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ND Women’s Basketball: Milestones could pave way for championship

Vicky Jacobsen | Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sometimes it seems like this season has been nothing but a milestone march, a road leading from one broken record to the next. There was senior guard Skylar Diggins’s 2,000th point and coach Muffet McGraw’s 700th career win. Notre Dame’s current 20-game winning streak is the third-longest in school history, and their nine home sellouts (yes, another record) are yet another indicator the Irish are thriving.

Diggins and fellow senior guard Kaila Turner have won more games than any other Notre Dame senior class. But they don’t have a championship to show for it. Not yet, anyway.

Maybe the football team’s appearance at the BCS National Championship has made me greedy when it comes to Notre Dame athletics. Maybe it’s because an avid Connecticut basketball fan raised me – by Husky standards, any season that doesn’t end in a championship is not worth writing home about. I guess that’s the sort of attitude you can have when your team has won seven.

But after two trips to the final game in the past two seasons, this is the year for the No. 2 Irish (25-1, 13-0 Big East) to finally end the season as national champions for the first time since 2001.

Don’t think that today’s game against Syracuse (or Friday’s trip to Providence or Monday’s matchup against No. 3 Connecticut) is just busy work before tournament season gets underway. Upsets might be the name of the game when the men enter March Madness, but women’s basketball doesn’t have the kind of parity (or mediocrity) that is engendered by the one-and-done culture. A misstep in these final regular season games or the Big East tournament could mean a drop in rank and seeding – and a matchup with No.  1 Baylor or No. 4 Stanford in a much earlier round than necessary.

Presuming Baylor doesn’t take a tailspin in the next few weeks, they’ve got the No.1 overall seed locked up. That’s the sort of advantage you get when you’ve got a 6-foot-8 player who’s athletic to boot. But the Bears’ chances don’t rest on senior Brittney Griner alone. Junior guard Odyssey Sims was the team’s co-MVP with Griner last season, and Baylor has a 26-1 record even as Sims struggles with a hamstring injury.

While I won’t say the Irish can’t beat the Bears, Baylor has won by double digits in the teams’ last two meetings, winning by 19 in the championship game last season and 12 back in December. The Irish have gelled as a team since then, but they haven’t gotten any taller, and it’s hard to expect another matchup to end differently.

If the Irish are going to catch a break, it is more likely to come in the form of a Baylor loss at the hands of Stanford, who handed the Bears their only loss of the season and would meet them again in the semifinals if the current rankings hold.

This is not to say a finals matchup against the Cardinal would be a cakewalk, and there’s no guarantee that Notre Dame won’t slip up in an earlier round. But their best chance at a title requires them to remain one of the top-three seeds overall. And I think Diggins and her team would trade every record in the book to earn that championship.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.