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One breath-taking and elegant. One grinding and bruising. Two different styles on display and, contrary to some continuously un-infromed bloviators, people were paying attention: Women’s hoops (Tennessee-Maryland & Dayton-Connecticut), ‘Pardon the Interruption’ lead cable sports nets for Monday March 30, 2015

In the Dayton v. UConn game, the Flyers reminded everyone that there is no anointing of champions – it is an honored to be earned. For 20 minutes, women’s basketball fans and prognosticators looked with amazement as Dayton matched the Huskies shot for shot and speed for speed. Then UConn changed the pace in the second half and then (eventually) put some distance between their pesky A-10 opponent to notch a win and earn a trip to Tampa Bay. From Jeff Jacobs

…before there could be Tennessee for the first time in eight years, before there could be the rivalry that once was considered irresistible, there were the irrepressible Flyers hitting 7 of 10 three-pointers in the first half.

Before we could wade deeper and deeper in the furor over Indiana’s “religious freedom bill,” a furor that spread into our state Monday when Gov. Malloy signed an executive order banning state-paid travel to Indiana and adding it would be “a wise choice” to move the 2016 women’s Final Four, well, there was the matter of that school located about 40 miles from the Indiana border.

“I can’t say enough great things about the kids from Dayton,” Auriemma said. “That’s one of the best teams we’ve played in the last five years.”

Tennessee and Maryland went at each other like two heavyweights. Not a lot of finesse involved, just a lot punch/counter-punch. One would pull away, then the other would claw back. Then, in the last few minutes, the Terps scored, Tennessee went cold, and so Maryland moves into their second Final Four in a row.

Using a vastly different blueprint from a year ago, Maryland is back in the Final Four.

The Terrapins earned a berth in the national semifinal last season by relying heavily on the all-around play of All-American senior Alyssa Thomas.

There are no such standouts on this team, so the Terrapins have featured a more balanced attack. Four different players have led them in scoring during their four NCAA tournament victories.

Hmmm… I guess Mechelle didn’t get my memo: In Tampa, it’s UConn’s title to lose

There will be no long-awaited rematch of UConn and Tennessee in the Women’s Final Four. But the more recent incarnation of women’s hoops’ preeminent grudge match — UConn versus Notre Dame — could be on the horizon.

For the third time since the NCAA tournament began for women in 1982, all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four: UConn, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland.

in the WNIT: 

Semifinals
Wednesday, April 1
Temple at West Virginia, 7 p.m. ET
UCLA at Michigan, 7 p.m. ET

How they got there:

West Virginia 75, Villanova 70 OT
Michigan 69, Southern Miss 60
Temple 69, Middle Tennessee 57
UCLA 82, Saint Mary’s 66

On yesterday’s games….

From Graham: Allen scores 23 to lead top-seeded Irish to fifth consecutive Final Four

A point guard who spoke loudly and backed up every word of it got this started. A point guard who lets her play speak for her kept it going. All the way to Tampa.

Skylar Diggins, meet Lindsay Allen.

Not so long ago, Notre Dame was a respected program in college basketball. It mattered. It was healthy and reliable. But it wasn’t a program that influenced seasons. Had it been a country, it would have been Sweden. Maybe Australia.

It was pleasant. A superpower it was not. Influence comes and goes, with lasting power hard to come by, and the reach of the national championship won in 2001 had started to wane. Then came Diggins, the homegrown hero who memorably chose Notre Dame ahead of Final Four-regular Stanford. By the time she was a sophomore, the Fighting Irish were back in the Final Four. Then they went back the next year. And the year after that. Diggins left but they went back a fourth time, players who were attracted by Diggins, either directly or in the results that followed her, taking the reins.

Former Lehigh coach Muffet McGraw appreciates Notre Dame women’s basketball run more than ever, AP

It would be easy to forgive Pottsville native Muffet McGraw if she started taking Final Four appearances for granted.

After all, the Notre Dame women’s coach has become a regular of sorts on college basketball’s biggest stage — reaching her fifth straight Final Four with a 77-68 win over No. 2 seed Baylor on Sunday night.

