Entering Sunday’s national semifinal there were questions as to whether Notre Dame found a way to get into the heads of the UConn Huskies. The Fighting Irish won all three prior meetings this season and were 7-1 in their last eight games against the Huskies.
But it was Notre Dame that struggled mightily in New Orleans, shooting just 29% from the field in a game that UConn grabbed control of late in the first half. The end result was an 83-65 UConn victory, with the Huskies advancing to take on Louisville in the national title game Tuesday night.
Breanna Stewart, the highly-touted freshman who was beaten out by Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd for Big East Freshman of the Year, put forth the best outing of her young career with a career-high 29 points (10-of-15 FG) and five rebounds.
As a team the Huskies shot 46.8% from the field and its reserves outscored Notre Dame’s 20-9 (Bria Hartley: 16 points), which made up for their 22 turnovers. But for as big of a story it is for the Huskies to exorcise some demons there’s also the fact that Notre Dame had its worst offensive performance of the year in its biggest game of the season.
Skylar Diggins scored ten points on 3-of-15 shooting from the field, and in total the Notre Dame starters shot 18-of-66 (27.2%). The Fighting Irish managed to grab 28 offensive rebounds but they were unable to take advantage of those extra opportunities (20-17 UConn edge in second chance points), which ultimately led to their demise.
Diggins helped lead Notre Dame to three consecutive trips to the Final Four, but the program was unable to get over the hump in the sport’s biggest weekend. However it would be unfair to judge her storied career solely on the absence of a national title.
UConn and Louisville met just once during the regular season, a 72-58 Husky victory on January 15 (Stewart missed this game due to injury). The two programs played for the national title four years ago, with the Huskies winning 76-64 in St. Louis.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.