Who: Baylor Bears vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
When: 1 p.m. CST on CBS Sports Network
Where: Waco, Texas
What: The 2011 WNIT championship game, which puts arguably the nation’s top two teams against each other. The game marks only the second meeting between these teams in their program’s history. Read more from Baylor’s website >>>
Preview after the jump.
Key stat: Turnovers
If there’s anything you can take from Baylor’s blowout of UCLA, it’s that ball handling was still a concern for Baylor. Their turnover rate of 23.7% was not particularly good and if you think back to all of their games against Texas A&M last season turnovers were the one consistent problem.
Notre Dame presents Baylor with a similar challenge of having a defensive system that can force turnovers at an extremely high rate. And whereas teams like Texas A&M or UCLA last season do that by creating confusion, Notre Dame tends to play a very disciplined defense that rotates extremely well and doesn’t have many lapses. While it’s not necessarily the scrambling chaos of some other defenses, they can push teams that are unprepared into turnovers on 40-50% of their possessions – even if you’re “only” playing Akron, Hartford, and Indiana State those kinds of turnover rates are impressive.
Key player: Odyssey Sims
That potential for turnovers to be a significant factor in this game makes Baylor’s guard play even more important. Setting aside the turnover issue, another problem Baylor had in losses to Texas A&M and Tech last season was getting good shots, particularly ones inside to star center Brittney Griner. A large part of the problem was an inability to move the ball against aggressive and athletic defenders. Even when Notre Dame isn’t forcing Baylor into turnovers, the next thing to watch is whether Bears guards can create plays for others against a defense that can be stifling.
Sims is one to watch because she has the ball in her hands so often – even if she’s playing off the ball at times, her ability to maintain control of it in the face of a defensive challenge will be key for the team. The extent to which she can create shots for others with the ball in her hands is no less important.
Key stat: Shooting efficiency
Yet although Notre Dame’s defense has proven to be as strong as ever this season in terms of creating turnovers, the more significant factor for them might be their shooting efficiency – both preventing Baylor for setting up Griner for easy shots and making sure that they find efficient scoring opportunities with Griner patrolling the paint.
One thing they have going for them is their three point shooting thus far this season: they’re shooting 45.0% from there, with senior Brittany Mallory starting the season 6-for-8 from beyond the arc. But as the saying goes, you can live by the three and die by the three – what happens if the threes stop falling for the Fighting Irish?
Key player: Natalie Novosel
Skylar Diggins gets the majority of the attention for Notre Dame and obviously she’s a great player. But Novosel was the team’s leading scorer last season (by a tenth of a point) and her ability to both get shots from the perimeter and especially going to the rim to get free throws – she had a 56% free throw rate last season, outstanding for a guard – will be something to watch with Griner clogging up the paint.
It’s an open thread and there is another watchable game on today: