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Robison: Baylor deserved to win, but ND will be back (Apr. 4)

Matthew Robison | Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Last year Notre Dame ran into a buzzsaw. Texas A&M had beaten Baylor and Stanford on its way to the championship game. This year, Notre Dame hit a brick wall in the form of 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner and Baylor.

When it boils down, Baylor was the better team Tuesday. There is absolutely no doubt about that. The Lady Bears solidified their year-long assertion they are the best team in the country.

While the pressure should have been entirely on Baylor, Notre Dame was the team who came out tight. Devereaux Peters picked up two quick fouls, Natalie Novosel could not hit a shot and no one beside Skylar Diggins or Kayla McBride looked willing to step up and make a play. One bright spot was the play of Natalie Achonwa and Markisha Wright, who did everything they could to slow down Griner.

But, like Dan Patrick used to say, you can’t stop her, you can only hope to contain her. Griner got hers, as expected – but the Baylor supporting cast stepped up as well. Odyssey Sims effectively controlled the pace and Destiny Williams pounded the offensive glass.

There was a question as to whether Griner’s physical presence and the Lady Bears’ undefeated record created a psychological component to beating Baylor. Looking at the way the Irish played, I don’t really think that is a question anymore. The Lady Bears were physically, mentally and psychologically dominant throughout the game.

When it all boils down, Baylor simply outperformed Notre Dame. The Lady Bears came ready to play, they executed on their game plan and they made shots. They deserved the title.

It is yet to be seen how Notre Dame will recover from a second consecutive loss in the national title game. As heartbroken as the team was last year, this one has to sting even more. The worst part about the loss might be that this was probably Notre Dame’s best chance to win a title since 2001.

Before the game against Connecticut, Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said Notre Dame lacked a weakness. The Irish had great guards, a strong corps of seniors and solid post players. Unfortunately, the pieces just did not fall into place when it mattered most.

Diggins has made an incredible impact on the program, but one has to wonder if her legacy will be shadowed if she fails to take home a championship during her career. Undoubtedly, Mallory, Peters and Novosel all had tremendous careers. But none of them have quite the reputation Diggins carries.

This generation’s great players – Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, Maya Moore, even Brittney Griner – all have titles. Right or wrong, people will hesitate to put Diggins in that category if she does not win a championship for Notre Dame.

There is a bright side to all the heartbreak. Among all the questions, all the uncertainty, one thing is for sure. McGraw has turned the Irish into an elite program.

If the play of freshman Wright, sophomore Achonwa and sophomore McBride on Tuesday is any indication, the future of the Irish is blindingly bright.

Notre Dame will be back.