McGraw calls Loyd the best athlete she has ever coached. Her ability to get to and finish at the rim is rare -- the Jewelly-oop is a growing legend -- but she's also a 40 percent 3-point shooter. She and McBride are matchup nightmares for any defense, even UConn's.
Of course, UConn has its own All-American in Bria Hartley. Her versatility as a shooter, distributor, driver and defender -- whether at the point or off the ball -- is vital to what the Huskies have been able to do in her four years.
The emergence of Moriah Jefferson has allowed Hartley to become more of a scorer this season (career-high 16.3 PPG). Jefferson became that last perfect piece to the UConn puzzle this season. She more than doubled her scoring average from her freshman season and became the kind of defender no one wants to face, an annoying (in a good way) ball stalker. On offense she doesn't need to shoot, but is usually willing. Stanford gave her looks from the perimeter and she was a little more reluctant than usual. Notre Dame will likely do the same. How Jefferson responds is something to watch for Tuesday.
Advantage: Notre Dame. Given that Connecticut doesn't have one, this was an easy choice. Notre Dame gets the nod with Madison Cable, Michaela Mabrey and Markisha Wright. The difficulty here is that Auriemma has made this a moot point the past two seasons, finding a way to dominate with no depth.
UConn's use of just six players is well documented. Auriemma has worked brilliantly around season-ending injuries to Morgan Tuck, as well as Brianna Banks' and Mosqueda-Lewis' injury stints. In many ways, Connecticut's bench is just the second gear of its starters, the players conditioning and their uncanny ability to play without fouling (UConn leads the nation in fewest fouls committed). Kiah Stokes, a 6-foot-3 junior center, is UConn's one reserve. She just so happened to play what Auriemma called her best game ever at UConn on Sunday night (nine points on 4-of-4 shooting, with four rebounds). Her size allows the Huskies some flexibility. Dolson and Stewart are able to get quick breathers, or Auriemma can go to a bigger lineup with Stewart at the 3 and the 6-foot Mosqueda-Lewis at the 2.
Cable and Mabrey give Notre Dame two more shooters, and Cable is one of those players who seem to be around the ball whenever she's in the game. The real key here is Wright. Her role is upgraded with Achonwa out and she became the player to most significantly raise her level of play, with 12 points and nine rebounds against Maryland. That's coming off a season with averages of 3.3 points and 2.6 rebounds.
Like Reimer, Wright played a season-high 23 minutes. They teamed up to produce a combined 21 points and 14 rebounds. The question here is, will Reimer and Wright be ready for the significant upgrade in competition (Maryland offered little inside resistance) and the even greater magnitude of the moment?
Advantage: Notre Dame. Both coaches are brilliant. The players are big-game tested and know how to win. That much is a wash. Where UConn typically has a huge advantage is the aura it carries on the court, especially in these types of games. A crisis of confidence is common in teams playing UConn.