March 29, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame are back in the Final Four for the second straight season, and the game plan for the national semifinals will look familiar.
Notre Dame (34-3) and Connecticut (33-4) meet for the fourth time this season on Sunday in Denver. The winner will face Baylor or Stanford in Tuesday’s championship.
“We know them pretty well, and they know us pretty well,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I don’t think there’s any mystery in the game. I think it’s a matter of who’s going to play well, who’s going to make shots and who’s going to be able to defend better. The adrenaline will be flowing.”
Notre Dame beat Maya Moore and Connecticut 72-63 in the national semifinals last season, then defeated the Huskies twice this year in BIG EAST play. But UConn beat the Irish 63-54 in the BIG EAST tournament final.
Diggins said the Irish are eager to make up for the loss to Texas A&M in the national championship game last year.
“I think it is great incentive for us to have lost,” said Diggins, who averages a team-best 16.7 points per game. “This has been on our mind for a year now … It’s kind of bittersweet because we’re at the end of the season with our seniors, but that just gives us more incentive.”
Sunday’s game will be the eighth matchup between Notre Dame and UConn in the past two seasons.
“I think it’s hard beating them once,” Diggins said following a light workout on Thursday. “There’s no Maya Moore, but I don’t think we’re a favorite. They’re a very good team and we’ve got to execute.”
The Irish and McGraw won their lone national title in 2001 with a 68-66 victory against Purdue that followed a 90-75 semifinal win over UConn in which they rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit. They advanced to this year’s Final Four with an 80-49 victory against Maryland in the Raleigh Regional on Tuesday.
“Going to the Final Four (last year) I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Diggins said. “Now it’s a twice-in-a-lifetime experience.”