Sixty-four teams had their sights set on the Final Four. Only two remain standing in at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Those two are Notre Dame and Baylor who will play for the 2012 NCAA championship Tuesday night.
The Fighting Irish’s 83-75 overtime victory over UConn on Sunday night was a roller-coaster ride for fans of both teams. When it was over, Notre Dame had advanced to the national championship game for the second consecutive season.
After appearing to have the game in hand, Notre Dame turned the ball over on multiple possessions in the home stretch and were barely able to force overtime. It was one of the most exciting finishes in regulation play that we’ve seen in a long time. Then Notre Dame, led by the talented and charismatic Skylar Diggins along with senior Brittany Mallory who buried a couple of crucial threes, put the game away.
Connecticut Huskies Head Coach Geno Auriemma was uncharacteristically quiet in the waning moments of overtime knowing his team was going to lose to Notre Dame for a second consecutive year.
Making it to the Final Four is one big party, a parade of awards, a chance to play dress up, and get sized for rings. Pretty heady stuff. Too bad they still have to play the games. Stanford came up short in the semi-final game, losing to Baylor 59-47. Let’s face it, Stanford had the game plan, they just couldn’t execute on offense.
Most basketball fans (including President Obama) picked Baylor for their bracket but more than a few of us were secretly hoping that Stanford would prevail. They had a stellar season and ended up 39-2 for the year. Fan favorite Nneka Ogwumike will graduate next month having been to the Final Four every year but never winning the title. And no one deserved it more. Nneka sometimes single-handly put Stanford on her back and won games by herself. This season was as much fun to watch as it must have been for Nneka and her teammate and sister Chiney to share.
Baylor, led by the impressive six-foot eight center Brittany Griner, has a perfect season so far and is hoping to go 40-0. The Lady Bears are playing in their third Final Four since coach Kim Mulkey took over the program in 2000-01. They won the 2005 title as a No. 2 seed against Michigan State.
In 2010, Baylor went to the Final Four again, this time with a young team including then-freshman Griner. They lost 70-50 to eventual champion UConn, but gained valuable experience that should come into play this year. Griner may have been shutdown in the semi-final by Stanford (she had only three field goals) but the Cardinal game plan demonstrated that Baylor is more than the Brittany Griner show and other players can step up when necessary.
The title game should be great. If you’re not already a women’s basketball fan, I encourage you to tune in for the final. You’ll be awed and amazed by the talent and passion on the court.
The Lady Bears will play Notre Dame in Tuesday’s national championship (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET), hoping to become the seventh team to cap a perfect season.
Oh – and tonight is the men’s championship. Kentucky vs Kansas. The guys are kinda fun to watch too.
dare to dream