Notre Dame, Connecticut meet again in the Final Four

Published 8:05 am Thursday, April 4, 2019

NILES — The goal is simple. Back-to-back national championships.

Defending national champion Notre Dame will take on arch rival Connecticut Friday night for a spot in the title game in Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Notre Dame is making its ninth overall appearance in the Final Four and is seeking its third national title.

The Huskies are making an NCAA record 12th consecutive appearance in the Final Four. Connecticut is seeking a record 12th national championship. The Huskies have been to the Final Four 20 times.

It is no secret that Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and Connecticut coach Geon Auriemma respect each other, but are not necessarily fans of each other.

So, the matchup between their two teams could get contentious at times on Friday.

“No, I think it’s relevant,” said McGraw when asked if her team will use anything from its first meeting with the Huskies. “I think you can always look back and see some things that you did, see some things that they did. When you’re watching the recent game, they’re still running that or not running that as much. They changed some defenses, playing things differently.”

Friday night will be the 50th meeting between the Fighting Irish and the Huskies.

Auriemma agreed with McGraw about what is useful from their first meeting back in December.

“Yeah, I don’t think that a game that you play in December is really going to tell you a whole lot about a game that you play in the Final Four,” he said. “There was a few years ago when we played — Stewie was here, we played Notre Dame, I think we lost to them three times in the same year, then beat them really good in the Final Four. That Final Four game had nothing in common with the previous three games.

Notre Dame (33-3) comes into the Final Four having won 13 straight games since it lost to Miami. The Fighting Irish have won 12 of those games by 16 or more points.

However, Notre Dame was tested by both Texas A&M and Stanford in the regional round last weekend.

McGraw feels that the loss to the Hurricanes refocused her team for the stretch run of the season.

“It was definitely a wake-up call,” she said. “We lost to North Carolina, but Jackie Young didn’t play. In the back of our minds we had a little bit of an excuse. That probably wasn’t a good thing. We lost to Miami with a full roster. Now we had to take a good, hard look in the mirror and say, What is going on here? I think it was great for us to be able to refocus. We came back and I don’t think — we won by a pretty comfortable margin the rest of the way. I think it was between that, that point in the season, where March was suddenly very close. You could see it coming. We didn’t have the grind of January, which we did during the North Carolina game. We had a little more focus because we could see the finish.”

Notre Dame is the most prolific offense in the Final Four with all five starters averaging in double figures. Marina Mabrey, Jackie Young, Brianna Turner, Jessica Shepard and Arike Ogunbowale became the all-time leading scorers in NCAA history, for either men or women, when they surpassed 10,000 points against Stanford Monday night.

“If anyone is going to unseat the Fighting Irish, they are going to have to figure out a way to slow down the highest scoring team in college basketball this season.