Only Oregon scored more points per game this season than the Irish. UConn ranked 10th. But the Huskies lead the nation in scoring margin, and that tracks back to UConn's defense. Frankly, the Huskies' offense has been average in the NCAA tournament. The team's shooting touch generally hasn't been there, but the defense has been the constant. Scoring against UConn is like trying to blow a medicine ball through a straw. It starts out difficult and gets harder as you go. The Huskies slowly ground Stanford into submission Sunday. BYU and Texas A&M would probably say the same thing.
UConn's game plan is to first take away an opponent's 3-point shooting and limit free throws. One of Auriemma's common and often repeated questions to his assistant coaches during games is, "Why did we foul there?" The need to play cleanly is always on his mind and the reality is the Huskies foul less frequently than anyone in the country. Notre Dame, on the other hand, does a good job of getting to the line -- 182 more times than UConn, to be exact. It's another contrast between two teams that are also in many ways very much the same.
Geno Auriemma vs. Muffet McGraw: They are the two best coaches in the game right now. They teach and expect execution with an extreme attention to detail. Ultimately, players win games, but the chess match both in preparation for and during the game offers the most intriguing one-on-one of the entire season. Adjustments are bound to be necessary in a game with so much emotion and so much at stake.
Which coach finds that right button to push could be the difference. How will Notre Dame adjust to UConn's size? Can UConn recharge its offense? These are just two of the questions the two coaches face. Whoever has the better answers will likely have another championship.
Advantage: Connecticut. The Huskies' Stefanie Dolson, Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis make up the best frontcourt trio in the country, and there is no second place. Stewart, the game's most difficult individual matchup, already was named the AP national player of the year. Dolson, the most versatile center in the nation, is a second-team All-American capable of a triple-double. Mosqueda-Lewis, the purest of shooters, would have landed on an All-America list had she not missed time with elbow injuries and then mono. Each does so many different things well individually. Collectively, they are devastating on both ends of the floor.
The absence of Achonwa ruins Notre Dame's chance to even be competitive in this category. McGraw needed other players to step up, and Taya Reimer and Markisha Wright did just that against Maryland. Reimer played a solid 30 minutes Sunday, which is 12 more than she averaged all season and 17 more than she had been playing in the NCAA tournament's first four games. Senior Ariel Braker was a nonfactor against Maryland, playing just 11 minutes, but she tallied 10 points and six rebounds against Baylor in the Elite Eight.
Advantage: Notre Dame. The Irish have the edge, but it's slim. The amount of talent in the backcourt in this game is staggering and plays a huge part in both teams' unbeaten streaks. Most notably, the Irish have put together their perfect season with a freshman point guard, and that's a testament to Lindsay Allen's poise from the outset. Playing alongside two All-Americans in McBride and Loyd doesn't hurt, either.