March 31, 2012
St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico takes a look at the games in the women's Final Four. She is in the unique position of having coached against all four teams in the last 12 months:
"The four top seeds are incredible teams and have separated themselves from everybody else all year long. The coaches who are coaching in the Final Four are the best out there. They'll have their teams prepared. It's going to be exciting, going to be fun. It will be one of the most challenging and great Final Fours in a while. We have four great teams, great programs, great coaches, it's really exciting for women's basketball."
"It's a great showing by the BIG EAST conference having these two teams back in the Final Four. It's really difficult that they have to play in the semifinals again for the second straight season. They know each other inside and out and both have won big games off each other this year. There aren't too many new things that either team can pull out that the other hasn't already seen.
"Notre Dame has been playing so well in the tournament. The Irish are so good at forcing turnovers and that will be key against Connecticut. When we beat UConn, we were able to get the Huskies to turn the ball over. Yet they handled Kentucky's pressure really well.
"The guard matchup for both teams will be very interesting. Notre Dame's guards are so, so good. Skylar Diggins is coming off a career night with the triple-double against Maryland. After losing in the championship game last year, she and the rest of the Irish have something to prove. Diggins is so good at picking her spots. While a lot of players try to win the game in the first four minutes, Diggins knows that she can get her team involved and then take over when needed. It's a sign of her maturity and experience.
"Natalie Novosel also has been a constant for them all season. She can light up the scoreboard when she's going on offense, giving Notre Dame a lot of offensive weapons.
"Kayla McBride has also been so good for them this season. She's not just a scorer, but can bring so many different things that you can't take her for granted. She's a major difference in their team from last year.
"Then their frontcourt has been great all year with Devereaux Peters and Natalie Achonwa.
"While Notre Dame has been focused on getting back to the championship game, UConn isn't feeling any kind of pressure. Geno (Auriemma) himself said he didn't expect them to get back to the Final Four.
"This is a very different Connecticut team than the ones in the past, because they don't have that one star player. They have five players who can all step up at any time which makes them that much more dangerous. That doesn't even include Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who has been outstanding. If you try to shut down Tiffany Hayes, they have Bria Hartley. Shut them both down, and there's Stefanie Dolson or Kelly Faris.
"This team has been playing really well since losing to Notre Dame in the last game of the regular season.
"What Geno has been able to do with this team to get them to play so hard defensively and take a team that no one truly expected to be here is incredible. It might be one of his best coaching jobs in a long time."
"This is one heck of a matchup in the post with Brittney Griner going against the Ogwumike sisters. What impressed me most about Baylor since we played them in December was how the other players beside Griner and Odyssey Sims have stepped up. Back in the Maggie Dixon Classic, it was the Griner and Sims show. If you could contain those two, you could win the game. Now the other kids are playing with confidence and making plays. We wanted the other kids to shoot the ball, but now they are hitting shots. They aren't tentative anymore.
"Now Griner doesn't feel like she has to score on every possession; others can get involved. Still she has lifted her game to another level. WOW. She's energized the women's basketball game. It's not like you'd expect a female to dunk, and it's not like these are those questionable dunks. These are legitimate men's tournament dunks. The one on the fast break - that was ridiculous. It's great for the game. As much as it energizes the Baylor people, it energizes the country and women's basketball fans in general.
"I was on a plane the other day, and this woman sitting next to me asked if I coached. She pulled out a folder with a big picture of Brittney dunking. This was a random woman in her 50's who's now a fan.
"Stanford will try its best to contain her with the Ogwumikes. I'm really looking forward to see them play against each other. The sisters are so good. I was amazed when we played them last year in NCAAs. Nneka finishes like no one I've seen. Her turnaround, power moves, she's added that to the package. People are encouraging her to shoot.
"The Cardinal are playing with so much confidence. This game could come down to the other players for each team. Can Stanford's guards step up and open up the offense for the sisters? Will Baylor's other players step up?"