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And may I be this first (WHB blogger) to put in a request that Nashville host again… SOON! There’s just too much to see and do and I only have two feet and 24 hours in a day.

So, after a Holiday Inn breakfast that included bacon (!) and scrambled eggs (!) and biscuits (!), the rest of Monday morning was spent plotting and planning with two fellow basketball nuts. The brainstorming and opinionating was fast and furious (is there any better kind?) and we even managed to extract a couple of doable action steps. Watch this space for future actions in support of building women’s basketball attendance.

I then joined a small cohort of friends from the midwest and we *tried* to take in the Country Music Hall of Fame. There’s just too much stuff (and, said my Nashville friend, I didn’t push enough of the buttons). I’m not sure why I didn’t know about Bakersfield and the music business, nor why I didn’t connect the impact of the Dust Bowl on west coast music and filmmaking, but I’m glad that significant gap was filled.

Lunch/Dinner time followed at Jack’s barbecue (FOB Sue can now rest easy) ’cause that’s required dinning in Nashvegas. Love their potato salad…

Then came the games.

As always, it’s fun to see women’s basketball history walking the hallways of the (lovely) Bridgestone arena. Jody Conradt, Tina Charles, Lisa Leslie, Pokey Chatman, Lin Dunn, Andy Landers…. the list goes on. We watched the game next to the Best Uncle Ever – he brought his niece to the game as a present (she’d played basketball against TN’s Harrison, but softball is her love). A landscaper by trade, soccer coach by avocation, BUE had a great eye for spotting former players as they wandered by…

As for the games: I don’t know if it came across on TV, but there was a golden, glowing ball surrounding McBride. What a sight to see. It was not so fun watching Maryland’s matador defense in action nor their stationary offense. Que paso?

In the second game, Stanford came out confident and with a clear plan to slow the game down. And it worked beautifully, as Connecticut’s offense continued to stutter and start. But then that three rimmed out, and there was a missed layup, and before you knew it, I’m sure the phrase “patented Connecticut run” was being used by the game announcers. Unfortunately, having slowed down the game, the Cardinal couldn’t speed it up when they needed to catch up.

Highlights: The Firecrackers, a fabulous group of jump ropers, the marching band from local TSU, and Kiah Stokes – who was my “player on which the game turned” nominee. McBride’s performance was THE highlight, though.

We exited the arena into a drizzling rain (boo!) and hustled our way to the fancy, shmancy Omni for a post-game beverage and game dissection – only to find there were no late-night beverages available. Luckily, the staff was susceptible to my subtle NY charm and hangdog puppy face. Five minutes later we were sipping lovely martinis and leaning up next to a fireplace de-damping. Ahhhh….

Monday morning I put on my “yah, I’m on vacation, but I can do a little of my ‘real’ work if ya want.” Met friend Lattie to lead a session on questions and questioning with some fabulous teaching artists who work under the auspices of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Far too little time — and SO much fun to be with them — but Lattie did treat me to some yummy Asian fusion and a walk through the extraordinary Nashville Public Library. And I do mean extraordinary. A new building that fits it seamlessly with the surrounding architecture — it reads 1930s — it manages to be “classical” without dominating or overwhelming. Best of all, it has a PUPPET THEATRE!!!! The library has a tradition of puppetry – initiated by a gentleman to loved to use puppets to engage young children. The new library honored that tradition is a delightful way. I had a chance to meet the amazing puppeteers and see their exquisite puppets. Oh, to have seen their show String City: Nashville’s Tradition of Music and Puppetry.

Squeezed in another meeting of mind — this time “women’s basketball history” nuts. What a delight to meet FOB Ellyn and talk history and research and ethnography and Susan Cahn and oral history and… well, just talk history. What more could you ask? So, if anyone reading is a good grant writer – or just has some extra cash they’ve been wanting to invest in a great cause – this is what we want: $50,000 to help capture the oral histories of women’s basketball. (Sort of a “StoryCorps of Women’s Basketball.)” We want to take advantage of reporters or educators and their love of stories and say, “Here’s $250 – go spend a couple of hours with this person (perhaps an area/neighborhood person) and get them to talk about what it was like to play, organize, officiate, manage, advocate and legislate for women’s basketball.” We’d then have them upload it and have the interview magically transcribed and catalogued.” (About $250 an interview). Simple, no?

Oh – and all this plotting and planning happen in the exquisite Hermitage Hotel. A kind staff member  gave us a thirty-second tour, that turned in to a discussion of NCAA, unions, the women’s suffragette movement with, of course, a little women’s basketball history tossed in for good measure. Wheee!

The day continued with delicious food (are you noticing a recurring theme on this trip?) at City House in Germantown. Knowledgable and friendly staff, intriguing beverages, too much food (meaning, there was no room for desert! *sad face*) Since friend Lattie was our guide, we got to make another too-quick pass through another part of the oh, so impressive Centennial Park — I really liked the timeline.

We capped off the evening with a Nashville tradition: the Time Jumpers at Third and Lindsley. Wow. Just wow. And the verse they added to Henry Strzelecki’s Long Tall Texan? Priceless… Thanks Vince and company!

A quick look at the basketball news before turning out the lights made my head spin and my eyes go wide. When I randomly wondered if some reporter would be ridiculous enough to ask Geno and Muffet the “If you were driving and saw the other coach on the side of the road with a flat tire would you stop question” I was KIDDING. What on earth happened in the bowels of the Bridgestone during the off-day media circus?

Honestly, coach McGraw – hush, now. It’s about the players. Because What’s Happening Tonight in the Women’s NCAA Final Has Never Happened In Any Other Sport

 

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Wicked early flight meant getting up wicked-er early, so I’m looking forward to a nap soon.

It’s chilly-greening-spring here in Tennessee – 40 or so when we landed, but the Final Four greeter promised us 64 by noon. When you’re in the sun, yes….when you’re not? Brrrrrr!

Easy car pick up, then headed to East Nashville for some breakfast at Marche Artisan Foods. Great service, yummy food…

With time to kill before the hotel opened up, drove into, through and around downtown Nashville. Small and bustling at the center. Different, more concentrated vibe than when I was in Knoxville for the WBHOF induction ceremony a while back. Strong mix of old and new architecture.

Continued our wandering exploration and end up driving past Vanderbilt (yes, as we researched, started by THAT Vanderbilt – hence the “Commodores” nickname.) Did you know the campus was also an arboretum? Did a quick drive through – really, really lovely. Also stopped by Centennial Park to visit the Parthenon and did some walking. Yup, it’s big. Nearby lake is being dredged/cleaned, so that wasn’t so scenic.

It’s early for birds – but there is a list: RobinsBlue Jays, a lone Turkey Vulture, cackling Grackles, some beautiful Bank Swallows, noisy Northern Mockingbird, a gregarious Carolina Wren, and an early Hermit Thrush.

Next on the agenda, the aforementioned nap, then a return to East Nashville to partake of the fare at the Eastland Cafe. Then, we’re off to the Grand Ole Opry!

Phew!

Hoping tomorrow features a visit with a WBHOF inductee, coffee, brunch, barbecue and two fabulous games.

Until them, some more reading (and listening): First, make sure you check out the Tennessean’s coverage:

Fans show love early in Women’s Final Four

Kara Lawson: No favorite between Pat, Geno

Rebecca Lobo: UConn is beatable

Legendary lady Pat Summitt: Pride of Cheatham County

WOOT! WOOT! WBB HISTORY!! Nashville Business College: Champions before their time – LONG BEFORE TENNESSEE AND UCONN, THESE FARM GIRLS DOMINATED WOMEN’S BASKETBALL AND THEIR RECORD IS UNMATCHED TODAY.

