Welcome to Music City, UConn, Notre Dame, Stanford and Maryland.
The Huskies have been on a season-long quest to repeat and win a record ninth national championship. With such a talented lineup returning, it wasn’t a huge surprise UConn would have a chance to go unbeaten. The Irish’s undefeated season was more unexpected. Especially with the loss of guard Skylar Diggins to graduation.
Still, the two teams are on course for an unprecedented national championship showdown, if they can get by Stanford and Maryland.
But that’s not necessarily a given, paricularly for the Huskies.
UConn has won 44 straight games in getting back to a seventh straight Final Four, but coach Geno Auriemma sees a difference in Stanford from Nov. 11 when his Huskies won 76-57 in Storrs, Conn.
“If anybody thinks, ‘well, yeah, we’re going to play the same Stanford team that we played in November,’ they’re kidding,” Auriemma said.
Stanford had a run of five in a row trips to the Final Four snapped last season by Georgia, but the Cardinal are back again for the sixth time in seven years.
The Cardinal are in their 12th Final Four overall, and coach Tara VanDerveer has plenty of experience facing UConn at this stage. The Cardinal lost in the 2009 national semifinals and the 2010 title game, though Stanford did snap the Huskies’ 90-game winning streak late in 2010.
VanDerveer has All-American Chiney Ogwumike, but the coach hadn’t settled on a rotation in Stanford’s third game of the season. Now freshman starter Lili Thompson is the third-leading scorer and shut down Penn State’s Maggie Lucas in the regional semifinal before harassing Diamond DeShields of North Carolina in the regional final.
The Cardinal are in search of their first title since 1992.
“I’m really glad that we did play them early in the season, and I feel like our team is playing with a lot of confidence,” VanDerveer said. “We’re looking forward to the rematch, and I think people, players in the tournament just kind of resent a little bit of the inevitability. Like why have the tournament if it’s inevitable? We definitely want to be party crashers.”
So do her players.
“Nobody expects us to win and that just fuels us,” Stanford fifth-year senior Mikaela Ruef said. “We’re going to go out and have fun.”