JOANNE P. MCCALLIE
For The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie takes a look at the games in the women's Final Four. Her Blue Devils played Connecticut, Notre Dame and Maryland this year.
It's interesting with two ACC teams that know each other pretty well. My heart truly goes out to Notre Dame as I can't get over what happened to Natalie Achonwa. The X-factor is that Maryland doesn't really know what the Irish will look like without her on the floor.
They had a little taste when they played in the regular season as Achonwa was in foul trouble, but this is different. The emotional factor. The exciting part of when your team faces adversity is that it's amazing to see who will step up. That's the part that Maryland can't prepare for.
The Terrapins do know that the Irish have a special backcourt with Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride. The two of them will be key to Notre Dame's success.
Maryland is coming into the game with confidence after beating Tennessee and winning on Louisville's home floor. They pushed Notre Dame to the wire in the first meeting and have been playing so well lately.
Alyssa Thomas has learned to take a team to the Final Four and she's playing so well this tournament. Lexie Brown has really come of age lately and hasn't played like a freshman at all in the NCAAs.
Maryland is relishing the role of being the underdog and Brenda Frese will continue to use that to her advantage. While she has the experience of coaching a championship team in 2006, the Irish players, coaches and team managers all have a comfort level having been to the Final Four the last three years.
You can't underestimate that fact.
For Maryland to be successful, their bigs will have to play the way they can and crash the boards and physically take over the game. Katie Rutan also can be an x-factor for them if she hits her shots. It spreads the floor, giving more space for Thomas.
It feels like these two teams tend to meet almost every year in the Final Four. Chiney Ogwumike is a super player and she really has carried Stanford this season. The Cardinal have gotten a lot better as the year has gone on with more players stepping up to help her offensively.
Freshman Lili Thompson has become a great defender, locking down both Maggie Lucas and Diamond DeShields in the regionals.
The problem is that all five of UConn's players can score and shutting one of them down won't be enough.
Stanford has to find a way to keep the game close and put the pressure on the Huskies. Nobody has been able to this year or during their run to the title last season. UConn really enjoys the front-runner status when they build a big lead they rarely give it up. If anyone can put them in a single-digit game with four minutes left it would be a new paradigm for them.
There is a reason they haven't faced that: This UConn team is so good. Starting with Breanna Stewart, who is virtually impossible to guard because she is so versatile.
Now that Kaleena-Mosqueda Lewis is healthy it makes them that much more dangerous. They are the most efficient team. They don't take bad shots and they put the ball where it needs to go.
They've been here before and know what it takes to win a championship.
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