Path ahead for UConn, Notre Dame

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Connecticut and Notre Dame have a chance to finish this season undefeated. The two former conference rivals are No. 1 seeds in the women's NCAA tournament and could meet for the championship April 8 in Nashville, Tenn.

Of course, both teams will try to keep the focus on what's right in front of them, not what's down the road. Here's a look at their potential paths before a possible clash of the titans.

Early-round challenges

The last time UConn lost before the Sweet 16 was in 1993, when Rebecca Lobo was a sophomore (the Huskies were eliminated in the first round). In 1994, the Huskies lost in the regional final (to eventual champion North Carolina), and then they won the title the following year. Seven more NCAA titles have followed.

With the Huskies playing the early rounds at home in Storrs, Conn., the odds of them not making it to the Lincoln Regional are pretty much zero. Prairie View, Georgia and Saint Joseph's will make the journeys to New England that will end their seasons.

As for the Irish, their last early-round loss is much more recent. Notre Dame lost its tournament opener against Minnesota in 2009, the year before Skylar Diggins' freshman season. Notre Dame's finishes during her career: the Sweet 16 in 2010, back-to-back title game appearances in 2011 and 2012, and a national semifinals berth in 2013.

This year, the Irish are set to host a regional, but their early-round matchups are on the road. The Irish face Robert Morris in the first round and could face either No. 8 Vanderbilt or No. 9 Arizona State in the second round. The Commodores earned a rare win against in-state nemesis Tennessee this season, but that was on Jan. 12. It seems very distant, especially considering Vandy has lost nine of its past 11 games. The Sun Devils also come into tourney play on a skid; they have just two wins in their past eight games.

Regional challenges

The Huskies could be Public Enemy No. 1 in the regional semifinals, where they might face regional host and No. 4 seed Nebraska. The Huskers, who won the Big Ten tournament, might have to beat No. 5 NC State in the second round to get there, but if they do, they will have the whole state behind them. Not that it will intimidate the Huskies, who are used to drawing big crowds on the road.

The top seeds of the bottom of UConn's regional bracket are No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Texas A&M. The Blue Devils have been majorly affected by season-ending injuries to point guards Chelsea Gray (January) and Alexis Jones (February), but even with those two in the lineup in December, UConn beat Duke by 22 points in Durham, N.C. Texas A&M won the 2011 NCAA title but was upset in the second round last year. The Aggies tied for second with Tennessee in the SEC regular season but lost to the Lady Vols twice. It's difficult to see any of those three teams stopping UConn should they all make it to Lincoln.

Notre Dame has not been rattled by much this season, but No. 2 Baylor or No. 3 Kentucky could present a challenge to the Irish in the regional final. Baylor won on Notre Dame's home court last season -- although that was a very different Lady Bears team then, led by Brittney Griner.

Baylor and Kentucky played in one of the highlight-reel games of this season back in December, when the Wildcats prevailed 133-130 in four overtimes. Baylor was Big 12 co-champion with West Virginia and then beat the Mountaineers in the league tournament title game. Kentucky had ups and downs this season but came on strong to reach the SEC title game, where it fell to Tennessee.

National semifinal challenges

If seeds hold, UConn would face South Carolina in Nashville, while Notre Dame would meet Tennessee. Once again, it would appear to be an easier road for the Huskies. That is not to disparage the Gamecocks, who won the SEC regular-season title, but South Carolina has never been to a women's Final Four, while UConn has played in 14.

Speaking of Final Four experience, no one has more than Tennessee's 18 times appearances, but they have not reached that round since 2008. If seeds hold, they will face Notre Dame in Nashville and be, of course, the home-state favorite. Tennessee, the SEC tournament champion, comes into NCAA play having won seven straight and 13 of its past 14 games.

For many years, the Lady Vols had Notre Dame's number; Tennessee won the teams' first 20 meetings. But Notre Dame has won the past four, including a 86-70 win Jan. 20 in Knoxville. The Irish did struggle in the first half of that game and trailed 46-41 at the break before taking over in the second half.

If Notre Dame faces UConn ...

It will be the first NCAA women's championship game between undefeated opponents and the fourth straight season the Huskies and Irish meet in the Final Four. UConn leads the overall series 30-11, but Notre Dame has won seven of the past nine against the Huskies, including two national semifinal wins in 2011 and 2012. However, UConn turned the tables and beat Notre Dame in last year's national semis before defeating Louisville for the championship.

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