Final Four teams have fun at Ryman

UConn’s Dolson, Hartley old hands at Final Four, Post
More Than Anything, Geno Demands Sweat From UConn Women, Courant
More Awards For Stefanie Dolson, Courant
Capsule: No. 1 Seed UConn Women Vs. No. 2 Seed Stanford, Courant
Pictures: Behind The Scenes With UConn Women In Nashville, Courant
It’s a Great Time to be a Husky, Stefanie Dolson

Stanford’s supporting cast stepping up to help Ogwumike, Register
ESPN analyst touts Ogwumike’s pro potential, SFGate
Lawson Says Stanford Has Best Shot At UConn, Hartford Courant

U-Md. abuzz as women’s basketball team heads to Final Four, Washington Post
Nashville already full of Maryland fans, ABC
Majoring in Chemistry, Chloe Pavlech

Before UConn, ND should fear Terps, Observer
Notre Dame Women: Save Your Pity, Blue & Gold
Irish must prove doubters wrong, Kate Fagan
Geno (And USA Basketball) Love Kayla McBride, Hartford Courant

Dishin & Swishin 04/03/14 Podcast: Breaking down the Final Four with coaches Doug Bruno, Lindsay Gottlieb & Coquese Washington, HoopFeed

Duke coach’s analysis of women’s Final Four, Bradenton Herald

In Women’s Final Four, Jousting Before the First Jump Ball, yea! It’s Harvey at the New York Times

Beating UConn rarely leads to title – Most teams that beat UConn in NCAA tourney don’t win NCAA championship, Mechelle Voepel

Rematches story of women’s Final Four, AP Teresa M. Walker

Five minutes with ESPN analyst Kara Lawson, Nashville Business Journal

NCAA hosting women’s hoops summit at Final Four, AP Doug

 

As coach Mitchell cuts to assistant coaches, Sea of Blue is Taking a Moment To Celebrate The Season That Was

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Curt Rallo ‏@rallo_NDinsider 9m
ND source tells S.B. Tribune that Natalie Achonwa @NatAchon has ACL tear in left knee and will not play in Final Four for @ndwbb.

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Val’s recommendations, (Work, dabnabbit!), but I appreciate some of the comments folks have sent in to me (womenshoopsblog @ gmail.com).

As I use my week away to rest, recover and SCUBA (wheeee!) I will take a gander, but I’m already biased. Or, maybe better stated, I’m already assuming that most of these recommendations are aimed at the top 25 teams, not the whole of women’s basketball.

Meanwhile, from Rick Nixon at the NCAA: Women’s Basketball Committee outlines next steps to enhance play

The NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee is moving quickly to enhance championship play, based on the recommendations from Val Ackerman’s white paper presented nationally just over a week ago.

The committee will immediately allow regional host institutions to play on their home courts, and will also establish a women’s basketball stakeholders’ summit at the 2014 Women’s Final Four. Longer range enhancements the committee will immediately pursue include a review of the competitive format for all rounds of the championship beginning in 2015, including:

  • Shifting of weekend playing dates for the Women’s Final Four from Sunday-Tuesday to Friday-Sunday, with preliminary round game days aligned accordingly

  • Possible first- and second-round byes for as many as the top-32 seeds, so that lower-seeded teams play each other in the earlier rounds

  • Combining the Women’s Final Four with the Division II and Division III Women’s Basketball Championships in Indianapolis in the Summer Olympics year of 2016;

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At espnW (Hey, I gotta ask, do boys suffer from “stress sweat”?): Clarendon leaves leadership legacy – Cal’s success raises stock of WNBA draft hopeful

Layshia Clarendon watched intently as an inexperienced teammate dribbled the ball off her foot and out of bounds.

Sensing her frustration, Clarendon retrieved the orange and white basketball, offered an encouraging pat on the back and applauded loudly. The next time through, her teammate didn’t bobble even a single dribble.

This didn’t happen to one of Clarendon’s California teammates at this year’s Final Four in New Orleans, but rather to a young girl, no older than 4, at the WNBA’s annual pre-draft fitness day youth clinic Sunday at ESPN’s KidsCenter.

Two radically different venues, but with the same comfortable leader.

A little video preview of the draft with Swin. And, of course, there has to be a preview of the Best of the Rest.

A little W stuff:

From Ned at The Day: Donovan makes her transition to the Sun

On the West Coast, Jayda notes: Seattle Storm enters training camp with major roster issues

A couple of piece from the Courier Journal: Program-defining upset for Louisville women’s basketball: They’ll always have Baylor and What will Louisville women’s basketball team do for an encore? Outgrow Cinderella’s slipper

On paper it looks like a team that could make another Final Four trip.

“I’m really excited about that, but I’ve got to make sure my players understand that we just went on a pretty special run,” Walz said. “And if you’re going to sit here and think the same thing is going to happen without going back to work and getting better individually, it’s not going to happen.

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my trip last week to Nebraska and my trip this week to New Orleans: Nebraska was freezing, New Orleans is not.

Things that happened in New Orleans:

  • Sitting at the WBCA All-Star game and listening in a couple of SEC folks deconstruct the second half of Kentucky/UConn game.
  • Coming up with a new game to play: Guess which high school player is going to which program based on their style of play.
  • Watching Griner take a moment for a picture with a young fan. Griner standing on the arena floor, fan in the stands: Fan is almost as tall as Griner’s upper body.
  • Yummy, yummy po’ boys at Mothers.
  • Being stalked by friend Renee and her crew. Always good to see familiar faces — even if it’s only once a year.
  • Chatting with deeply-in-the-know-folks about certain coaches who make goofily loud statements about how they’d rather be in a place known for its pasta v. goin’ to New Orleans. Clue-free, much?
  • Walking. Lots of walking. Staying up on St. Charles — a little nearer than I was back in my youth hostel days, but still a walk into the center of the city. Beautiful buildings — brick being the specialty of the house.
  • Pelicans. Brown, that is, are all over the city ’cause, you know, it’s the state bird. And their NBA basketball team is renaming itself the Pelicans. (Guess they got jealous of the Stormy Petrels, huh?).
  • Actually, pelicans are a similarity to my trip to Nebraska, in that we saw a string of 9 migrating white pelicans. And we’re staying nearish to the Blind Pelican.
  • Teasing coach McCallie as you meet her walking the streets ’cause she’s got that “I lost my rental car in the parking lot” look. Liking the fact that she can go with the flow and approve of the sleek silver corvette I point out for her. (BTW, she did find time to provide some F4 analysis.)
  • Knowing my day is brunch, basketball, basketball, dinner. What could be better?

From those folks actually working:

About that Purple, Black and Neon-Green High School Game: Black Team Clinches Win in 2013 WBCA High School All America Game, and no, celebrity coaches Swin and Catch did not throw basketballs at each other. But they got close to throwing on a jersey to secure their team a win.

Sports Illustrated points out that In women’s Final Four, it’s a heated rivalry and two newcomers (even though I know Richard knows Walz has been there before.).

The Times-Picayune’s Trey Iles says, California women’s basketball a Bear of a team when it comes to rebounding, Rachel Whittaker says Connecticut freshmen adjusting to Women’s Final Four stage, hoping to give seniors one more shot,
Cal, Louisville feature tough teams looking to continue Women’s Final Four runs,and Terrance Harris writes, Notre Dame and UConn leaving past in the past as the rivals square off — again– in the Women’s Final Four

The entire state of Connecticut might be in frenzy these days trying to figure out just how deep No.1 Notre Dame has gotten into the heads of its beloved Huskies these past two years.

