FIRST HALF RECAP: UConn leads, 31-23
It wasn't a pretty first half for either side, but the Notre Dame kept things close early. Unlike any of UConn's previous opponents, they managed to keep it up for most of the half. Unfortunately for them, a 6-2 Husky run to end the half gave UConn their biggest lead of the game going into the break.
UConn's defense has hampered the Irish, holding them to 30% shooting from the field and forcing 13 turnovers. The Huskies haven't been playing great either, shooting 38% from the field with 8 turnovers of their own, but have kept things moving with a balanced offensive attack.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is leading the Huskies with 7 points, followed closely by Moriah Jefferson's 7 and 6 points each from Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart. Stewie scared the bejeezus out of us when she slipped on the court and appeared to tweak her leg, but was back on the court in a few minutes. She also has 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.
UConn is 20 minutes away from title number 10. And while Notre Dame is giving UConn the best fight they've had all tournament, the Huskies have been able to keep them at bay. I expect UConn to pull away and leave no doubt as they are wont to do.
The biggest rivalry in women's college basketball will be on display again tonight in a rematch of last year's championship showdown. The Huskies are the prohibitive favorite to win their 10th national championship while Notre Dame is looking for their first since 2001, second overall. The Irish have played in three of the last four national championship games, losing all three.
This will be the 21st time that UConn will be involved in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, with the Huskies winning 17 of 20 such games so far. They also lead the overall series with Notre Dame 32-11, but the Irish have won seven of the last 14 games (Editors Note: The fact that this is notable doe). They have the most wins against UConn of any team since the 2000-2001 season.
These two teams last met in early December with UConn winning 76-58 in South Bend. Morgan Tuck scored 25 points while Breanna Stewart dropped 15 behind a 9-10 effort from the free throw line. Kiah Stokes came off the bench to grab an impressive 18 rebounds. The Irish were led by Jewell Loyd's 31 points while star freshman Brianna Turner did not play due to a shoulder injury. Both teams have improved since their last meeting.
Moriah Jefferson, just named the Nancy Lieberman recipient as the nation's top point guard, played her worst game of the season that day, fouling out with zero points. In six career games against the Irish, Jefferson has only scored six total points.
The Huskies have advanced through the tournament field with relative ease, winning each game by an average of 36 points. In their victory on Sunday, they bested Maryland 81-58 with Stewart scoring 25 points and Tuck adding 23 of her own.
The Irish have terrific guard play and will undoubtedly attempt to challenge the UConn defense. They are a well-equipped three-point shooting team, hitting close to 39% from long range. Loyd is a prolific scorer who has a variety of moves and an ability to drive to the basket, which could give UConn fits down the stretch.
Notre Dame will be forced to find creative ways to defend UConn's low-post players. They'll have to take a defender off of Kia Nurse or Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to double either Stewart or Tuck down low. We may see them mix up their defensive looks and try different man/zone combinations to keep UConn guessing.
They did this with some success against Baylor in the regional final, but KML, Stewart, and Jefferson should have the ability to work around such schemes.
Mosqueda-Lewis scored only four points on Sunday night against Maryland, but expect the NCAA's most prolific three-point shooter to find her range in the final game of her college career.
It will be interesting to see how Geno Auriemma defends Notre Dame. The Irish have several players over 6 feet tall who could try to get the Huskies into foul trouble. UConn will have to run with the Irish and their fast-paced offense. It will be the last hurdle to a tenth championship for the Huskies, expect Geno to pull out all the stops.
The Huskies are undefeated in championship games at 9-0. With a win tonight, Geno would tie John Wooden with 10 titles. The last time two teams met in a national title rematch was in 2004 when UConn defeated Tennessee in back-to-back finals. It was UConn's third straight championship. The Huskies are going for another three-peat tonight. Coincidence? Absolutely. Time to stomp some leprechauns.