The 2014 NCAA women's basketball championship game will be one to remember as two undefeated teams, Connecticut and Notre Dame, attempt to finish their seasons in flawless fashion Tuesday.
Biggest women's college basketball game ever? UConn 39-0 vs. Notre Dame 37-0, Tue, 7:30PM ET on @ESPN— John Kosner (@JKosner) April 7, 2014
Each team earned a decisive win in its Final Four matchup. UConn cruised to a 75-56 victory over Stanford, while Notre Dame trounced Maryland 87-61.
As we prepare for this epic clash, let's break down each team and predict how this showdown may transpire.
Entering the championship game at 39-0 is an incredible feat in its own right, but beating 11 ranked teams along the way, followed by five straight blowout victories in the NCAA tournament, is sheer dominance.
However, it's nothing new for UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, who has eight titles on his resume (1995, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2013). He's been at Storrs since 1985 and has a head coaching record of 878-133.
What makes this team so special is its versatility from its starters. Connecticut is no one-dimensional squad, which was on display versus Stanford.
The Huskies shot 50 percent from the field, with all five starters scoring at least 10 points. Conversely, the Cardinal only came away shooting 38.2 percent as a team.
Breanna Stewart has been a revelation for the Huskies this season. She continues to be one of the most versatile, well-rounded players in women's hoops. She's aggressive in the paint on both ends of the court and has a nice stroke from downtown as well.
UConn star Breanna Stewart named Women's AP POY, averaging 19.4 Pts, 8.1 Reb this year. Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw is Coach of the Year.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 5, 2014
Her stat line against Stanford says it all: 18 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and two blocks. She's simply all over the court.
Stewart is surrounded by a great supporting cast. Center Stefanie Dolson is virtually unbeatable in the paint, while Bria Hartley and Moriah Jefferson can quickly light up the scoreboard from the perimeter.
If this team has one weakness going into the final, it's getting off to a slow start—by Connecticut standards, anyway.
In the team's Sweet 16 contest against BYU, the Huskies led 30-29 at the half before firing away after the break to win the game. The same thing happened against Stanford on Sunday. Connecticut led 28-24 before pulling away in the second half.
Notre Dame is a strong offensive team, and Connecticut can't afford to allow the Irish to hang around in that same manner.
Like Connecticut, Notre Dame has a plethora of talent on both ends of the court.
The Fighting Irish enter the championship game with a 37-0 record after taking down 11 ranked teams along the way and earning five near-flawless victories during the NCAA tournament.
Head coach Muffet McGraw's name might not carry the same weight as Geno Auriemma's, but she has done quite well for herself at Notre Dame, going 662-217. She's been with the Irish since 1987 and won a championship in 2001.
Just how dominant has Notre Dame been in this year's tournament? The team has a combined 130-point margin of victory over its five games played.
Notre Dame: reaches championship game for 4th time (3rd in last 4 seasons) #ncaaWFF— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 7, 2014
This team is known for getting off to a hot start and keeping its foot on the gas. That's been the recipe for success for the Irish all season long.
They accomplish this with a great amount of depth.
During Notre Dame's 88-69 victory over Baylor in the Elite Eight, the team's starters got into foul trouble. However, that didn't quite matter for the Irish once guard Jewell Loyd stepped up, recording 30 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block.
In that same contest, star forward Natalie Achonwa tore the ACL in her left knee, ending her season.
This came as a huge blow to the Irish, as Achonwa was the team's leader and a double-double machine, consistently dominating in the paint and accumulating tough points and rebounds.
Notre Dame star F Natalie Achonwa will miss women's Final Four with torn ACL in left knee. She averages 20.5 PPG. (via @SBTribune)— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 1, 2014
Her absence was felt against Maryland, though the team rallied without her on the court. The Irish held the Terrapins to 40.7 percent shooting from the floor and out-rebounded Maryland 50-21.
Kayla McBride put the team's offense on her shoulders and racked up a game-high 28 points while adding seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.
McBride expressed her delight during a postgame interview with The Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
It means a lot as a senior. I'm so proud of this team. We went through a lot of adversity, especially after losing 'Ace.' We're going to go in and look at the film and be ready for the game.
I was trying to have fun. The last few games I've been pressing a little bit. I tried to do too much. I let this game come to me. I got us out and gave us that confidence but (my teammates) took care of the rest.
McBride and co. will have to step up in an even bigger way against Connecticut if they are to be crowned the 2014 national champions.
Expect an all-out slugfest when these two heavyweights take the court Tuesday. This is set to be a chess match between rivals in UConn head coach Geno Auriemma and Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw.
At this point, Connecticut is more well-versed on the offensive end of the court, while Notre Dame will look to dominate the interior and gain momentum by out-rebounding the Huskies.
If there is any advantage in this game for either team, it will be in favor of Connecticut, as Notre Dame may have difficulty keeping up with the high-octane Huskies without Achonwa on the court.
Connecticut 71, Notre Dame 67