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The Irish:

From Graham: Reimer’s hiatus pays dividends for Irish

Taya Reimer wasn’t on the court the last time Notre Dame lost a game. She wasn’t on the bench. She wasn’t in the arena. She wasn’t even in the state.

It isn’t a coincidence that she is here as the Fighting Irish return to the state of Florida for the first time since that loss in Miami nearly four months ago. And if Notre Dame is to beat South Carolina on Sunday night and return to the national championship game for the fourth time in five seasons, it won’t be a coincidence that she will be on the court.

John Fineran for the Notre Dame Insider: South Carolina next hurdle for Notre Dame women to clear

“I have a lot of concerns about South Carolina,” McGraw said Saturday before sending her team out for the first workout by the four teams. “They’re such a good team and their depth is just probably the best in the game. Actually, I think they have the most depth of any team here.”

Slap the Sign: Notre Dame Basketball: Muffet McGraw’s Most ‘Unlikely’ Final Four Team

More from John at the Notre Dame Insider: Madison Cable brings competitive fire to Notre Dame and from ND’s official site: IRISH EXTRA: Madison Cable Tuned In To Irish Success

Al Lesar at the Notre Dame Insider adds: ND’s Lindsay Allen giving defenses something else to worry about

The burden of responsibility Loyd has carried into the NCAA Tournament has manifested itself with some very un-Jewell-like performances. Combine the DePaul (3-of-15) and Baylor (5-of-18) games and Loyd is shooting a chilly 24 percent, well below the 45 percent clip she carries (along with a 19.9 scoring average) for the season.

A testament to the solid nature of the Irish program was that Notre Dame didn’t crumble when Loyd’s numbers went down the tubes.

Somebody else just stepped up.

In addition to a hot streak by long range artist Michaela Mabrey (12 of 19, 63 percent, in the last three games), 5-foot-7 sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen (averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 assists) has flipped the switch from starter to finisher; from distributor to scorer.

Denise Maloof at NCAA.com: Superstar, when needed – Irish’s Loyd can dominate or facilitate come Sunday and

David Cloninger at GoGamecocks: Final Four: Jewell Loyd shines brightest for Irish

If there was a way to do it, somebody would have done it by now.

“We do have a game plan in for what to do with a player like Jewell Loyd,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “You have to make her work.”

And make sure Loyd doesn’t work your team to death – which is where she specializes.

The Gamecocks:

From Charlie: Why South Carolina’s bench could trouble Irish

A’ja Wilson could be the national freshman of the year. Alaina Coates was the SEC’s top freshman in 2014 and is the Gamecocks’ leading rebounder this season.

Yet both come off the bench for South Carolina.

And nobody inside that locker room cares. Getting the program to its first Final Four was the only goal that mattered from day one.

From Willie T. Smith III at USA Today: Notre Dame has more than just Loyd, South Carolina knows

An extensive study of film on the Fighting Irish was enough for the Gamecocks’ coach to understand why her No. 2-ranked opponent continually finds itself in the Final Four.

“Notre Dame is like a machine from an offensive standpoint,” Staley said. “They’re like Connecticut in that they find the person that is supposed to shoot it. They make basketball look beautiful and easy because they feed off each other.”

Gene Sapakoff at the Charleston Post and Courier: Lack of women’s parity or not, Gamecocks crash Final Four cartel

That South Carolina hasn’t just reached its first Final Four but crashed an exclusive party enhances a vault from mediocrity. As a parity debate simmers within women’s basketball, the Gamecocks going into Sunday night’s game against Notre Dame are a beacon of fresh hope.

“We’re not here off luck,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said Saturday. “Our team worked to get in this position, and it just goes to show some of those other programs, if you continue to work and you continue to recruit and you continue to do things the right way, I think the basketball gods will put you in this position.”

David Caraviello at the Post and Courier: In Final Four, USC’s Mitchell receives her toughest assignment yet

The women’s Final Four ramped into high gear Saturday, when house music thumped and pep bands blared as each team walked through something resembling practice. The din quieted briefly as the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association introduced its All-American squad — which included South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell and Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd, who lined up next to one another for the group photo.

They’ll get quite accustomed to that kind of proximity Sunday night.

William T. Smith, III: For Welch, Ibiam, Dawn Staley’s pitch is coming true

When recruiting South Carolina seniors Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam, Gamecocks women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley made sure the duo understood her goals for the program .

Staley believed both reaching the Final Four and winning a national title at USC were attainable.

“With both me and El, it was something she definitely pitched to us,” said Welch. “It was something she wanted both of us to really believe in. It was something we talked about on my home visit and I’m sure on El’s home visit.