Despite the top-seeded Fighting Irish’s wild success, their longtime coach has only grown more appreciative of the ride as the wins have piled up.

Notre Dame knocks off Baylor 77-68 in Oklahoma City regional final – Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen scored a team-high 23 points to send the Irish to its fifth-straight Final Four

With each step up the ladder, MVP chants echoed inside Chesapeake Energy Arena for the unlikely Notre Dame star as she cut her piece of the net.

“It’s just a great moment for our team overall,” she said, “to make it to another Final Four.”

The No. 1 Irish defeated two-seed Baylor 77-68 Sunday night and it wasn’t the espnW National Player of the Year, junior Jewell Loyd, who played hero in that scene. Instead, it was the formerly pass-first point guard who led Notre Dame to its fifth-straight national semifinal appearance.

 Hurting Baylor women expect to be bigger, better next season

The immediate pain made it difficult for Nina Davis to think about Baylor’s bright future.

For the second year in a row, the Lady Bears’ season ended with a loss to Notre Dame in a regional final.

“We fell short, and we thought we had a great opportunity to get to the Final Four,” said Davis, the sophomore who was the Big 12 player of the year. “But we had a great season.”

Hairopoulos: Early lead slips away, Baylor women’s season again ends just short of Final Four

South Carolina v. Florida State

From Mechelle: South Carolina books first Final Four – Seven years after she took over, Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks having historic season

Asia Dozier thinks she first shot free throws from the regulation distance when she was about 7 years old.

“But it was on an 8-foot goal,” she said, “so it was a little easier.”

Tiffany Mitchell thinks free throws are the least nerve-racking way to score — hey, it’s just you and the basket — which is why she gets so annoyed about missing them. She doesn’t do that often; Mitchell is an 83.9 percent shooter from the line this season.

In the final 27 seconds of South Carolina’s regional final 80-74 victory against Florida State on Sunday, the two juniors went to the stripe six times. With their program’s first trip to the Final Four hanging in the balance, Mitchell and Dozier came through, making all six.

Analysis: South Carolina 80, FSU 74 – Gamecocks trailed by 10 points before earning first trip to Final Four

Twenty-three years have passed since Dawn Staley went to the Final Four. But that’s where she and top-seeded South Carolina are headed later this week.

The Gamecocks trailed much of the game, but rallied in the closing minutes to beat No. 2 seed Florida State 80-74 in the Greensboro Regional final on Sunday.

Staley went to the Final Four three years in a row, 1990 through 1992, while a player at Virginia. She had a long professional career that included three Olympic gold medals. She began her coaching career at Temple in 2000, and then took over South Carolina in 2008.

Staley joins Baylor coach Kim Mulkey as the only women in Division I history to both coach and play in the Final Four.

Noles’ Dream Run Ends In Elite Eight

The Seminoles, who were either leading or tied for all but 3:43, end their season 32-5 after setting a school record for the most wins in a season.

“It feels like they took from us something that belonged to us,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said. “But somebody had to take it from somebody.

“And, ultimately, they made the plays down the stretch.”

The NY Times’ Vic Bernstein was there: With Late Surge, South Carolina Earns Its First Final Four Berth

 There are only a handful of elite programs in women’s college basketball, and every year, it seems, those same teams run through the N.C.A.A. tournament on the way to the round of 8 and the Final Four.

This year’s tournament, though, is going to be a little different. The blue bloods will have some new blood, and don’t be surprised if South Carolina makes itself perfectly at home at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., next weekend.

