Last week, we argued that the Women's Final Four in Denver would be more competitive than the higher-profile men's contest -- and so far, this prediction appears to be on track. Kentucky boosters are so sure their team will win the men's championship tonight that they've already rioted, and it's tough to argue with their logic. Meanwhile, on the women's side, the Fighting Irish's toughness in qualifying for Tuesday's final game suggests they may actually give the favored Baylor Bears a run for their money.
Not that the men's semis were complete stiffs. The Kentucky-Louisville contest was fairly competitive throughout, even though there was little doubt the Wildcats would eventually prevail, and Kansas defied expectations to defeat Ohio State in a matchup that wasn't decided until its chaotic final seconds.
Still, the game of the weekend was Notre Dame-Connecticut. The two teams know each other awfully well, having played four times this season, and eight in the past two, and it showed. Connecticut displayed its experience and resilience in the last few minutes, putting together an 8-0 run to turn a sizable deficit into a two-point lead with just 11.8 seconds left. But the Irish rushed the ball down court at lightning speed, with Natalie Novosel banking in a put-back with three seconds remaining, forcing overtime. And in the extra stanza, Brittany Mallory, a fifth-year senior who couldn't buy a three-pointer during regulation, drained a pair of long-distance treys that were the equivalent of gut-shots to Connecticut.
Talk about an unpleasant flashback for the Nutmeg Staters: ND prevented UConn from getting to the final game last year, too.
The Baylor-Stanford face-off wasn't nearly as close. Stanford is unquestionably an elite program, and the collective Cardinal managed to prevent Brittney Griner, the best player in the women's collegiate ranks, from turning the Pepsi Center showcase into a jam session. But by focusing so heavily on Griner, Stanford allowed the other Bears, including Terran Condrey and Odyssey Sims, to prove they belonged on the big stage, too.
Baylor is certainly capable of doing the same thing to Notre Dame. But whereas Kansas, on the men's side, has obviously exceeded expectations in getting to the finals -- a recipe for a collapse against mighty Kentucky, whose squad is practically NBA caliber -- the Fighting Irish are a legitimately strong team with great balance and their own superstar in Skylar Diggins. As such, they have a chance, albeit a modest one, to prevent Baylor from notching an astonishing forty consecutive victories in a single season. Which is why Tuesday's game in Denver is apt to prove more exciting than tonight's in New Orleans.
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Below, see an ESPN roundup of the women's semi-finals, followed by a look at the press conference following the Notre Dame-Connecticut game.
More from our Sports archive: "Photos: Notre Dame cheerleaders, pep band celebrate Final Four at Annunciation school."