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Masoud: Swagger sets ND apart in Final Four (April 1)

Chris Masoud | Thursday, March 31, 2011

Connecticut. Stanford. Baylor. Tennessee.

Prior to the NCAA tournament, President Barack Obama picked those four No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four, and you really can’t blame him. (He also picked Duke, Kansas, Ohio State and Pittsburgh on the men’s side, but that’s a separate issue).

But, of course, he picked wrong.

Led by coach Geno Auriemma, the Huskies are the two-time defending national champions and feature the best all-around player in the country in senior guard Maya Moore. They’re going to Indianapolis.

The Cardinal are the only team in the country to beat Connecticut in the last three seasons (once in the Final Four in 2008 and again during the 2011 regular season). They’re going to Indianapolis.

The Bears have Brittney Griner, a 6’8″ sophomore and probably the only female forward in the nation who can dunk a basketball. They lost to Texas A&M in the Elite Eight. They’re going home.

Tennessee’s Pat Summitt is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball, men’s or women’s. She also has the best glare in the game. For the first time in 21 meetings, the Lady Volunteers lost to Notre Dame. They’re going home.

The television networks will do their annual rain dance in the hopes of a Connecticut-Stanford rematch for the national title. ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo will compare the all-around greatness of Moore to the all-around greatness of former Huskies’ star Diana Taurasi.

A color analyst may even drop a “How exciting would it have been if Tennessee played Connecticut for a trip to the national championship game on the line? The two most storied programs in women’s basketball haven’t met since 2007, but now…”

Worst of all, someone in Bristol will frame the Final Four as the unlikely pairings of Notre Dame and Connecticut, Stanford and Texas A&M. Who could have imagined a pair of No. 2 seeds making it so close to the title game?

But this isn’t a Cinderella story. Notre Dame and Texas A&M punched their tickets to Indy because they outplayed the favorites. But they were also more talented.

“We didn’t feel like underdogs. We went in expecting to win,” Irish senior and leading scorer Natalie Novosel said after Notre Dame took down Tennessee 73-59 Monday.

She couldn’t be more right.

The only way you beat a program like Tennessee is with swagger, the kind that Irish senior forward Devereaux Peters had when she finished an alley-oop layup on a Skylar Diggins pass Monday.

The kind that senior forward Becca Bruszewski showed by getting a technical foul for brushing off a Tennessee player after she body-slammed her into the baseline.

Sophomore guard Skylar Diggins hitting a 3-pointer with a hand in her face to quiet any Tennessee hopes of a comeback — swagger.

Don’t forget about Muffet McGraw. She made all the right moves Monday night, including a gutsy decision to play Peters with four fouls and more than six minutes remaining in the game.

The Irish played angry Monday night, angry because they knew the rest of the nation, even the President, didn’t think they could make it to this weekend.

After Connecticut’s 75-40 win over Duke in the Elite Eight on Tuesday, Auriemma said, “There’s only a couple kids in America that are playing next weekend that know how to win a national championship, and I’m fortunate enough to have them on my team.”

True, Auriemma’s players may be the only ones left in the tournament who have experienced a national title. But McGraw’s could be the only ones in the country who want it more.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Chris Masoud at [email protected]