Arguably the best rivalry in women’s college basketball has become awfully one-sided these last 24 months, with the Fighting Irish winning seven of the last eight games over UConn.

But as far as Notre Dame senior All-American point guard Skylar Diggins is concerned, nothing in the past, not even the three wins over the Huskies this season alone, has meaning as the two powerhouse programs from the Big East get set to square off for a fourth time this year during the national semifinal round of the NCAA Women’s Final Four on Sunday night at the New Orleans Arena.

No surprise, a ton of stuff from the Horde (thanks, Nan):

Huskies believe they’re ready to avert failures vs. Irish, Post
UConn vs. Notre Dame: Who has the edge?, Post
Breaking down the women’s Final Four, Post
Incoming freshman Saniya Chong will get close up look at her future teammates, Post
Auriemma Says Whatever He Can (To Anyone) To Motivate Players, Courant
Dolson, Mosqueda-Lewis Join Exclusive Club Of All-Americans, Courant
UConn Women Face Common Dilemma Vs. Notre Dame – Not Letting Another Team Get Inside Your Head, Courant
Jeff Jacobs: UConn Women Will Win This One, In First 39 Minutes, Courant
Dolson, Mosqueda-Lewis named to WBCA All-America squad, Register
Roads for seniors Skylar Diggins, Kelly Faris lead to the same place, Register
Notre Dame vs. UConn, Register
UConn gets one last chance to beat Irish, Day
This is the one that counts, Hour

Kelly Whiteside at USA Today thinks that For Notre Dame, Connecticut, it comes down to crawfish:

It’s easy to be unnerved by a bowl of crawfish.

“It was looking back at us,” Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins said as she described her team’s experience sampling the local Final Four fare. “Had eyes in it still.”

In a way, the Notre Dame-Connecticut women’s national semifinal on Sunday is little like a bowl of crawfish. We’ve seen it more than once (or twice or thrice) but it’s still transfixing. You don’t want to look away.

From the Chicago Tribune: Loyd and Tuck: A tale of two seasons

Gene Wang, WaPo: Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz basking in Final Four

From the YouTubes, Notre Dame athletics is workin’ it: During the 2nd day of the Final Four, the Fighting Irish women’s basketball team practiced at Tulane University, had their head shots taken for the ESPN broadcast, and celebrated at the Final Four Salute dinner.

Congrats – and so well deserved – to AP COY McGraw (Gives me chance to shout out a former Lib player, WATN? COY: Vanessa Nygaard is girls’ basketball coach of the year)

Yup, AP Tom, McGraw, Auriemma have crossed paths for years

From the SBT:

From the Mercury News’ Stephanie Hammon: Brittany Boyd shows maturity in sophomore season for Cal women’s basketball team

“I knew that going with a very exciting, dynamic freshman point guard there were going to be some times where you say, ‘OK, that’s a growth moment,’ but a lot more times that you see the spectacular,” Gottlieb said. “I wanted to give her that rope and that empowerment to be her and she has continued to stay with us and try to get better every step of the way.”

“I grew up in a sense,” Boyd said. “I understand the game more.”

Hammon also adds: Cal women’s basketball team expects the unexpected from Louisville’s defense

“After our Baylor win, we went into the press room, and they’re all asking me how long are you going to enjoy this, and I said, ‘For a lifetime,’ ” Walz said by telephone from New Orleans, site of this year’s Final Four. “I said, ‘We’re going to talk about this the rest of the day, tomorrow, the next day, next week, next year.’ I’ve been doing this for 18 years now and really just come to the conclusion life’s too short. You have to enjoy your moments.”

The Louisville Courier Journal makes up for lost time:

Louisville’s Shoni Schimmel is shining bright in the NCAA Tournament

Q&A with U of L’s Monique Reid: Been there, done that, doing it again

Women’s NCAA: Cards’ defense can baffle Cards, too

If you find yourself puzzled as to what kind of defense the University of Louisville women’s basketball team is running, take heart.

Sometimes the U of L coaches and players don’t know, either.

The Cardinals’ shifting schemes have keyed their surprising run to the Final Four. They will switch defenses as many as three times in a single possession, and as you might expect, that occasionally causes confusion on both sides. During the Elite Eight victory over Tennessee, coach Jeff Walz’s assistants asked him what defense the team was in.

“I turned around and said, ‘I don’t know. Shut up,’ ” Walz said. “ ‘Who cares? They’re playing hard.’ They started laughing.

Inside the Louisville-California women’s matchup

Akoy Agau in his words on Louisville basketball in the Final Four

‘If it can happen three times . . .’ Auriemma’s Huskies face an Irish streak

Jere’ from the NY Times adds: Far From Reservation, Sisters Lead Louisville

Louisville had just advanced to the women’s Final Four, and the sisters Shoni and Jude Schimmel had helped cut the nets in celebration, a rare achievement for American Indian athletes. But it was not the biggest family news of the day.

NBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry and folks on “Women’s Basketball as a Model for the NCAA”

Griner says, “Why not, ” Swin says, “Why should she have to?”

Some chick offers The UConn perspective — historical, physical and emotional — on Sunday’s semifinal

From Harvey Araton at the New York Times: At Intersection of Fading Eras in Women’s Game

Donehew, who was a graduate assistant and director of operations for Summitt’s team from 2001 to 2008, was close enough to be inside the circle after the painful diagnosis came in the summer of 2011. She was part of a small group that included Summitt’s son, Tyler, meeting one day to plot a strategy with Summitt on how to proceed publicly.

“We talked about what she wanted to do moving forward: her career, her plans, her legacy,” Donehew said.

But what of the heritage of the Big East, where Donehew has worked for the past four years, joining the conference at a time when its women’s basketball fortunes had become very much the competitive equal of its acclaimed and soon-to-be-mourned big brother?

And, since there are folks on the gentlemen’s side who are all het up about the officiating in the Syracuse/Michigan game, I have an excuse to revive this brilliant April Fool’s from a few years back: 

Cleveland, April 1 (AF) – The NCAA and the Women’s Basketball Officiating Consortium announced new assignments for game officials in Tuesday’s women’s Division I national basketball championship game today, replacing the previously-assigned officials with a new group who had not previously officiated in this year’s NCAA tournament. The original crew, Sally Bell, Dennis DeMayo and Dee Kantner, will be replaced by University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, Maryland coach Brenda Frese and Baylor coach Kim Mulkey.

Mary Struckhoff, the National Coordinator of Women’s Basketball Officiating for the NCAA, announced the new officiating crew at a press conference last night. “While we realize that many fans will be surprised by this change, we think it will make for a more exciting contest. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to seeing this group try to manage a basketball game. We’re particularly delighted that Brenda was able to take time out from updating her resume to officiate on Tuesday night.”

The reactions of the referees originally scheduled to officiate the game were surprisingly upbeat. “I think this is the finest group of coach/referees they could have assembled,” said DeMayo. “I know that every one of them has corrected my officiating mistakes dozens of times, and made sure I knew exactly how I had missed each call. It’s an honor to give up my spot in the national championship game for these outstanding individuals. I’m looking forward to reviewing the game tape with them so I can learn how someone can call a game so well from 30, 40 or even 70 feet away from the play.” (Click to continue reading)

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catch up on last night:

Louisville took care of Tennessee in an eerily similar manner to their take down of Baylor — race out to a lead, then tire (or do dumb stuff) in the middle of the second, then win.