On today’s games: Tennessee v. Maryland

Elite Eight Preview: Tennessee vs. Maryland, Swish Appeal
Maryland women’s basketball: Terps look to punch Final Four ticket vs. Lady Vols, Testudo Times
Tennessee stands between Terps women and return to Final Four, Baltimore Sun
Reprieve and Persist: Tennessee Lady Vols vs. Maryland Terrapins, Rocky Top Talk
Final Four worthy encore for either Lady Vols or Maryland, Knoxville News Sentinel
Warlick looks for first Final Four, Arkansas Online
Lady Vols, Terps meet in another high-stakes game, Kingsport Times News

From Michelle, we’ve got the Spokane Elite Eight breakdown and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has ‘swag’ – Sophomore’s competitive fire sets the tone for Terrapins’ success

While her daughter Shatori Walker-Kimbrough was playing her role as the designated hot hand for Maryland in its 65-55 Sweet 16 victory over Duke on Saturday at Spokane Arena, Andrea Kimbrough was home in Pennsylvania — at a baby shower.

There was a big pile of gifts still to be opened, and the mother-to-be hadn’t gotten to hers yet, so Andrea Kimbrough found herself in an adjacent bar with a group of Shatori’s cousins watching the game on TV.

“I was stuck,” Andrea Kimbrough said. “I had to watch.”

Luckily, it was relatively pleasant viewing, with her daughter putting up 24 points and the Terrapins moving into the Elite Eight. Watching her daughter play isn’t her favorite thing, not by a long shot.

UConn v. Dayton
Dayton Reminds Auriemma Of Earlier UConn Teams On The Rise, Courant
Flyers In Sixth Consecutive Tournament Appearance, Courant
NCAA Capsule: UConn vs. Dayton, Courant
Huskies have their eye on the Final Four, Register
Stokes recording blocks and special tourney moments, Register
Sunday Gravy: UConn women take madness out of March, Register
UConn’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis finds her comfort zone, Albany Times Union
UConn, Dayton coaches renew a lopsided rivalry, Albany Times Union
Practice, interviews day before UConn women compete in Elite Eight, TheDay
Dayton ready for challenge of top-seed UConn, FoxSports
Dayton aiming for big upset of UConn, Albany Times Union

Luke Cyphers as the Albany Elite Eight breakdown and Dayton: ‘Nothing to lose’ vs. UConn, ESPN

Then there’s the other coach, Dayton’s Jim Jabir. He’s going nowhere but up, no matter what happens Monday. Which is why Jabir and his Flyers are having so much fun right now, despite facing the two-time national champs.

Jabir genuinely enjoys his days on the media room dais, perhaps because it has been such a long climb up there: Buffalo State to Siena to Marquette to Providence to Dayton. Except for that first stop, they were Catholic schools all, which made sense for a kid from Brooklyn’s Xaverian High, the alma mater of another guy who liked the 3-point shot, Chris Mullin.

“We are excited to be here,” he said. “Still excited to be here.”

UConn’s success drives Dayton, AP article from Columbus Journal Gazette

Hi, Harvey! To Longtime Geno Auriemma Assistant, There’s No Better Place Than UConn

and ponder Indy 2016.

How can any women’s basketball fan imagine attending the Final Four in Indianapolis if this ridiculous legislative apology for discrimination stands? Much of the analysis is looking at this from the men’s side of sports (of course), but it is all table setting for a year long debate.

From the New York Times: Sports Entities Begin to Digest Implications of Indiana Law

Most affected leagues and teams have either declined to comment or expressed muted concern.

But one influential agent went further, strongly suggesting that officials in professional and college sports reconsider their presence in the state in light of the law.

“I urge the Indiana Pacers, the N.C.A.A. and the professional sports leagues to not only condemn this blatantly unconstitutional legislation, but to take forceful action against it by re-evaluating their short- and long-term plans in the state,” Arn Tellem, the sports agent, said in an email. Tellem’s clients include the basketball stars Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis as well as Jason Collins, the first openly gay N.B.A. player.

And several basketball players who could find themselves playing for a national championship next week expressed, like Johnson, broader tolerance of people who are gay.

It was nice to see this from the Pacers/Fever:

The following joint statement was issued today by the NBA, WNBA, Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever in regard to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act recently signed into law in Indiana:

“The game of basketball is grounded in long established principles of inclusion and mutual respect. We will continue to ensure that all fans, players and employees feel welcome at all NBA and WNBA events in Indiana and elsewhere.”

Additionally, Pacers and Fever owner Herb Simon stated:

“The Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever and Bankers Life Fieldhouse have the strongest possible commitment to inclusion and non-discrimination on any basis. Everyone is always welcome at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That has always been the policy from the very beginning of the Simon family’s involvement and it always will be. ”

I appreciate the statement, but it needs to go further. Imagine, if you will, NCAA champion-WNBA Champion-FIBA Worlds Champion Brittney Griner’s Phoenix Mercury play NCAA champion-WNBA-Champion-Olympic Champion Tamkia Catching’s Indiana Fever at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and, say, Wimbledon great Billie Jean King graces the arena with her presence. They all decide to go out for dinner afterward… and are refused service.

How can any right-minded American think that is at all okay? There needs to be a commitment to do everything in their power to overturn this idiocy – in Indiana AND Arkansas (’cause 19 states that have ‘religious freedom’ laws like Indiana’s that no one is boycotting)

Oh, and WBCA? Where is your voice? *crickets*

Kate Fagan writes: DEAR INDIANA, YOU NEED TO AMEND YOUR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILL

If you contend you’re more like Illinois and Connecticut (two other states with “religious freedom” bills) than you are like Alabama and Louisiana — prove it.

Turns out that 19 other states have some form of a “religious freedom” bill, including the aforementioned two: Connecticut and Illinois. That’s surprising, considering that nobody is calling for the NCAA or NFL to boycott holding events in Chicago or Hartford. But do you want to know one reason why? Because the potential discriminatory nature of the “religious freedom” bills in those states is counteracted by the statewide policies protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

These anti-discrimination policies are not county-by-county. They’re not just government employment protection. They are sweeping measures that include public and private employment, public expression and interactions while receiving goods and services.

You, Indiana, have no such sweeping anti-discrimination policy. (Neither does Alabama or Louisiana.)

Just gotta say…

Holy CARP those two games were OFF. DA. HOOK!!!

Congrats to all four teams for putting on a great showing for women’s basketball.

Next!

Now must finish up the last bit of work at work, find that pile of paperwork and make my way home and get ready to teach bright and early.

Yes, it stinks when work gets in the way of basketball…

Man, do I love the Elite Eight. The last four in made it via

Rout. There are moments in sports when the individual or team are just in a zone, and there ain’t nothin’ anyone can do about it. Such was a moment yesterday, when even Auriemma just shook his head at what was happening on the court against Texas. From the Albany Times Union: Connecticut women’s basketball blasts Texas to reach Elite Eight

“Today was a lot of fun,” Stewart said. “Right from the start, shots were going in, and we were being aggressive. We knew Texas had big post players. We thought if we could get them moving a little bit, we could get any shot we wanted.”

Connecticut shot 55.7 percent for the game, a figure lowered only because of the final nine minutes when Auriemma cleared the bench. Stewart, after starting 2-for-7, made her final nine field-goal attempts, including two 3-pointers.

That being said, it’s exciting to see the return of high quality basketball in Austin. Looking forward to next year and the Texas-UConn series to see what happens when both teams are at full strength.

Upset: The feisty Flyers may have flown under the radar this season, but no more.

Jabir’s A-10 upstarts, who’ve become this tournament’s Cinderellas with consecutive upsets over second-seed Kentucky and third-seeded Louisville, for the first time this March betrayed some jitters. The normally smooth ball handlers turned it over 14 times in the first half against the Cardinals. A series of uncharacteristically wild Flyer passes included an outlet from Ally Malott to Jabir on the sidelines, and two others to an empty space in the corner near where Louisville’s large red costumed mascot stood.

In the locker room at halftime, Jabir addressed the gaffes with his crimson-clad squad. “I said, Look, I know the bird is red, but he’s got a yellow beak, and the only person in the building with a bigger beak than that bird was me, and I wasn’t playing.”

Wondering how many P5 programs are adding them to their “No Play” list (along with Green Bay, Princeton, Gonzaga, Arkansas-Little Rock…) after Dayton toppled Louisville.

