Notre Dame, UConn ready to renew rivalry

This time, stakes are higher

Skylar Diggins
Skylar Diggins is aiming to lead Notre Dame to its fourth win over UConn this season.

Skylar Diggins has accomplished nearly everything she could have imagined in her career at Notre Dame. The only thing missing is a national championship.

To get another chance at that elusive title, Diggins will have to help the Fighting Irish women beat Big East rival Connecticut for an unprecedented fourth straight time this season.

Sunday night’s meeting in the national semifinals in New Orleans might be the final chapter with Notre Dame (35-1) heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.


‘‘It would mean a lot,’’ Diggins said. ‘‘I say this over and over — not only to me but to our team and our program, the city of South Bend who have been supporting me my whole life. The opportunity is here now.’’

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Two years ago, the Huskies (33-4) had won the first three meetings before Notre Dame shocked them in the national semifinals. That started an unprecedented run in which the Irish have taken over the rivalry, winning seven of the last eight meetings.

This year the schools played three thrilling games, with Notre Dame coming out on top by margins of 1 and 2 points, and by 9 in triple overtime.

‘‘We came out of each game with ‘Wow, we did not play well,' ’’ said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. ‘‘We can do a lot better. We learned a lot from each game since they were so close. We don’t have that feeling of we've beaten them so easily.’’

Diggins agreed, saying the past few games aren’t a factor.


‘‘I don’t think the past three games matter,’’ Diggins said. ‘‘They are a team that when you play against them they can get in your head. When you think of UConn basketball, you think of all the championships.’’

Not much has gone wrong for Notre Dame this season. The Fighting Irish’s only loss came Dec. 5 to Baylor. Since then they have won a school-record 30 straight games.

On Saturday, McGraw was named the Associated Press women’s college basketball coach of the year. McGraw receiving 24 votes from the 40-member national media panel. She’s only the second coach to win it multiple times, having also won in 2001. UConn’s Geno Auriemma is a seven-time winner.

In the second semifinal, fifth-seeded Louisville (28-8) takes on Final Four newcomer California (32-3). The Cardinals got here by taking out defending champion Baylor and then Tennessee in the regional finals.

While destiny may be on Louisville’s side, history is not. No team seeded worse than fourth has ever won a national semifinal game. The Golden Bears are a No. 2 seed.


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Baylor star Brittney Griner earned the Associated Press player of the year award for the second straight season. The senior center is just the third player to win the award in consecutive years, joining Chamique Holdsclaw of Tennessee (1998-99) and Seimone Augustus of LSU (2005-06).

Griner, a three-time All-American, got 37 votes from a 40-member national media panel. Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike received two votes and Diggins earned the other.

Griner averaged 23.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks this season. She shot 61 percent from the field and 71 percent from the free throw line.

Griner also is ready to take Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban up on his offer to draft her. If she goes undrafted, Griner said she’d be open to an NBA tryout after the WNBA season. Griner will probably be the first overall pick by the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA draft April 15.

‘The WNBA is where I'm at. That’s where I'm going,” Griner said from the Final Four in New Orleans. “After that, if I get a shot, why turn down something like that? That’s big, even if you don’t make it. Hey, at least you tried. Somebody pushed the envelope.’’