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Game 1: If you want a win, send a Cable

It was ugly, then it was maddening, and ultimately it was heartbreaking – unless, of course, you’re an Irish fan. Wrote Jonathan Czupryn of the NY Times (thanks again, Knicks, for losing. Keep it up!)

South Carolina, which entered Sunday’s national semifinals with the 11th-ranked scoring defense in Division I, forced Notre Dame to play in the mud, slowing the game with gritty defense and stifling ball pressure.

Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Coach Muffet McGraw and the Fighting Irish adapted to Coach Dawn Staley’s game plan as effectively as they conformed to Florida’s 80-degree weather.

Women’s Final Four: Notre Dame edges South Carolina in thriller, Tampa Tribune

On Sunday, senior Madison Cable, who had yet to score and attempted only four shots, scored the go-ahead basket with 16 seconds left after rebounding a missed shot by Jewell Loyd under the basket and putting back up nearly uncontested.

“I think it was a good time to get my two points for the game,” Cable said.

David Cloninger: 

There was no panic.

When Aleighsa Welch put back Tiffany Mitchell’s missed 3-pointer with 72 seconds remaining in Sunday’s national semifinal, South Carolina led for the first time all night. The Gamecocks were going to do it again – snatch victory from defeat – and they were going to Tuesday’s national championship game. It was scripted.

Notre Dame changed the ending.

Irish eyes smiling after this victory, Tampa Tribune

Think it didn’t matter? South Carolina players dropped to their knees or lay on the court when it was done. And the tears came. The Gamecocks were in the first Final Four in school history. It mattered. Dawn Staley’s team kept fighting back all night and grabbed its first lead, 65-64, with a little more than a minute left. The dream lived.

And now it had died.

Maloof: ND’s Loyd comes up big in crunch time, NCAA.com
Young frontcourt leads Irish back to title game, Michelle Smith, ESPN

“I think a lot of people coming in said we couldn’t handle their frontcourt and I think we did a really good job of it,” Turner said. “We just tried to battle the whole game and not let up.”

Turner and Reimer fueled Notre Dame’s offense in the first half, going a combined 8-for-11 from the floor for 20 points and eight rebounds. 

Notre Dame Shatters South Carolina’s Title Dreams, Courant
Cable’s putback puts Irish back into title game, ESPN
College women’s basketball: Unlikely hero lifts Notre Dame to national final, Duluth News Tribune
Notre Dame squeaks by South Carolina to secure spot in NCAA title game, ND Insider

Thanks to one of the most improbable finishes in program history Sunday night, Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team gets a shot at powerful No. 1 Connecticut in Tuesday’s NCAA Championship Game.

With freshman forward Brianna Turner, the team’s best shot-blocker and rebounder, fouling out with 3:11 remaining in regulation, with point guard Lindsay Allen – the MVP of the Oklahoma City Regional with a 25.5 scoring average – held scoreless and fouling out with 1:39 remaining, and with the team trailing for the first time with 1:12 left while in the midst of a 7:35 scoreless string, things couldn’t have looked bleaker for No. 2 Notre Dame against third-ranked South Carolina in Sunday’s first semifinal at Amalie Arena.

Or brighter, if you consider Notre Dame’s point of view.

Notre Dame Defeats South Carolina In NCAA Women’s Final Four, NPR
Farnum-Patronis: Gamecocks’ rally comes up just short
Notre Dame survives South Carolina rally to advance to title game, FullCourt.com
Gamecocks use loss as learning experience, ESPN
Cloninger Soundoff: Staley’s program built to endure, Go Gamecocks

For Gamecock fans, team still the ‘One’, Go Gamecocks
Video: Emotional Tiffany Mitchell on USC seniors’ impact, Go Gamecocks
Garnett and Black Attack

The South Carolina women went to Tampa looking to make history. They came up a bit short, but it wasn’t for lack of talent, or effort. Rather, an excellent Notre Dame team went toe-to-toe with the Gamecocks, and the Irish caught one extra break to grab a 66-65 win and eliminate South Carolina from the NCAA Tournament.

In-depth recap of Notre Dame’s victory over South Carolina, Swish Appeal

USC dribbled to the frontcourt and called timeout, but it seemed everyone in the building knew what would happen.

“We thought that Mitchell would get the ball and there would probably be a ball screen,” McGraw said postgame. Brian McCormick (also writing for Swish Appeal) sat next to me and said before the play that USC would set a high ball screen for Stewart. Steve Spurrier, Darius Rucker, and the rest of Hootie & The Blowfish knew USC would set a high ball screen for Stewart.