Dan writes: Louisville stops Lady Vols’ run to Final Four, 86-78

Tennessee’s problems began on offense. Louisville used multiple defensive alignments to thwart the player and ball movement that was so prevalent in the Lady Vols’ regional semifinal victory over Oklahoma.

Tennessee had just one point to show for its first seven possessions.

“It may have rattled us some,” UT assistant Dean Lockwood said. “But that’s where you respond at the other end of the floor and we couldn’t do that.”

In the end, there was too much Jude and Shoni. Says Mechelle: Schimmels lead Cards to Final Four

Louisville’s Schimmel sisters, Shoni and Jude, recall watching a movie called “Double Teamed” when they were in middle school. It was about identical twins Heather and Heidi Burge, who went to the Women’s Final Four three times while playing at Virginia in the early 1990s.

The film is hokey, but it’s still a sweet, triumphant story of the sisterhood and athletic success of real people.

“When we were younger, the movie seemed very realistic to us,” Jude Schimmel said. “What they did was our dream, too.”

Shoni added, “Yeah, that was us.”

Duke tried copy Louisville, but couldn’t hold on in the second.

It was an angry glare that could have melted steel.

It certainly melted No. 2 seed Duke’s hopes of pulling off an upset against No. 1 seed Notre Dame in the Norfolk Regional final of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Just a quick glance at the daggers beaming out of Skylar Diggins’ eyes early in the second half let Duke know it was in trouble.

Adds Graham: Sky’s the limit for Notre Dame

The dances in the middle of the court were complete. Those members of the crowd not clad in green already had begun to drift off into the Norfolk night. But there was one last bit of official business to take care of before Notre Dame left the court for the final time.

By unanimous decision, the announcer intoned, the regional’s Most Outstanding Player award went to Skylar Diggins.

Close, but not quite. There wasn’t any need to go to the judges on this one. Diggins won by knockout. 

From the News Observer: 

Just getting to a regional final was probably accomplishment enough for a Duke women’s basketball team that endured much adversity this season.

That did little to salve the pain the Blue Devils felt as Notre Dame cut down the nets at Old Dominion’s Ted Constant Convocation Center on Tuesday night.

From the Chronicle:

“Our first half was pretty good,” Liston said. “We held them to 31 points and we were right on pace for the [defensive] goal that we wanted to keep them at for the game. I thought we did a great job and we had great focus on the shooters and the go-tos that we wanted to shut down, [but I] wish we could have had that same focus in the second half on defense.”

At the Rockdale Citizen (GA), Darrell Huckaby says hes A fan of women’s basketball and Andy Landers

I was a fan of women’s basketball long before it was cool. I coached girls’ basketball in high school for about 25 years. It made sense to follow the college game. Besides, I liked it. It was a game of strategy and shooting and defense.

In 1985, my Woodward Academy team won its way to the state tournament for the first time in school history. I decided to reward my team with a trip to the women’s Final Four in Austin, Texas. In those days the women’s tournament was played on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, so on the last Thursday in March, we piled into two school vans and headed west.

Yes. We drove to Austin, Texas, for the games.

Tom Goldman at NPR says, Baylor’s Departure From Women’s Basketball Tournament Leaves Huge Hole

Also at NPR: Notre Dame, Louisville Triumph To Round Off Final Four

From Kate Fagan: Big East trio finds way to Big Easy

The right side of the Women’s Final Four bracket looks just like you’d expect it to. But if you shift your glance to the other side, you see one of the most unexpected matchups in recent memory.

Michelle says: They’ve got next

Of this year’s 3 To See, only one remains standing. Notre Dame’s title-craving Skylar Diggins carries the torch for this year’s crop of extraordinary women’s basketball talent into the Final Four in New Orleans.

But if this year’s unpredictable, thrilling tournament has taught us something, it’s that there are other players worthy of our time, attention and admiration all over the top ranks of the game.

And with the Final Four set — Notre Dame and Louisville joined the party on Tuesday after Cal and Connecticut earned their spots on Monday night — this next group of young players already has reached star status as they make their Final Four debuts.

From the experts, Picks (Now that we’re in New Orleans …)

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Why, yes, it is, and I believe it’s the Cal Bears who are singing it! (Or, maybe it’s “Started From the Bottom”)

From Elliott: Cal women’s basketball team reaches its first Final Four

These Cal Bears just don’t quit.

Cal reached its first Final Four in history Monday night with another overtime victory — this time a 65-62 thriller over Georgia in front of a crowd of 5,863 at Spokane Arena.

The Bears (32-3) will play either Tennessee or Louisville in the national semifinals Sunday at New Orleans Arena.

Don’t count out Cal to reach the finale April 9. Not with a senior-led roster buoyed by gritty guard Layshia Clarendon, who had 25 points, including five in overtime, against the Lady Bulldogs.

From the AP:

 California coach Lindsay Gottlieb was in elementary school the last time a West Coast women’s basketball program not named Stanford reached the Final Four.

Gottlieb understood the drought and the difficulty in getting to the national semifinals. That’s partly why the grin on her face was so wide Monday night when Cal finally snapped that 25-year streak, sending the Golden Bears to New Orleans for the Final Four.

“These kids are brought in,” Gottlieb said. “So many things go into it and then you have to get a little lucky and then things have to go right, so I’m really conscious of this is special.”

From the Daily Californian:

All year long, head coach Lindsay Gottlieb wanted the Cal women’s basketball team to be recognized as an elite team. On Monday night at Spokane, Wash., the team took one step further in solidifying its rising recognition.

Seung Lee adds: A new era begins for California basketball

Breathe it in. Soak it up. Because, possibly, you’ll never see anything quite like this.

For the first 36 minutes against Georgia Monday night, the Cal women’s basketball team did not play Cal basketball. Star forward Gennifer Brandon couldn’t make a single shot. The offense was stuffed by Georgia’s zone defense.

Then it all just clicked at the most pivotal time.

From the Spokesman Review: Gritty Bears in Final Four

The University of California women’s basketball team didn’t expect anything less than a tug-of-war Monday night.

Earning its first trip to an NCAA Final Four couldn’t have been more difficult. And, in the end, more rewarding.

From David Lassen at the Alumni Report: Clarendon, Cal reach Final Four

Layshia Clarendon (San Bernardino Cajon) scored a game-high 25 points and Cal survived its second overtime game of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, beating Georgia 65-62 in Spokane, Wash., on Monday to advance to the Women’s Final Four in New Orleans.

Writes Michelle:

There might not be a cooler customer left in this NCAA tournament than the Cal senior with the sweet jumper. She is a patch of still water, an island of poise and surety.

Even her coach follows her lead.

“That kid is something special,” Lindsay Gottlieb said. “To have a guard like Layshia, who can look at her teammates and say, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ who handles the pressure she handles … there’s no question, you don’t get this far without a player like that.”

How far exactly? To New Orleans.

More praise from the AP: Cal senior Layshia Clarendon comes up clutch in leading Golden Bears to Final Four

Layshia Clarendon was smiling when California was trailing, was smiling when leading the Golden Bears rally, and couldn’t wipe the smile from her face after leading her team to its first Final Four.

“This is why you play basketball, for these big moments. Really enjoy them and just relish them,” Clarendon said.