More from William: Aleighsa Welch helped spark USC’s recent success

Aleighsa Welch has never met a stranger.

Friends are met with hug, acquaintances an arm around the shoulder and newcomers a warm smile.

Welch’s kindness should not be seen as a weakness, however, as beneath that smile beats the heart of a warrior.

Andrew Ramspacher at The Daily Progress: Former Cavalier great Staley returns to Final Four

Watching the game from home last week, Debbie Ryan considered the right time to send a congratulatory text to Dawn Staley.

It wouldn’t be at the final buzzer of South Carolina’s win over Florida State. It wouldn’t be when Staley was cutting the net off a Greensboro Coliseum rim in celebration of a regional championship.

No, Ryan whipped out her phone as soon as Tiffany Mitchell drained a corner 3 with 1:21 remaining to give the Gamecocks a five-point lead.

“You’re going to the Final Four,” Ryan told Staley. “Enjoy it. Have some fun.”

Gamecocks’ Staley dedicates Final Four trip to John Chaney

Vic Dorr for the Richmond Times Dispatch: For Dawn Staley, coaching brings sense of balance, fulfillment

The most stunning crossover of Dawn Staley’s basketball career occurred not on the court but rather during a job interview at Temple University.

Despite having every intention of saying “no,” Staley said “yes” in 2000 to an offer to become the Owls’ women’s coach. To this day, she seems surprised.

“I absolutely did not want to be a coach a day in my life,” Staley said. “Not one ounce of me wanted to be a coach.”

Ron Morris at The State: Building a champ: Staley has made Gamecocks into annual national contenders

Her purpose has been seven seasons in the making, yet Dawn Staley has instilled a mindset that South Carolina women’s basketball is a national championship contender.

Establishing that line of thinking sometimes has been a two-step forward, one-step backward process for Staley and her coaching staff.

Through it all, Staley said she never wavered in her belief that her program would be among the nation’s elite.

“I didn’t have any doubts, but the struggle was very real when you’re not winning as much as you’re working hard. What we put ourselves through as a staff is we had to understand it’s a process.

Amy Farnum-Patronis at NCAA.com: A matter of time

When Dawn Staley added the title “Final Four coach” to her lengthy résumé last week, it really didn’t surprise anyone in the basketball world. It had just been a matter of time.

Staley has succeeded at every level in everything she has done, so when she took over as head coach at South Carolina in May 2008, Gamecock Nation was just biding its time until she turned the program into not just a winner, but a national contender.

The Terrapins

From Kate: ‘Everybody’s rooting’ for young, fearless Terps

The Terrapins were supposed to be too young; they had lost five seniors, including the program’s leading scorer, Alyssa Thomas, from last year’s Final Four squad, and conventional wisdom suggested it would be at least a year before fiery coach Brenda Frese could make her super sophomores — Lexie Brown, Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough — believe themselves capable of returning.

From Gene: To beat U-Conn., Maryland women’s basketball must first defeat doubt

Addressing the media the day before the NCAA tournament’s Spokane Region final last week, Maryland women’s basketball Coach Brenda Frese was asked for reaction to comments from her counterpart at Duke, Joanne P. McCallie, about top-ranked Connecticut.

The coach of the Terrapins’ contentious rival had mentioned there was a “monarchy” in the sport, referring to the Huskies’ nine national championships, wildly lopsided victory margins and McDonald’s all-American recruits Coach Geno Auriemma seems to stockpile by the dozen.

“She must not think her team can beat them,” Frese said.

From Diamondback Online: With renewed expectations, Maryland women’s basketball preps for UConn

“Last year, we were really excited to be there,” Mincy said after her last practice in College Park. “We were taking in the whole experience. We are going to do the same thing this year, but our mindset is a little different. We are coming in to the Final Four to win.”

But the odds are stacked against the Terps. They are set to play the tournament’s top seed, Connecticut, which has won its first four games in the Big Dance by an average of 41 points.

From Charles Walker at the Carroll County Times: Having reached elite level, Terps relish shot at ‘Goliath’ of women’s basketball, UConn

As good as Maryland has been, Las Vegas oddsmakers listed the Terps as 23-point underdogs once the match-up was set. And no one thought that particularly strange.

So why did Maryland players carry such big grins this week as they spoke of the task ahead? Well, it’s simple: They want what UConn has. And whipping the existing monarch is the surest path to the throne.

“Who doesn’t want to beat Goliath in the end?” said Maryland’s lone senior, Laurin Mincy.