But ND hedged hard and beautifully, got a deflection, and forced an off-balance heave from near the hash mark by Stewart that wasn’t close when the buzzer sounded.

Game 2: Speed kills Turtles

Folks who follow the game know how devastating the cool and composed Morgan Tuck can be. The red-shirt sophomore seems to thrive on the big stage. Yesterday, when UConn’s A-game was not on tap, Tuck brought her All-American-To-Be into play to power the Huskies to a spirit crushing victory. Wrote Harvey Araton in the NYT:

Already trailing by 47-33, the Terrapins found a rare open shooter, guard Laurin Mincy, in the left corner. As Mincy set her feet and was about to launch from behind the 3-point line, the 6-foot-4 junior forward Breanna Stewart lunged with her long arms from what had seemed to be a safe distance away.

Stewart, recently named the Associated Press player of the year, deflected the shot. The freshman Kia Nurse caught the air ball, dribbled out of the pack and found a streaking Morgan Tuck filling the left lane. Tuck, a bruising 6-2 forward who missed last season with a knee injury, handled Nurse’s pass in stride, then made a gorgeous touch pass to Stewart, hustling back into the play, for a layup.

There was still 17 minutes 50 seconds left in the game, but it was all over except for the shouting, and the tabulating.

More on the game:

Maloof: Secret weapon Tuck leads UConn rout of Terps
UConn’s Tuck making most of return to court, ESPN
UConn Beats Maryland, Plays Notre Dame In National Title Game, Courant
UConn’s Kia Nurse Doesn’t Let Big Stage Rattle Her, Courant

Huskies Happy With Same Old Story, Courant
Huskies roll over Maryland, reach title game, Register
UConn easily dispatches Maryland, vies for third straight title, Tampa Bay Times
Women’s Final Four: UConn rolls into another title game, Tampa Tribune

When it was still a competitive game Sunday night, the Amalie Arena videoboard showed the familiar grin of actor Tom Cruise, who purchased a suite so his kids could watch the Women’s Final Four.

Appropriately, this was Mission: Impossible.

It was Maryland’s turn to take a crack at the top-ranked Connecticut Huskies. The Terrapins tried to run with UConn. It worked for a while.

And then …

This basketball game will self-destruct in five minutes.

Story just beginning for Maryland sophomores, ESPN

You heard it here first: at the Final Four two years from now, in 2017, the Terrapins could walk away with the title. That’s how good this team’s trio of sophomores — Brionna Jones, Lexie Brown and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough — are. (Also relevant: UConn star Breanna Stewart, who scored 25 points on Sunday and is going for her third title in three years, graduates the year before.)

Photos: Final Four: UConn Women Vs. Maryland, Courant

And prepping for the Finals:

UConn Vs. N.D. Perfect Ending For Tournament, Jeff Jacobs, Courant

Notre Dame is the only team in the nation that can score enough points to have any chance to beat UConn on Tuesday night. So for those outside the borders of a tiny New England state, getting Notre Dame into the national championship game is needed. Badly needed.

Yet inside the Connecticut border, there is a need, too. Or maybe a “want” is a better word. Look, South Carolina, with Dawn Staley and her program, is on an unmistakable rise. Although the Gamecocks’ first appearance in a national title game would have made for something new, something different, they proved unready when it mattered most Sunday night against the Irish in the Final Four to take that final step.

NCAA women: UConn to face Notre Dame in final, Tampa Tribune
Auriemma and McGraw’s rivalry, ESPN
Huskies, Irish set up title game rematch, Mechelle, ESPN

In a season in which there really were some unexpected thrills and surprises, the last chapter will be written again by two old reliables: UConn and Notre Dame.

It won’t be a meeting of two undefeated teams like last year’s NCAA title game, which was won by the Huskies 79-58 over the Irish. But it will be oh-so-familiar to women’s basketball fans, who’ve definitely seen this movie before. And its sequel. And the sequel to the sequel, etc.

UConn and Notre Dame to meet again for women’s national title, SI

And in the more future: Women’s issues could take center stage at future Final Fours

 When the NCAA Women’s Final Four returns here in 2019, the Tampa Bay area could find itself the epicenter of a wide-ranging forum on the most compelling issues that affect women.

If Anucha Browne sees her dream become reality, the annual championship event in women’s college basketball will also serve as a dynamic force to empower student-athletes and lure national women’s groups into the host city for networking and discussion.

“That has been my vision,’’ said Browne, a former standout basketball player at Northwestern who currently serves as the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball championships. “This is the premier women’s athletic event in the world, a celebration of women at the top of their sport. The next step is: how do you use this event as a platform to bring women together to discuss women’s issues?’’

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