What’s the Bear’s Winning Formula?, asks Cathy Cockrell, Aim high, don’t forget to dance

Gottlieb: I see it as my mission to take Cal basketball to the next level, and make this one of the premier programs in the country. There’s a lot of ways to do that. Obviously you have to put great players on the floor, and run great plays.

But I feel like there’s a shift going on in women’s basketball, where many of the pioneers of the game are getting close to retiring. So there’s an opportunity to help shape what this program looks like going forward.

But, there’s also the other side of winning:

Georgia seniors Jasmine Hassell and Jasmine James arrived at the interview room of the Spokane Arena with reddened, tear-filled eyes that told the story of their final college basketball game more than any stats sheet ever could.

Only minutes removed from a 65-62 overtime loss to California, Hassell and James tried to explain their emotions after the Lady Bulldogs blew a 10-point lead in the second half and fell one win short of the Final Four in the NCAA tournament.

Said coach Landers:

“I think, for the most part, this was a game that played out somewhat the way we thought it would,” UGA coach Andy Landers said. “We felt it was very important to get back in transition, that it was very important to keep the ball out of the lane, and to rebound the ball defensively, and when we were doing those things well, we were in a good position. When we broke down defensively and allowed that penetration and allowed them to rebound the ball on offense, we got in trouble. They’re a very good basketball team and have a lot of nice pieces. They made more plays than we did, and they deserve to win the game.”

There was another game last night and someone is singing “Aerosmith” (for the sixth time in row), ’cause what happened to the Wildcats was simple: A dreadful 9 minutes:

Connecticut whipped us in every way imaginable,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It was a rough 40 minutes for us tonight and they had a lot to do with that. They’re a very good team and I thought their players played extremely hard. We congratulate them.

Kevin Duffy: UConn fulfills obligation 6 years running, Post
Rich Elliott: Freshman Stewart earning raves, Post

UConn Puts The Hammer Down, Earns Sixth Straight Trip To Final Four, Courant
Jeff Jacobs: Baylor’s Loss Could Be UConn’s Gain, Courant

Huskies reach record sixth straight Final Four with rout of Kentucky, Register
Mike DiMauro: UConn women headed to Final Four for record sixth straight time, Register

Narratives change in sports much like cabbies in Manhattan: quickly, sometimes astonishingly and occasionally without much warning.

And so we present the UConn women, the belles of wouldas, shouldas and couldas all season, the owners of all the forlorn looks three weeks ago after another brutal loss to Notre Dame.

Could this have been the same group awash in utter joy Monday night?

Huskies advance to Final Four, Daily Campus

UConn 83, Kentucky 53, ESPN

“It definitely doesn’t get old,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “Each year is different, special in its own way. This is our last go-around, we want to go out with a bang. I’m fortunate to be part of this program where we make it every year. We never are satisfied until we get to that final game.”

Stewart leads way for UConn, ESPN

In one corner of Connecticut’s locker room, senior Heather Buck played a game of UNO with three teammates. The players were still wearing their uniforms, legs crossed, each holding a handful of cards, occupying themselves as they’ve learned to do.

Across the room, a ring of media encircled freshman Breanna Stewart, the reporters peppering her with questions about her 21-point performance, about how it feels to help the Huskies advance to the Final Four — their sixth consecutive — next weekend in New Orleans.

Between these two groups wandered some familiar faces — guard Caroline Doty, forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, center Stefanie Dolson — who were eating chicken fingers and teasing Stewart, happily distracting their younger teammate by occasionally calling out things such as, “Breanna is the best player ever!” and “We’re no good! We can’t talk!

Connecticut women roll to 83-53 win over Kentucky in Elite Eight, Lexington Herald Leader
UConn ends Kentucky’s bid once again, Lexington Herald Leader

Last season, Connecticut’s big run came midway through the second half, but this season it came early and often, including a 26-3 spree to end the first half and any hope of a Kentucky comeback at Webster Bank Arena in front of 8,594.

In that span, Kentucky managed just one basket, a banked in three-pointer by little-used reserve Jelleah Sidney, in the final 10 minutes of the first half. UK missed 13 shots in that second part of the second half.

Mark Story: UK women hit a class ceiling in effort to make Final Four, Lexington Herald Leader

So, now the questions start.

Any talk that Mitchell “can’t win the big one” is wildly premature. In its now three Elite Eight losses on his watch, Kentucky has faced opponents that were seeded higher and had more talent than the Cats.

However, it is hard not to wonder if the style of play that has turned UK into a consistent NCAA round of eight team might need to be tweaked a bit for Kentucky to take the proverbial next step. Can a team as reliant on full-court defensive pressure and points off turnovers as Kentucky break through against teams as skilled as UConn?

Finally (and Diggins can blame GH if things don’t go the way she wants tonight), Graham has: Five who got the last laugh

He or she who laughs last, gets closer to New Orleans. Maybe that’s not exactly how the phrase goes, but the second week of the NCAA tournament served as an opportunity for players, coaches and even conferences to make a point.

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From Jere’ at the New York Times: Praising Griner Proves Far Easier Than Stopping Her

“Brittney Griner, after winning the national championship last year, should have erased any doubt as the greatest to ever play the game,” Mulkey, who grew up in southeast Louisiana, said Monday night. “Why is she the greatest? Because she impacts both ends of the floor.”

Various basketball precincts would undoubtedly cast votes for Diana Taurasi, Cheryl Miller or Chamique Holdsclaw as the greatest college player. But certainly Griner is the most uniquely influential. There have been centers as tall or taller, but none at that size with such lithe elegance.

For St. Joseph’s Ashley Prim’s, her career comes full circle with Connecticut games

Prim, the Ansonia native and key member of a pair of state championship teams at Kolbe Cathedral, could barely believe her eyes when it was revealed that her Saint Joseph’s squad would be facing Vanderbilt in the subregional being played at Gampel Pavilion.

“I was excited that I would be somewhat close to home and play in front of my family,” Prim said. “It was exciting seeing our name pop up.”

(Speaking of Connecticut: Nykesha Sales back with the Sun)

From the Daily Camera, CU Buffs define ‘uncommon’ goals in different ways – Lappe, players agree there is more to accomplish this season

At the start of the year, the Colorado women’s basketball set a goal of being uncommon.

With 31 games behind them and the NCAA Tournament in front of them, the 19th-ranked Buffaloes (25-6) are still working on that goal.

“There’s still a couple of things that might have to happen and there’s just usually a feeling that you get when you reach that,” said head coach Linda Lappe, whose team will open the NCAA Tournament on Saturday against Kansas (18-13). “We’re not quite there yet, but we’re on the right path.”

BTW: NCAA women’s basketball players outscore men in classroom

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80 degrees and clear, bright skies.

Took a walk to get my bearings. Saw a big blue bear, some interesting architecture, someone I’d struck up a conversation with during the Atlanta Final Four, and a strip club across from the courthouse. Hmmm…..

Some reading to keep you occupied before today’s games: From Mike DiMauro at The Day: Embrace heard round the world

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walked into this one. This was Saturday afternoon at the Pepsi Center, site of a moment nobody saw coming that suddenly necessitated someone hit the cosmic pause button. So we could stop and appreciate, stop and think.

It was on a nondescript piece of real estate just off the court that Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma shared a long, meaningful embrace. Fans watching practice day in the arena applauded. Cameras clicked. Folks scrambled for their phones to capture it.

It was a moment that provided us all … a moment. Two of the game’s Gatsbys, perpetual adversaries, making the past a duller ache with a touch of humanity.

By the way, yes, name the Final Four trophy in honor of Coach Summitt.

