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Notre Dame, UConn advance to women’s title game

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No. 1 UConn and No. 1 Notre Dame have been the two best teams in women’s college basketball all season long, with both teams rolling through the season without a single blemish on their respective resumes. That remained the case in Sunday’s national semifinals, and as a result the former conference rivals will meet on the game’s biggest stage Tuesday night.

And that will be the first time in the history of women’s college basketball that the title game matches undefeated teams.

The question for Notre Dame was a simple one: would they be able to account for the loss of leading rebounder Natalie Achonwa, with the senior forward suffering a torn ACL in the South Bend regional final. Thanks to the scoring of Kayla McBride and a group effort on the boards the Fighting Irish were able to do so against No. 4 Maryland, beating the Terrapins 87-61 in the first semifinal.

McBride finished the game with 28 points to go along with seven rebounds, making 12 of her 21 attempts from the field. As a team Muffet McGraw’s squad shot 50.8% from the field, but the story for Notre Dame was their rebounding. Notre Dame managed to rebound 52.8% of its missed shots, scoring 20 second-chance points. Jewell Loyd (five offensive rebounds) and Markisha Wright (four) accounted for nine of Notre Dame’s 19 offensive boards with the latter combining with Taya Reimer to help the Fighting Irish account for the loss of Achonwa inside.

Brionna Jones scored 16 points and Alyssa Thomas added 14 for the Terrapins, with the latter shooting 5-for-13 from the field in her college finale. Thomas ends here collegiate career as the school’s all-time leading scorer.

As for UConn, the Huskies got off to a slow start from the field as they made just five of their first 20 field goal attempts. Geno Auriemma’s team would get going late in the first half, turning a six-point deficit into a four-point lead at the intermission in what would eventually become a 75-56 win over No. 2 Stanford.

UConn has just a six-player rotation but all six contribute, with five starters finishing Sunday’s win in double figures and reserve Kiah Stokes adding nine points off the bench. Breanna Stewart paced the Huskies with 18 points while also grabbing seven rebounds, and UConn’s front court length factored into Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike scoring 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting. As a team Stanford shot 38.2% from the field after making seven of their first 12 shots, and the 6-for-25 night from beyond the arc didn’t help matters either.

Normally a game between Notre Dame and UConn at this stage in the season would represent the third or fourth time they’ve met, meaning that there would essentially be no secrets. But thanks to conference realignment, with the Fighting Irish in the ACC and the Huskies in the American, that isn’t the case.

What hasn’t changed is the fact that these two elite programs have continued to rack up wins, and as a result they’ll be playing for a spot in the history books Tuesday night.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: