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ND Women’s Basketball

Matchup failed to live up to the hype

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The UConn Huskies, as they have so many times before, accomplished the improbable. They made the first-ever matchup between unbeatens in the national title game — dare I say it? — a little bit boring.

Tuesday’s contest had all the makings of a game for the ages: a newly re-kindled rivalry, the two undisputed best teams in the country and feuding coaches, not to mention finalists for the nation’s individual player awards on both squads. There were some writers suggesting Monday’s game could help propel women’s basketball to national prominence the same way Larry Bird’s and Magic Johnson’s meeting in the 1979 final promoted the men’s game.

That’s definitely not what this game will be remembered for.

Sure, the Irish bounced back from a lackluster start to cut the halftime deficit to seven points, and they certainly would have been much more successful in the paint had they not lost senior forward Natalie Achonwa to a torn ACL in their Elite Eight win over Baylor. But even in the early going it was clear which was the better team.

It didn’t take a box score to see UConn’s 6-foot-5 center Stefanie Golson was unstoppable in the paint (although her stat line of 17 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists made that pretty clear as well). The Irish had no answer for sophomore forward Breanna Stewart, the AP Player of the Year and eventual winner of the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, or the comparatively under-the-radar junior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. The Irish have won games when their opponents’ stars have big nights, but not when three of their opponents put up big numbers.

If we are being honest, when Connecticut stretched its lead from seven points to 20 in the opening minutes of the second period, no one who watched the first half was really all that surprised.

The Huskies simply looked more comfortable on the floor. Maybe that was due to their size advantage, maybe it’s just because they got off to a fast start and did not have to worry about clawing their way back into a game. Maybe, despite all their protests to the contrary, the Huskies really have gotten into the heads of the Irish. (After all, the barbs traded between the two teams on Monday were par for the course for UConn coach Geno Auriemma, but less subtle than what we would usually expect from Irish coach Muffet McGraw.) But whatever the reason, UConn played like the looser team: they made the open shots the Irish missed too many times. UConn dominated the boards almost as effectively as the Irish did against Maryland, grabbing 54 to Notre Dame’s 31. The Irish, on the other hand, sent passes out of bounds and were visibly frustrated when a call did not go their way. Some teams can channel that sort of emotion into wins, but it was not working for the Irish on Tuesday night.

And while you do not have to like them, you have to admit Connecticut played an exceptional game made all the more impressive by the fact that it took just six players to complete.

The Irish finished an excellent season with an excellent team. But it’s Connecticut who was perfect.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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