Nate’s got his 2012 NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four Preview: Baylor Vs. Stanford and his 2012 NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four Preview: Connecticut Vs. Notre Dame

Swish Appeal was also busy looking at Generation Next: WBCA All-Star Game Showcases A Few Future NCAA Stars Who Might Have An Immediate Impact

All-Star Games usually make a mockery out of legitimate basketball turning the game more into a sideshow pick-up game, but the last-second execution at the end of the first half showed the true abilities of the players in the WBCA All-Star Game.

By the way, yes, if I had won the multi-million lottery thingy, I would have become the official sponsor of the senior game — and the DII and DIII Players of the Year would be invited.

From Dan Fleser: Shelley Sexton Collier helps motivate Lady Vols

From Curt Rallo: Harbor’s Williams big for Bears

From Brent Shirley at the Star Telegram: Just making Final Four not enough for Baylor women

From Jon Henderson at the Denver Post: Stanford women’s basketball team wearing target on its back – After years as underdog, Stanford finds itself with target on its back

From Lindsay H. Jones at the Denver Post: UConn’s aura dims a bit without Maya Moore

Chris Elsberry at the CT Post has: UConn lives by its overwhelming defense

Lobo does some Notre Dame-UConn break down in On the Floor.

espnW is Sizing up Perfection: Baylor vs. perfect teams of the past

From the NYTimes’ Quad Blog: Familiar Rivals in Final Four and 40-0 in Sight, Baylor Turns Focus to Stanford and  Hayden and Madden Will Be in the Spotlight for Baylor

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Long day of travel, but I’m now safely ensconced in the Mile High City.

A little catchup before tomorrow’s games:

From Richard Deitsch: Women’s Final Four coaches talk teams’ strengths, biggest concerns

Elliot Almond at the Mercury News: Baylor’s Brittney Griner presents an imposing obstacle to Stanford women’s NCAA title hopes

From the Dallas News: Baylor’s Brittney Griner ready to fulfill large promise

From Mechelle: Baylor feeling perfectly relaxed – Perfection aside, 38-0 Lady Bears just focused on winning national championship and Despite illness, Mulkey keeps it light – Baylor’s coach has visible symptoms, but takes comical approach Saturday

Elliot also has: Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike’s Stanford University sisterhood coming to an end

Tom FitzGerald at the San Francisco Chronicle: Ogwumikes put Cardinal front and center in Final Four

Michelle writes: For Ogwumike, it’s now or never – Nneka makes her fourth trip to Final Four, craves first title

Summer McKesson at the NCAA: UConn relishes role of underdog: Without superstar or loaded roster, Huskies still in title hunt

Graham has: You again?! Irish-Huskies, Round 4 and Dolson’s play peaking at right time

Fagan has: Big stage awaits Skylar Diggins

Nate at Swish Appeal has: Notre Dame’s Rebounding Balance Key Against UConn In NCAA Women’s Final Four

From Al Lesar at the SBT: Only one way to silence Geno

From Curt at the SBT: Pride fuels defense

From HoopFeed: Pink Room Webcast: Final Four Preview with Ros Gold-Onwude & Kevin Danna

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Baylor will feed off Mulkey’s actions – On-court chemistry and leadership from players more important than ever

Mulkey is getting great care, and she will do everything she can to be on the sidelines against Stanford on Sunday in Denver and keep this from being any distraction for the Lady Bears. But the players are human, and one of them is Mulkey’s own daughter, Makenzie. Still, you can bet Mulkey will tell them very convincingly not to worry about her.

All teams tend to get their emotional compasses from their coaches. And in Baylor’s case, Mulkey provides a great deal of confidence. It radiates off her.

Plus, she’s the one who makes the strategic decisions. Some head coaches hand off elements of offense or defense to assistants, to the point of relying on them to be basically in charge of that. There’s nothing wrong with that system; for some programs, it works very well. But at Baylor, while Mulkey listens to her staff, she is always the one who makes the call.

If you missed Mechelle’s chat, check here for the transcript.

Graham Hays on Dailey and Geno: an incredible team – ‘Longest running odd couple in basketball’ has won seven NCAA titles

University of Connecticut associate coach Chris Dailey is either one of the longest-tenured assistant coaches in women’s college basketball or its most frequently rehired.

It kind of depends on how seriously you choose to take head coach Geno Auriemma when he talks about the person who, among many duties, works with the Huskies’ post players.

“With this group that we have right now, and our post players and who they are right now, she’s gotten fired at least once every practice, maybe twice every game and she won’t leave,” Auriemma quipped a day after he and Dailey advanced to their 13th Final Four together. “So I’m kind of thinking that she really likes these kids. I was trying like hell to get rid of her because I didn’t think our post players would ever amount to anything this year.”

Debbie and Beth have their Final Four Preview Podcast. They talk about the year in review, COY, and All-Americans.

Charlie has his UConn-Notre Dame breakdown and his Stanford-Baylor breakdown.

From Hoopfeed: Final Four coaches preview Denver – Coaches of the Final Four teams talked with the media yesterday about the upcoming weekend giving their opinions on everything from their expectations to how to handle the high altitude of Denver.

Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma

On the altitude
I don’t know what you can do about it. It’s not like there’s one team out there that’s waiting for us, and we’re visiting, and they have a huge advantage. I think all four teams are having to go through similar scenarios. But we’ve talked to our team doctor and he’s let us know how to best prepare for it. I suggested turning the oxygen off in the plane on the way over there for about an hour and get them used to sucking for breath, but he advised us not to do that. So I guess we’ll have to deal with it when we get there.

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UConn gave their fans palpitations, and then revved up their defense in the second half to handcuff the Wildcats and move in to their fifth Final Four in a row. Writes Graham: Hayes answers call for Huskies – With teammates in foul trouble, senior guard steps up, leads UConn to Final Four

Forget about Maya Moore, Tina Charles or Renee Montgomery coming to the rescue. For a good stretch of Tuesday’s regional final between Connecticut and Kentucky, as whistles blew and fouls piled up, it didn’t look like Tiffany Hayes was going to be able to count on much help from even those teammates with eligibility remaining.

In a moment feared by many fans whose expectations begin and end with championships, a career defined largely by those Hayes played alongside rested squarely on the senior’s shoulders.

And those aren’t big shoulders.

That loud hiss you heard during the first half of the Maryland-Notre Dame game was the sound of some brave bracketeers watching their brackets crashing. Behind Skylar’s triple-double, the Irish made quick work of the Terps.From Kate Fagan: Notre Dame simply dominates Terps – Skylar Diggins notches Irish’s first triple-double since 1990

Skylar Diggins caught the ball at the top of the key.

She faked left, drove quickly right, put a dribble far ahead into the lane, swung the ball to her right hand, absorbed a Maryland defender, and kissed the ball off the glass. The whistle blew at about the same time Diggins turned — face steeled — toward her oncoming teammates. And-1. Dagger delivered. No time on the first-half clock.

Oh, wait, this was in the first half?

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…for being named NCAA women’s basketball 2012 Academic All-America of the Year.

BTW, EDD, if that pro-basketball thing doesn’t work out, feel free to bring your early childhood to NY and apply to work for me. :-)

BTW pt 2: in the, “it’s a small world” category: the other day I gave a couple from Denver directions. Mentioned I’d be in their city for the Final Four (and kind of expected a blank look). Mrs. Denver says to Mr. “Ask her about that player you know…” and I’m thinking “Not a chance, but hey…” Turns out Mr. Denver grew up with EDD’s grandfather and knows all about her. What I said: if you reach out it can be a really, really small world.

