April 1, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - This is one year when Connecticut isn't the only team relying on experience in the women's Final Four.
Sure, the Huskies are two-time defending champions, but is there a point where the law of averages catches up? Consider:
- Just to get to the championship game, UConn will have to beat BIG EAST rival Notre Dame for a fourth time this season, never an easy task.
- If they do that, they might have to play Stanford, which has four straight years of Final Four experience itself, plus confidence from beating UConn and snapping its 90-game winning streak earlier this year.
"I think that there's maybe a certain amount of more calmness. That's all I would say having gone back," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. "People know a little bit more what to expect."
None of that phases UConn coach Geno Auriemma.
"One thing is the absolute truth: There's only one team playing right now that knows how to win a national championship," he said. "Only a couple kids playing know how to win a national championship, and I'm fortunate to have them on my team."
One of those players is Maya Moore, a four-time All-American with 3,000 points and the key to the Huskies' unprecedented run over the past few seasons.
She's working on adding three-time national champion to that impressive resume.
"Where does she fit in among the great ones? Should we mention her name? I would say you're not going to be able to mention a lot of names before you get to her name," Auriemma said. "For sure, I'm certain of that."
UConn's first opponent is a familiar one: Notre Dame. The two teams played three times this season and the Irish hung with Connecticut in those games - including a three-point home loss in January.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw needs only to look across the bracket for inspiration since Texas A&M beat Baylor in the regional final after falling to the Lady Bears three times this season.
"We will definitely reference Texas A&M; the fourth time's a charm," McGraw said. "I think it's going to be a mental hurdle to get over. It's difficult, I hope, to beat a team four times."
While her players lack Final Four experience, McGraw does not. Her Irish team won the national title in 2001 after knocking off UConn in the semifinals, but that was Notre Dame's last trip to the championship.
In that season, the Irish lost to Connecticut in the BIG EAST title game on a last-second shot by Sue Bird.
Notre Dame already has erased one losing streak by topping Tennessee in the regional final after dropping 20 straight to the Lady Vols.
Stanford has done only one thing recently in the Final Four - lose.
The Cardinal haven't won a title since 1992, and were beaten by Tennessee in 2008 and Connecticut last year.
"For Kayla and I and the other seniors, we're very focused coming into this Final Four," Stanford senior Jeanette Pohlen said, referring to Kayla Pedersen. "It's tough making it that far and not coming away with the national championship. I think it's motivating us even more and making us even more excited because we do know this is our last chance at it. We've gone this far. We're just going to give it all we have."
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair coached Arkansas to the Final Four in 1998 and downplayed how much the past four trips to the national semifinals will help the Cardinal.
"The experience factor is in age, and I'm older than Tara and I'm going to use that to my advantage," he joked. "That's the number one thing I've got over her right now. And I don't think she can do a thing about that."
He vowed his team wouldn't be intimidated by the hype and flash of the Final Four.
"What we're going to have to do is put our cell phones away," he said. "We're not going on a sightseeing trip. We're not going to look at all of the statues and stuff. We're going to win a national championship."