No underdogs needed in Final Four
PHILADELPHIA — Leave the bracket-busting unpredictability to the men's tournament. In the women Final Four, it's a dose of March Mildness.
Connecticut, Stanford, Notre Dame and Texas A&M, two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2s, will be in Indianapolis on Sunday for the national semifinals.
The double-digit seeds don't rule here — just the double-digit wins. The Huskies, Irish, the Cardinal and the Aggies all won their regional final games by at least 10 points, sucking the drama out of the most meaningful games of the season.
In one game in Indianapolis, the top-seeded Huskies (36-1) have a third straight national championship in sight when they play second-seeded Notre Dame (30-7). The Big East teams already played three times this season, UConn winning each time.
In another game, No. 1-seed Stanford (33-2) makes its fourth straight Final Four and plays second-seeded Texas A&M (31-5).
The winners play Tuesday for the national championship.
The Huskies made their fourth straight Final Four after cruising to a 75-40 win Tuesday night against Duke. Maya Moore, only the second four-time All-American, expects to leave the Huskies with a third straight national title.
"One thing is the absolute truth, there's only one team playing right now that knows how to win a national championship," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Only a couple kids playing next weekend know how to win a national championship and I'm fortunate to have them on my team."
In UConn's way is a Notre Dame team that will have the home-state advantage, but not much else. The Irish are 0-3 this season against their Big East antagonist: losing 79-76 on Jan. 8; 78-57 on Feb. 19; and 73-64 in the conference tournament on March 8.
"You would love to be playing somebody that's not in your conference, but, at the same time, there's going to be a Big East team playing for the national championship next Tuesday night and that's pretty cool," Auriemma said.
The Huskies are two victories away from winning an eighth overall championship to match Tennessee's record. It would also match the title run that the Huskies had from 2002-04 and the one that the Lady Vols achieved from 1996-98.
Notre Dame was making its first trip to the Final Four since 2001, when Muffet McGraw's team won it all. In that season, the Irish lost to Connecticut in the Big East tournament championship game before beating UConn in the national semifinals.
"I think it's just another example of how exceptionally strong our conference is," McGraw said Tuesday. "Connecticut is a tremendous team and, of course, we're both very familiar with one another from our three games earlier this season. It should be another competitive and exciting matchup and we'll be working hard in practice this weekend to get ready for Sunday night's game in Indianapolis."
Perhaps the Irish can take some inspiration from the Aggies, who proved a lengthy losing streak against one team isn't fatal in the NCAA tournament. Texas A&M lost eight straight against Baylor, including three this season, before pulling off the 58-46 win on Tuesday and advance to the first Final Four in team history.
"We're coming in as a two-seed, a very good two-seed that could've been a one-seed. We're coming in with a lot of ammunition," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said.
For Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen and Kayla Pedersen, they've reached the Final Four in every season of their four-year careers, a run that began by winning the 2008 Spokane Regional final behind Candice Wiggins. The Cardinal have won 27 straight games to match the longest winning streak in school history.
Notre Dame, only 140 miles north of Indianapolis, should have Conseco Fieldhouse colored in green. But Notre Dame's win denied the Final Four a now-rare matchup in the marquee — and nasty — Tennessee-UConn rivalry.
The two storied programs haven't played since 2007. That's fine with Auriemma.
"We're playing who we're supposed to be playing," Auriemma said. "Why? Why would I miss it? I don't miss it all. If Maya was supposed to play them we would have played them. ... The object of coming to Connecticut is to play against the best teams in the country and Maya's done that."
She has at least one more ahead.