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I guess if you’ve not been watching women’s basketball this season, you might use that word to describe the Notre Dame win over Connecticut, but I wasn’t particularly surprised. Four times WAS the time for the Irish as their growth as a unit over the second half of the season paid huge dividends. UConn, on the other hand, finally fell victim to the reality that was their six-person team: fouls and a player going MIA.

That being said, there was a moment there when you could see Maya pick up on the Husky puppies, throw’em in a knapsack, toss’em over the shoulder and start up Mt. Everest with a determined look in her eye. She simply couldn’t overcome the ferocity and passion of those wearin’ the green.

Now stunning IS what I’d call the Texas A&M win — emotionally stunning, though, more than “how on earth did they do that?” stunning. Watching the Sidneys and company give up 6-8″ inches on the Standford trees, it was stunning that they could out-Georgetown Georgetown’s defensive style and hassle Stanford into 22 TOs (when was the last time you saw 4 charges called and a five second call?). It was a hard, physical game, and people will talk about “tourney play” and how Conference play does or does not prepare you for it. They’ll also talk about that 50-50 call on the dive for the ball. But it was Chiney who was on the bench, it was her teammates who didn’t get back on defense after her sister willed her way to the basket that gave Stanford the lead, and it was somewhat inexplicable end of the game play beautifully defended that ultimately made the difference.

No, ESPN may not like the match up. BUT, that probably means they haven’t been paying attention to the game. Big 12 country is roused. Midwest country is roused. I’m expecting good ratings and a filled house.

Now, for the games.

If you want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, check out the words of the players and coaches during the post-game conferences.

If you want to hear the professionals’ interpretations of the words and game, check out these articles:

Stanford

Indy Star: Stanford alum Rice had her own plan
San Francisco Chronicle: Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer gets help at half
USA Today/Brennan: Title drought continues for Stanford, coach VanDerveer

It’s a statistic that brings a spring chill to Palo Alto. When Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer last won a national title, UConn had none.

In one frantic final minute in the first game of the 2011 NCAA Women’s Final Four, all that frustration played out not in years but seconds, with a frenetic back-and-forth that ended with a rugged underdog, Texas A&M, upsetting No. 1 seed Stanford 63-62.

“My team worked as hard as they could,” a chagrined VanDerveer said after it was over. “You know, we just — we had it. And then we just really needed one more stop.”

Mercury News: Texas A&M stuns Stanford women
San Francisco Chronicle: Texas A&M stuns Stanford in nip-and-tuck affair

Texas A&M

Indy Star: Texas A&M gets last shot on Stanford
Indy Star: Texas A&M’s Tyra White sprints into the final
USAToday: Texas A&M ‘D’ dismisses Stanford in Final Four

The Cardinal had won 27 in a row and were the only team to beat Connecticut this season. But it could not handle the harassment delivered by the Aggies’ Sydneys, backcourt teammates Sydney Colson and Sydney Carter.

“We’re a team that doesn’t give up; we’re never out of a game,” Carter said. “We make sure we’re doing the right thing at the right time.”

Houston Chronicle: A&M women edge Stanford to reach NCAA title game
Houston Chronicle: These Texas Aggies represent everything that’s wonderful about sports, and they’re one game from a national championship

UCONN

The Day: Has this been Geno’s best coaching job?
The Day: End of an era in Indy
The Day: Thank you, Maya, for much more than two national championships

“When I think of Maya Moore,” he said, “I’ll think about the greatest player in the history of the Big East, maybe the best student-athlete in the history of college basketball. I’m not going to let it be defined by what happened tonight.”

And one last thing for Maya Moore: Thank you.

SportsPage Magazine: Mayan Dynasty Ends as UConn, Stanford are Ousted from Tourney
CT Post: Notre Dame upsets UConn in semifinals
Greenwich Time: UConn women’s basketball notebook
USA Today/Brennan: Mighty UConn beatable after all
USA Today: UConn’s tournament streak halts in Indy
Hartford Courant: Notre Dame Ends UConn’s Bid For Third Straight National Title

Notre Dame

South Bend Tribune: Irish dethrone Connecticut
The Observer: Sky high

When sophomore point guard Skylar Diggins sank consecutive free throws with 28 seconds left to give the Irish a nine-point lead, fantasy became reality and hope became result in a 72-63 Notre Dame victory over Connecticut in the national semifinals.

The team’s emotional leader scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting and turned the second half into a complete team comeback in one of the greatest victories in program history.

“I thought Skylar was just amazing, simply amazing today,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said

South Bend Tribune: Some Final Four fun: Auriemma and McGraw entertain
South Bend Tribune: Notre Dame fearless in big moment
South Bend Tribune: Irish get their one shining moment

Miscellaneous:

Daily News: Maya Moore, UConn women’s basketball upset at Final Four as Notre Dame pulls out 72-63 victory

New York Times/Jere’: Stanford Has Win in Hand, Until It Doesn’t

On basketball recruiting trips from Texas A&M’s campus, Coach Gary Blair frequently drove past the high school in suburban Houston where the Ogwumike sisters honed bounteous athletic and academic skills that would take them to Stanford.

“We recruited them hard,” Blair said. “Lost fair and square.”

On later trips past Cypress-Fairbanks High, Blair convinced himself that Texas A&M’s recruiting cupboard was hardly bare, saying, “Hey, but we’re winning with the kids that chose us.”

Also from the Times/Jere’: Notre Dame Keeps Cool and Topples UConn

Given that the teams were so familiar with each other, Moore predicted that determination would prevail over tactics. “It really does come down to who has the bigger will to win,” she said.

That will belonged most urgently to Diggins, a 5-foot-9 sophomore who grew up near the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Ind. Kelly Faris is UConn’s top defender, but she could not prevent Diggins from scoring in any way that she wanted, from anywhere on the court.

Christian Science Monitor: Notre Dame, Texas A&M surprise at NCAA women’s Final Four

SBNation: Texas A&M, Notre Dame Win Stunners

SBNation: Notre Dame, UConn Players React To Huge Upset

Boston Globe: Parity coming to fore – Favorites no longer just holding court

Washington Post: Notre Dame knocks off Connecticut to reach national championship game

The Notre Dame women’s basketball team drew exactly the adversary it wanted in the Final Four. Call the Fighting Irish stubborn or just plain silly, but that opponent was none other than powerhouse Connecticut, which had upended Notre Dame three straight times this season and 12 in row overall.

New York Times/Harvey Araton: Upsets Attest to Vitality in Women’s Game

Sports Illustrated/Ann Killion: Texas A&M hands Stanford yet another Final Four disappointment

If women’s basketball wanted new blood, it’s got it now.

Indianapolis turned into Upset City on Sunday night.

Notre Dame knocked off mighty UConn. But the real party-crasher is Texas A&M, a school that didn’t even admit women just half a century ago and has never been to the Final Four until this week. Now it will play for the women’s national championship on Tuesday night, in the 30th anniversary of the NCAA title game.

Sports Illustrated/Richard Deitsch: Diggins, ND outduel Moore, UConn

“In the first half you could see that there was going to be a problem guarding her the whole game,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “But we did a pretty decent job on everybody else. In the second half, we allowed her to get everybody else involved, and then it was not just having to guard Skylar, but it’s the plays that she made for other people. That’s what great players do. They take control of a situation, and she did. “

AP/Doug Feinberg: Notre Dame Upsets UConn 72-63, Heads to Title Game

First Tennessee, now Connecticut — Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame are running over the women’s basketball elite.

