It seems weird to think of a team that just had their 90 game win streak ended in December as any sort of "feel good" story. But their ability to maintain an extremely high level of success despite finally losing, losing a player to transfer mid-season, and making their latest run to the Final Four with what amounts to a six player rotation is actually quite an impressive story.
That they blew out a highly-regarded Duke Blue Devils team (again) in the Elite Eight to get to the Final Four is just confirmation that they are by no means a team that is going to sulk about what they don't have and/or make excuses.
And having a player like Maya Moore, who won an unprecedented third Wade Trophy earlier today, certainly helps.
However, even for all their ability to overcome adversity this season, the Final Four is not without its own potential challenges: UConn now faces the daunting task of beating a very talented Notre Dame Fighting Irish team for a fourth time this season. And don't let the hype around sophomore guard Skylar Diggins fool you - this is a team whose success is predicated on balance and defense and they're coming off an Elite Eight win in which they rendered a very talented Tennessee Lady Vols team confused and at a loss for answers.
Among Notre Dame's strengths is their perimeter defense, which has shown the ability to neutralize even the likes of Gonzaga Bulldogs star point guard Courtney Vandersloot.
Let's look at some interesting statistics and past history of Notre Dame this year against some of nation's best perimeter players. Remember the name Courtney Vandersloot of Gonzaga, arguably the best point guard in the nation? In her first round game against Iowa, she had 34 points, in her second round game against #8 UCLA, she had 29 points and 17 assists and in her Sweet Sixteen game against Louisville, she had 29 points. Well when she played Notre Dame earlier this season in Seattle, she only had 10 points.
What about Louisville's star point guard Shoni Schimmel who had been on a tear recently? She had 33 points in her first round game in the NCAA tournament against #2 seed Xavier and then had 18 points in her second round game against Gonzaga. Against Notre Dame this year, she averaged only 11.5 ppg and shot 9-33 (27%) from the field and shot 4-17 (23%) from the three point line. Those are staggering statistics and shows that Notre Dame's defense should not be undersold.
But what they're most adept at is simply playing extremely disciplined defense and forcing opponents into shots they don't want and decisions that aren't to their benefit. Perhaps in contrast to the Texas A&M Aggies, that defensive prowess isn't always predicated on guard pressure but making the right rotations and doubling post players in spots that make it difficult for them to hold on to the ball too long without turning it over. And Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer notes that what this game may come down to is Notre Dame's toughness inside.
C. Vivian Stringer's take on women's Final Four - College Women's Basketball - Rivals.com
The play in the paint is going to be important as well, so Devereaux Peters has to try to stay out of foul trouble and continue to attack inside. Becca Bruszewski has to also play physical and give the Irish a 1-2 punch in the post.
Yes, it's difficult to beat a team four times in a season. And, yes, Notre Dame has challenged UConn as well as anyone this season. But there may never have been a team as driven as the Huskies or a player as driven or skilled as Maya Moore and it's hard to simply disregard that, even if they're playing with six players and up against the wall of having to beat an opponent for a fourth time.