From Doug: Coach Frese, Maryland hopes to end UConn’s run at Final Four

“Aren’t we tired of it,” Frese said of UConn’s dominance. “Everyone’s rooting for us. Some new stories, our sport needs it to be quite honest. I know there are a lot of people out there cheering and want to see Maryland beat UConn. For us and our sport it would be a great thing.”

Amy Farnum-Patronis at NCAA.com: Maryland’s guard play key in matchup vs. UConn

Anthony Brown at the Baltimore Wire:

What Maryland basketball has been all about the last 28 games is physicality on the boards, driving to the basket with reckless abandoned and pushing the ball in transition. Teams haven’t been able to keep with Maryland’s pace because they rebound the ball so well and their transition game is one of the best in the NCAA. Their sophomore class is a big part of their success  and Brionna Jones in the post spearheads the success of the team offensively as a rebounder and scorer.

While Maryland has their big four of Lexie Brown, Laurin Mincy, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Jones in this Women’s Final Four matchup, the Lady Terps will have to worry about these players on UConn’s squad:

The Huskies

From Mechelle: Breanna Stewart embracing UConn celebrity

 If you’re a great player like Breanna Stewart signing to come to UConn, you must realize you’ll have more on your plate than just trying to keep up the program’s crazy-high standards.

You will be a celebrity in Connecticut. Not just for the time that you’re playing, but forever after, too. Signing autographs, people adoring you, wanting to know your opinion about everything. Sounds cool, right?

“I wasn’t particularly comfortable with it,” said Rebecca Lobo, the signature star of UConn’s first NCAA title team in 1995. “I loved playing at UConn, but I never expected — because I had never experienced it before — all that other stuff that comes with it.

Rich Elliot for The Day: UConn embraces its role as the favorite

There is a sizeable target on the back of every member of the UConn women’s basketball team each time they step on the floor. It has been like that for years now as the top-ranked Huskies are considered the favorite to win every game they play.

It is a role that they have had no choice but to embrace. It is a role that has seen them thrive. And they are looking do so again over the next three days at Amalie Arena.

Greg Auman for Newsday: At UConn, it’s national title or bust

Denise Maloof at NCAA.com: ‘It comes with the territory’ – UConn’s sky-high standards are unique to rest of field

As nine-time national champions can, Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma dropped an observational nugget during media sessions ahead of Sunday’s 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four.

“I wish we would lose more,” Auriemma said Saturday, to audible murmurs. “I really do.”

Yeah, right. The quote master’s two-time defending national-champion Huskies meet Maryland in Sunday’s second national semifinal at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. They’re playing in their eighth consecutive Final Four.

Why does losing sound attractive?

Harvey at the NY Times: UConn’s Domination Is Win-Win for Women’s Game, Geno Auriemma Says

“I think the attention that comes from being really good and having a certain standard that we set and a certain level of recognition, I think it has been good in that sense,” he said. “I think coaches around the country and their athletic directors can say, hey, look, look what happened up in a small place like Storrs, Conn.; look what they’ve been able to do. Why can’t we do the same thing?

Tom Jones at the Tampa Bay Times: UConn’s greatness not necessarily a boon for the sport

Patricia Babcock McGraw at the Chicago Daily Herald: Why UConn’s program is good for the women’s game

Brian Koonz at the CT Post: Lobo is right, it’s time for women’s basketball coaches to ‘grow up’

“Grow up,” Lobo snapped, addressing an invisible audience of head coaches Saturday at Amalie Arena. “Watch what they do. Watch what those players do on and off the court.

“Make yourself better. Coaches, make yourself better so that you can compete with Connecticut. Don’t try to make Connecticut worse. They’re nothing but good for the women’s game.”

As long as critics, including head coaches, complain about UConn’s dominance, women’s basketball will remain the game with a burden.

And it’s so much more than that.

You’re not here? Nya, nya: 5 things you’re missing In Tampa Bay

Ann must be pleased: Congrats to UCLA, WNIT champs. Watch out, PAC-12, for that kid Canada

The gap in the middle of West Virginia’s defense was a repeating invitation that UCLA freshman Jordin Canada couldn’t pass up.

Canada drove to the basket often and scored a season-high 31 points to lead UCLA to a 62-60 win over West Virginia for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship Saturday.

Canada was the only double-figure scorer for the Bruins (19-18) and was selected the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

 

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Had a wonderful time working with some amazing educators, eating yummy food and seeing new birds! (Black Rosy Finch)

Black_Rosy-Finch

In the Pac12, no new birds this year: #19 Stanford was down early to Cal, but put just enough distance between them (1pt.) to escape with a win and earn their 11th Conference Championship.

 Even the ending was a little weird. Cal’s Mercedes Jefflo buried a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, and there was an odd pause in KeyArena, as if, for a moment, no one knew quite how to react.