Comeback: Down 17, Holly’s crew clawed their way back and used OT to secure the win.

It’s called the “persistence drill.”

The Lady Vols divide their roster into three teams at practice, and one team goes out to play defense with a 45-second shot clock. And they can’t leave the court until the clock gets to 0:00.

If that team fouls or gives up a basket, it resets to 0:45. If the group gives up an offensive rebound, it resets as well. And if the team gets a stop, the clock stops where it is — and a new team comes in.

“It’s taxing and they don’t like it. We’ve done it for 40 minutes with one team on defense the whole time,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “You just put their backs against the wall and see if they fold or if they are going to step up and get it done.”

The Lady Vols ran that drill five or six times this season.

And they ran it again on Saturday evening in Spokane Arena.

Nice work, though, by Fortier, a potential Maggie Dixon Coach of the Year (though, that award has not always been a signal for future success…)

Workmanlike: Maryland and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, made sure their former ACC rivals kept their distance, and eased into the E8.

“I think we just love being able to beat Duke in the NCAA tournament,” Frese said. “Just so many classic matchups with both teams. I think we make each other better. Just tremendously proud of our fight today. It wasn’t an easy game. I thought Duke kind of controlled some things in terms of kind of putting us into a half-court [game], but we did a phenomenal job in the second half.”

It’s Super Sunday, so sit down!

It’s the battle of the Green and Gold.

From Graham: Notre Dame, Baylor have wow factors – All-Americans Jewell Loyd and Nina Davis make Sunday’s matchup must-see TV

The word that matters this time of year is win. But all the better if there are some wows along the way.

And with Loyd and Baylor’s Nina Davis around for Sunday’s regional final (8:30 ET, ESPN), two teams that do a lot of the former are led by players who excel at the latter.

It’s not that they are definitively better or more talented than their peers, not when you see a display like the one Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart put on in the Sweet 16, but you can’t take your eyes off how they do what they do.

“I sit there just like you guys do,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said of Davis. “And I go, ‘How did she just do that?'”

Similar themed stories from the AP Baylor women haven’t forgotten loss to Notre Dame and ND Insider: History with Notre Dame on Baylor’s mind

Memories of Notre Dame’s 88-69 victory in the South Bend Regional of the 2014 NCAA women’s basketball tournament still sit in the collective craw of head coach Kim Mulkey and her Baylor basketball team.

On the eve of Sunday’s 8:30 p.m. regional championship rematch between second-ranked Notre Dame (34-2) and fifth-ranked Baylor (33-3) in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Bears admitted the porridge Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and her team prepared last March 31 hasn’t sat well during the 363-day hibernation in the series that Baylor still leads, 4-1.

It’s the Battle of Maroon.

From Mechelle: Modest Mitchell worth talking about – Junior All-American has South Carolina one win away from first Final Four

They’ll be tough moments during a practice at South Carolina, and that’s when she does it. Tiffany Mitchell will let loose the wisecrack or dry remark that seems completely inappropriate for everyone’s tense mood right at that instant.

Except, it’s actually pretty much exactly what everybody needs.

“It comes naturally from her personality; she’s a fun person,” said her good pal, Gamecocks forward Aleighsa Welch. “She takes basketball very seriously, but she values her teammates, and she’s one of the most selfless people you’ll meet. She makes everything a fun situation. Even sometimes when it probably shouldn’t be. She’ll find a way.

“I think she gets a lot of it from her mom, because they’re both definitely characters.”

The ESPN crew makes their picks, and there’s only one unanimous choice.

Compare and contrast….

Elite 8:
#3 over #7 by 11

#1 over #4 by 7

#1 over #5 by 39

#2 over #6 by 8

#2 over #11 by 12

#4 over #8 by 10

#1 over #5 by 6

#7 over #3 by 4

OR

#1 over #5 by 51

#7 over #3 by 15

#1 over #4 by 10

#2 over #11 by 4

#1 over #4 by 2

#2 over #3 by 15

#1 over #4 by 21

#2 over #3 by 1