Only two teams in women’s college basketball history have made it to the national championship game in back-to-back seasons and lost.
Tonight, Notre Dame could become the third team to suffer a similar fate when it faces undefeated Baylor.
Tennessee did it first in the 1980 and 1981 seasons, and most recently Auburn reached the national championship three straight years in 1988-1990 and lost each time. Sure it’s elite company, but it’s not exactly what a program wants to be remembered for.
After losing to Texas A&M in last year’s national final, the Irish are hoping to reverse the curse.
Touting a perfect 39-0 record, Baylor hasn’t had much trouble reaching the pinnacle of college basketball this year. Led by all-everything center Brittney Griner, the Bears have enjoyed success with relative ease over most of their opponents, including the Fighting Irish.
The Bears and Irish faced each other once this season back in November — the Bears emerged with a 94-81 win. In that game Griner had 32 points and 14 rebounds, but you can expect the Irish to focus more defensive attention on Griner this time around.
The Irish are a much different team than the Bears in more than one way. Whereas Baylor runs most of its sets through the hands of point guard Odyssey Sims, and in turn Griner, Notre Dame uses a more balanced attack that involves more guard play.
A lot of guard play, actually.
Notre Dame’s two forwards, Devereaux Peters and Natalie Achonwa, only account for a fourth of the team’s season average of 79.3 points. That means players like point guard Skylar Diggins and Natalie Novosel are looked to when the team needs a basket, or a defensive stop.
The Irish guards are very active on defense and have accumulated nearly 500 steals leading up to tonight’s game. Like many other smaller, defensive-minded teams, Notre Dame feeds off its defensive intensity and looks to run whenever the opportunity arises. The Irish don’t have the luxury of a player like Griner, so they need to play within their means and hope their shots fall at a higher rate than the Bears if they are to stop the Bears’ undefeated season.
Given the difference in styles of play between the two teams, with Baylor favoring a more post-oriented, grinding style of play and Notre Dame playing a tight, guard-heavy motion offense this game could go a couple of different ways.
Griner always has the potential to go absolutely bananas and score 40 points and grab every loose rebound in sight, effectively making the lane the “Griner Zone,” rather than a common area for all players to share, in the same breath the Irish are very capable of shutting her down.
Being the national championship game, the Irish will likely be a bit more inspired than they were in their first game against the Bears. If the Irish can frustrate Griner on the block with double teams and throw a few quick, bothersome guards at her in hopes of forcing turnovers, they may stand a chance to win this game. Diggins and her crew will have to be at the top of their game, and if the Irish guards can catch fire from the field they can keep the game close.
In the end, Griner and the experience of Baylor may prove to be too much for the Irish. If Griner can establish herself in the lane it could be a long night for the Irish and they’ll join Tennessee and Auburn as the only teams to go so far yet unable to close out the final game in consecutive seasons.
Printed on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 as: One victory from 40-0, Baylor eyes national title