Stanford won its 11th Pac-12 tournament title Sunday night by defeating Cal 61-60, and the moment seemed a little hesitant — much like the Cardinal have a lot of the season.

Stanford didn’t come flying off the bench in a raucous celebration. Rather, it felt more like a reserved, happy relief.

 Even the ending was a little weird. Cal’s Mercedes Jefflo buried a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, and there was an odd pause in KeyArena, as if, for a moment, no one knew quite how to react.

Stanford won its 11th Pac-12 tournament title Sunday night by defeating Cal 61-60, and the moment seemed a little hesitant — much like the Cardinal have a lot of the season.

Stanford didn’t come flying off the bench in a raucous celebration. Rather, it felt more like a reserved, happy relief.

Maryland also struggled against the feisty Mitchell, but a late travel by the Buckeyes helped the #4 Terps secure a three-point win and the B-10 Championship, 77-74.

The Maryland women’s basketball team didn’t make life easy for itself or the fans. After building a 15-point lead just four minutes into the second half, the Terps saw the Ohio State Buckeyes chip away several times, cutting the lead to a single point. Through the tense final minutes, the Terrapins’ shells never cracked and the Buckeyes could never quite get over the hump as the the Terps held on for a thrilling 77-74 win to capture the Big Ten Tournament Championship.

Eastern Tennessee State was down 24 in the second but roared back. #17 Chattanooga had to go to overtime against the up-and-coming Bucs to earn the Southern Conference title with a 61-56 victory.

Sunday they nearly kept Chattanooga from winning its 57th consecutive game against a SoCon opponent, a streak that includes 48 regular-season wins and nine in tournament games.

“There’s not a combination of 26 letters in the alphabet to tell you how proud I am of these kids,” said ETSU coach Brittney Ezell, who is in her second season with the program.

“To play with those kind of guts and to fight back the way that they did, that’s all them and I’m just honored to sit in that first chair for them and I’m really proud of that group.”

#2 Notre Dame had no such issues as they dealt with #7 Florida State with aplomb, 71-58, and snared the ACC title.

“I’m really proud of this team for where we came from to win this,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “To go through the league with just one loss was a remarkable accomplishment. We had so many new pieces to fit together, and I think with Jewell’s leadership we were able to get a little bit better in every game. This was the best game we’ve played all year.”

#3 South Carolina struggled against #5 Tennessee the last time they met. Not so much this time, when the SEC Conference Championship was on the line. Gamecocks win, 62-46.

There’s really only one time when South Carolina’s Elem Ibiam doesn’t fully appreciate the megawatt power source that is fellow senior Aleighsa Welch.

“I’m not her roommate, but we’re always in each other’s rooms,” Ibiam said. “And there are some nights when I’m like, ‘It’s time to go to sleep,’ and she wants to talk all night.

“She always has energy — always. It’s not just on the court. It’s when she’s in her room, when she’s driving to the gas station — it doesn’t matter. And when you’re having a bad day, you know she will pick you up.”

#21 George Washington picked up their fifth Atlantic 10 tournament title (first since 2003) by grounding the Flyers, 75-62.

Jonquel Jones stood tall and played taller at the defining moment of her career as a Division I basketball player.

George Washington’s 6-foot-4 junior forward did everything other than sell programs and sweep the floor during the Colonials’ 75-62 victory over Dayton in Sunday’s Atlantic 10 women’s tournament title game at the Coliseum.

She scored 21 points, sank four 3-pointers, grabbed six rebounds, blocked a pair of shots and helped GW play lockdown defense on the perimeter – yes, the perimeter – in the second half.

Liberty earned their 16th Big South title, defeating High Point, 74-64 and returning to the NCAA tourney.

The offseason is usually a relaxing time for Liberty women’s basketball coach Carey Green. An avid outdoorsman, the longtime Flames mentor likes to take advantage of all of Central Virginia’s natural offerings.

The time between the end of the 2014 Big South tournament and the start of the 2014-15 season was anything but calming, however. When you’re the head coach of a program in which the baseline expectation is to qualify for the NCAA Tournament on a yearly basis, anything less is hard to swallow.

A huge win for Hartford means huge heartbreak for (now WNIT bound) Maine Bears. The Hawks upset the top-seed in the American, 65-54.

Top-seeded UMaine’s NCAA season came to an unceremonious end in the America East semifinals, where the fifth-seeded Hawks rode a dominating post performance by Cherelle Moore to earn a 65-54 victory at Binghamton University’s Events Center.

“Cherelle Moore played like one of the best players in the league, and she is,” said UMaine coach Richard Barron.

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