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CLASH OF THE UNBEATENS

By Matt Stypulkoski
On April 8, 2014

Some have likened the national championship game between two unbeaten teams to Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier squaring off. Others have called it a potential watershed moment for the sport.
What's guaranteed is that this will be the first time two unbeaten teams have played for a national title.
"To have the spotlight on Tuesday," Geno Auriemma said, "on two teams that one of them is going to lose for the first time this year, it's pretty remarkable when you think about how hard that is to do for one team, much less two."
The fact that the two teams are bitter rivals only adds fuel to an already raging fire.
Auriemma and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw exchanged verbal jabs at their respective press conferences Monday. The Irish's Kayla McBride openly admitted that the two teams don't care for one another. Breanna Stewart did the same.
Part of that comes from familiarity. UConn and Notre Dame played 12 times - twice in the Big East regular season, once in the Big East Tournament and again in the Final Four each year - in the three seasons preceding this one.
And unlike most, the Irish have had a knack for causing the Huskies problems, winning seven of those contests.
"I've lost four times in my career and three of those have been to Notre Dame," Stewart said. "I think when you can count them on one hand, you're going to remember those losses."But Tuesday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN) is a different story than the past three seasons. This year, due to conference realignment, the squads have yet to face off, leaving questions about how they might match up.One area in which UConn seems to have the advantage is down low, where they can exploit the 6-foot-4-plus size of Stewart, Stefanie Dolson and Kiah Stokes. That advantage is exaggerated because Notre Dame's leading big, Natalie Achonwa, will be seated on the bench after tearing her ACL in the Elite Eight.

But even without Achonwa, the team's leading rebounder, the Irish were just fine on the glass against Maryland in the national semifinal. In fact, they held the Terps to just 21 boards - the lowest total ever for a team in the women's Final Four.
"I think you could see it in their eyes," McGraw said. "They were determined that (Achonwa's injury) was not going to slow them down."
Considering Achonwa was also the Irish's third-leading scorer, yet they scored 42 points in the paint and won by 26, it certainly didn't seem to slow them down at all.
That's left the eyes of the women's basketball world - and perhaps even some of those on the outside of it looking in - fixed on Bridgestone Arena.
"You can't focus on all that stuff, all the hype that's around the game," Dolson said. "We know it's going to be a tough game with Notre Dame. It always is. We have to focus on ourselves and make sure our game plan is on point for the game on Tuesday." 


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