From the Insomniacs in Indy -aka the ESPN folks

Graham: Diggins puts on show for Indy crowd

“She does watch a lot, a lot of film because she needs to see what we’re talking about all the time,” Ivey said of Diggins. “And she’s like a sponge of it, so she likes to watch a lot of film.”

But in the days before Sunday’s semifinal against Big East rival Connecticut, Diggins passed on a final round of film study for an opponent already burned into her memory after three previous meetings this season.

As Ivey recalled, “She was just like, ‘Yeah, I’m good, Coach. I’m good.'”

Talk about an understatement. But people will be watching the film of what followed for years to come.

Graham: Lack of depth catches up with UConn

Mechelle: UConn’s Moore leaves incredible legacy

Mechelle: Stanford falls short in semifinals

Mechelle: Inexperienced Aggies clip Cardinal

When Tyra White was a sophomore at Hickman Mills High in Kansas City, Mo., Kansas State really thought it might get her to come play for the Wildcats. But that didn’t work out. LSU eventually won the recruiting battle.

Then Pokey Chatman left/was fired at LSU in March 2007, and White eventually reopened her recruitment. Several schools went after her again. Texas A&M won this time. Then just 4 minutes into the Aggies’ season opener in November 2007, White tore her right ACL.

So it’s been a long trip for White to get to this point: an appearance in the NCAA title game. But that’s where the Aggies are, thanks to the game-winning basket by White in a gut-churner of a national semifinal. The Aggies beat a No. 1 seed for the second game in a row, this time Stanford, 63-62 at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Charlie: Rapid Reaction: Notre Dame-UConn

Charlie, Graham and Mechelle: Depth makes difference in Irish win

Did you follow the Live Play-by-Play?

Mechelle: Second really is best in Indy: Notre Dame vs. Texas A&M marks just second title game without a No. 1 seed

For those who tune in to women’s basketball only occasionally, Sunday’s semifinals results and the impending championship-game matchup might be quite a shock.

But to those who follow the sport, the idea that No. 2 seeds Notre Dame and Texas A&M are meeting for the NCAA title (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday) is not so very weird. Even if Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said she was pretty sure “nobody in America” had picked an Irish-Aggies final.

Well, surely, somebody did. After all, the Irish have won a title before — albeit 10 years ago — and they have a history of playing well in the NCAA tournament. And Texas A&M, while in its first Final Four, has been knocking on the door for the last few years. Plus, both have been in the top 10 in the rankings, or near it, for a lot of this season.

Lots of good video:

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(oops.)

Chat Review! From Mechelle:

Bob (College Station): Mechelle, how about that atmosphere for the A&M-Baylor game in Dallas…they say regional finals are always some of the most tense games because it’s win and you’re into the Final Four…You agree?

Mechelle Voepel: I was trying to think if I’ve ever been at a regional final that was quite like that one in Dallas – where you had a big crowd with a lot of fans from *both* schools from the same state and the regional itself was in the very heart of that state. And considering how fun and passionate the rivalries are between all the Texas schools. And how many of the Baylor and TAMU players are from Texas. AND … that Gary Blair is from Dallas. There was so much about that regional final that was hard to duplicate anywhere else. I feel lucky that I was there. And it was pretty emotional, actually watching the Baylor and TAMU players in the post-game handshake, because they respect each other. Particularly the way the TAMU players all hugged Baylor senior Melissa Jones … that was a pretty moving scene. And yes, regional finals can be among the most pressure-packed and emotional games you’ll ever witness.

Also at ESPN (Which is doing a *sarcasm on* GREAT job of burying their writers’ work *sarcasm off*):

Did you catch Sport Science and Maya?

There’s other video (it’s great to have Nikki on the team, no?):

Mechelle writes: Final Four isn’t what most predicted – But there will be a key rematch, a team chasing a three-peat and a first-timer

Graham writes: Final Four features different makeups

Charlie asks: Is Stanford favorite in wide-open Indy?(And I say, “Umm, yaaaaah!”) – Guard play between Cardinal’s Pohlen and Texas A&M Sydneys tandem is key matchup

He also says, UConn favored, but little margin for error

The crew tries to pick who’s gonna win now that the teams are set. There’s also these picks: Cardinal (not UConn) a unanimous pick.

W0ndering who DID get the picks right? Andrew Feldman has the Final Four brackets by the numbers

With two No. 1 seeds and a pair of 2-seeds in the women’s Final Four, 3,751 brackets (0.01 percent) in the Women’s Tournament Challenge had the correct four teams.

Upsets by No. 2 seeds Notre Dame (beating top-seeded Tennessee in the Dayton Regional final) and Texas A&M (knocking off Baylor and Brittney Griner in the Dallas Regional final) might have accounted for most brackets — 119,976 — getting just two of the Final Four teams.

Michelle Smith is working hard over at espnW: Five storylines to watch in Final Four

Jere’ at the New York Times writes of Notre Dame/UConn: For Winning Team, the Fourth Time Will Be the Charm

Notre Dame will have the Texas A&M upset to draw upon. It also carries momentum from its first victory against Tennessee in the Dayton Regional final, which came after 20 consecutive defeats to the Lady Vols. And the Irish will not be awed by UConn after losing twice this season by fewer than 10 points.

“We will definitely reference Texas A&M, the fourth time’s a charm,” Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said on a conference call. “I think it’s going to be a mental hurdle to get over. It’s difficult, I hope, to beat a team four times.”

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How good is Washington U coach Nancy Fahey? Good enough to be named the WBCA DIII Coach of the Year.

Fahey, who has a 595-105 record in 25 years at Washington, is the only coach in NCAA Division III history to win five national championships, including a stretch of four straight crowns from 1998 through 2001. Tonight, Fahey continues pursuit of her sixth national title when the defending national champion Bears (24-5) make their record 10th appearance in the NCAA Division III Women’s Final Four in Bloomington, Ill.

Fahey doesn’t coach the DIII Player of the Year — that delight goes to Amherst coach GP Gromacki. The player? Jaclyn Daigneault.

Daigneault, a 5-foot-11 senior guard-forward, leads Amherst (30-1) into the NCAA Division III Women’s Final Four national semifinals tonight. She is Amherst’s top scorer (15.2 ppg) and rebounder (7.2 rpg), and her .616 field-goal percentage ranks third among all Division III players nationally. Daigneault has scored at least 20 points in eight games and has recorded six double-doubles this season.

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Lordy, this tourney seems early!

Washington U only had to beat four top 10 teams to reach the Finals. (Honestly, how good is coach Fahey!)

Illinois Wesleyan only had to come back from 23 down to reach the Finals.

Christopher Newport needed all 27 points from Chelsie Schweers (the only player in women’s NCAA history to hit 400 3-pointers) to earn their first trip to the Finals.

Amherst only had to take down Babson, the lone undefeated DIII team, to return for a third straight year to the Finals.

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from Mechelle: Ryan a mix of compassion, competitor – Virginia’s coach steps down after 34 seasons and three Final Four appearances

“In the bad times, I remember so much of Debbie — her strengths and her leadership,” said former Virginia player Jenny Boucek, now an assistant coach with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm. “In the good times, though, she kind of faded into the woodwork. She didn’t need to be in the spotlight. I remember celebrating with my teammates, and she’d never be the center of attention.

“But if we were struggling, she was there to lead and guide us. She’s proven in every way that it was never about her. It was about her players — I don’t know that any coach could love their players any more genuinely than she does.”

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