The bad news for the Irish: On Sunday night, they are playing the one team that gave them the toughest time all season. The good news? In that Jan. 27 meeting in College Park, Notre Dame led Maryland by 12 at halftime, with Achonwa playing only three minutes and not scoring at all in the first half.
The Terrapins did rally in the game and, if not for a McBride jumper with 11 seconds left, would have had a possession to tie or win the game in the closing moments. The 87-83 Notre Dame win was the tightest game the Irish had to play all season.
If her team has lost any confidence with the loss of Achonwa, Muffet McGraw can point to that win over the Terps as the perfect example of how Notre Dame can do this without its senior forward. Achonwa was in foul trouble and essentially a non-factor, finishing with just seven points and three rebounds in 21 minutes, and Notre Dame still beat Maryland, the third-best rebounding team in the country, on the boards. Thomas got loose for 29 points and 12 rebounds and Maryland scored 50 points in the paint, but the Irish were still able to do what they do best: They shot 58.5 percent for the game and had 20 assists, categories in which they rank first and second in the country.
Loyd, as she was in the regional final against Baylor, was superb at Maryland with 31 points. The Terps didn't have an answer for her. An argument could be made that the two best players in any of the regionals were Loyd (25 PPG, 7.5 RPG) and Thomas (27.5 PPG, 13 RPG). The only possible challengers would be Sims and, unfortunately for Notre Dame, Achonwa.
Maryland had some turnover and shot selection issues even in those impressive wins over Tennessee and Louisville. Notre Dame is playing without an important piece to its success. It just might come down to which star has a better night, or the fact Loyd has McBride, a first-team All-American, riding shotgun and Thomas does not.
Sunday's nightcap will also be a rematch from earlier in the season. In fact, despite their opposite-coasts status, Connecticut and Stanford are two programs intimately familiar with one another. They have met at least once in every season since 2008. This will be the third time the Huskies and Cardinal have hooked up in a national semifinal; they also met in the 2010 title game. Generally, UConn has been too much for Stanford, winning seven of the nine meetings in that span, including this season's 76-57 win on Nov. 11.
The Cardinal's most recent win in the series was a big one: Stanford's 12-point victory over UConn during the 2010-11 season ended the Huskies' NCAA Division I basketball record (for men or women) 90-game winning streak. Did we mention that UConn is currently riding a 44-game unbeaten streak?
In the Stanford-UConn matchup earlier this season, Amber Orrange scored a career-high 22 points to help a constantly surrounded Ogwumike. Stanford got virtually nothing from anyone else and was never really in the game. The Cardinal could not control Hartley. Despite this being the game that Mosqueda-Lewis went down with the elbow injury that cost her eight games early in the second half, UConn cruised.