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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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