UConn hopes third time's the charm against Irish
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 00:03
The women’s basketball world has gotten exactly what it was hoping for – another UConn-Notre Dame matchup.
The Huskies and Irish will face off in the Big East Tournament title game for the third straight year and play each other for the third time this season.
In each of the past two championship contests, UConn has dispatched of their rival – who is still looking for its first ever Big East Tournament crown – by nine-point margins both times.
But overall, Notre Dame has dominated the series of late, winning six of the last seven and both of the regular season games this year.
“For us we’re going in with the same mind-set we did with both the games this year,” Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said. “Tough to beat a good team three times, it really is. I think it’s going to be another war, and it will get us ready for the NCAA tournament, whether we win or lose.”
As much as the Irish are looking to add a trophy to their case, for the Huskies, this matchup would seem to be more about proving they can beat the best of the best – something they have struggled with over the past few seasons.
“I think that’s always something that’s there when you lose to a team twice,” Stefanie Dolson said when asked about losing close games to the top teams this season. “You know, so when we play them [Baylor] again obviously we always kind of want to prove ourselves to everyone that we can beat them.”
Both of the games against Notre Dame have come down to the wire this season, with the first ending as a UConn loss because of a failed final possession and the second due to an inability to close out a lead at the end of regulation and the first two overtimes.
But despite the two losses, don’t expect much in the way of changes from Geno Auriemma.
“I’m not playing, I’m going to coach the same way I coached the last two times we played them,” Auriemma said. “What I think and how I feel – that don’t matter one iota.”
On the plus-side for Auriemma, his team and his gameplan should be aided by the resurgence of two key contributors.
Both Bria Hartley and Breanna Stewart have had up-and-down years, but they have come on strong so far in the tournament.
A change in mindset, it seems, is responsible for the inspired play, as both credit the coaching staff for encouraging them to play more aggressively.
“I think it’ll give us an advantage inside with me and Stewie being able to post up or hit the outside shot,” Dolson said about the prospect of getting some more help from her rejuvenated teammate. “I think we’re just going to have to take advantage of who’s guarding her because she’s so tall and can jump and her arms are so [darn] long.”
Everyone within the team – from Auriemma to his players –believes that practices have been going more smoothly and have had a newfound focus in recent days, and that has lifted their spirits.
And if the game comes down to the wire again, like just about every game in this rivalry has a penchant for, the Huskies heightened confidence could prove a factor in finally getting them over the hump.
“Just the way we’ve been playing,” Stewart said. “I mean today it was a little bumpy in the second half, but the way we played yesterday and the way we played in the first half, we’re all getting on the same page with things and creating a really nice rhythm and I think if we can carry that over to tomorrow then that’s going to help us out a lot.”
The game will be televised on ESPN and is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off.