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Pregame: No. 1 Irish vs. No. 1 Connecticut

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It all comes down to this, a game that Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma referred to as “almost inevitable.”

The Notre Dame women's basketball team is in the championship game for the third time in the last four years.

There were so many classic games between the Irish and Huskies when they were in the Big East together. None can match this one, not for stakes, not for drama, not for hype.

UConn is riding a 45-game winning streak that dates to last season. Notre Dame is seeking its first unbeaten season in team history.

What makes the battle interesting is that it is almost a clash between the unstoppable force and immovable object. The Huskies allow 47 points per game. Notre Dame has scored at least 84 points in every game of this NCAA tournament run.

Certainly it would seem that the Irish would prefer a more up-tempo contest with scores in the high 70s or low 80s.

Another area to watch comes with the whistles.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw found it amazing that the Huskies play so physical and yet still commit the fewest fouls in the country.

Auriemma retorted that Notre Dame somehow gets to the line plenty when playing UConn.

“Only one team in America gets to shoot free throws against us,” Auriemma said. “You want amazing? That's amazing.”

While these two experienced tacticians were clearly engaging in a bit of public posturing, foul trouble on either side could play a big role if certain players run into it.

Auriemma said little things are magnified because these two teams are so very, very similar, and he's right. From so many angles, they are near mirror images.

But the one key distinction is that Connecticut has superior size and length, which makes the Huskies more of an obstacle defensively. That UConn defense is awesome.

Its offense has been a little wobbly in the tournament, with leading scorer Breanna Stewart, normally a 50 percent shooter, missing 21 of her last 34 shots.

For Notre Dame to win, Jewell Loyd has to have a big night. When the Huskies sub and bring in their only bench player, a center in Kiah Stokes, how will Auriemma defend Loyd? Will he go with the speed and quickness of point guard Moriah Jefferson or perhaps the length of Stewart, a mobile power forward?

Loyd will have to attack in different ways depending on who is guarding her.

Loyd admitted nerves were a factor for her early in the national semifinals against Maryland, when Kayla McBride took the reins and left Loyd as more of a second banana.

The Irish need both scoring at the same time to beat UConn. Loyd averages 19 points and seven rebounds. She's too good to take fewer than 20 shots tonight.

As for the forecast, UConn was the favorite even before Natalie Achonwa got hurt, and they are the big favorite now that she will not play. But, it's a national championship game, and it would seem that each team has forgotten how to lose. Viewers might be in for a treat.

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