left to learn about the other team,” UConn center Stefanie Dolson said Saturday. “But I think it makes it more fun because it’s not going to be so much about X’s and O’s, it’s about just competing and who wants it most.”
Both teams suggest the difference tonight will be heart and hustle – who gets the loose ball, the rebound that’s up for grabs.
Those things went UConn’s way in their last meeting, when the Huskies snapped their three-game skid against the Fighting Irish a few weeks ago.
“When you play a team that many times, you start to know every player in and out, the plays, their tendencies, that type of thing,” UConn guard Kelly Faris said. “So it will come down to effort and the hustle plays.”