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Women’s Final Four: Notre Dame, UConn are headliners

Updated: 
April 3, 2014 - 12:05am

UConn and Notre Dame have been on a collision course all season for what would be an unprecedented national championship game.

Now the two unbeaten teams are each one victory away from a showdown in Music City. Standing in the way of that historic matchup are Maryland and Stanford.

“If they just wanted a Connecticut-Notre Dame showdown, what’d they make us do this for?” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer quipped.

The Cardinal will face the top-seeded Huskies while the Irish will play the Terrapins on Sunday in the Final Four in Nashville, Tenn. Both games are rematches from earlier in the season.

Connecticut, which has won 44 straight games, advanced to the national semifinals for the seventh straight season. The Huskies won the national championship last year and are trying to win a record ninth title after beating Texas A&M in the regional finals.

“It’s not easy to beat anybody at this time of the year because everybody is playing their best basketball,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We beat a pretty good team … and I’m proud of my team. I thought we were really, really good when we needed to be really, really good.”

Like the Huskies, the Irish have been to four straight Final Fours. They are the sixth school to reach the national semifinals in four consecutive years, joining UConn, LSU, Stanford, Louisiana Tech and Tennessee.

“It means so much to our program. I think it’s a statement,” McGraw said. “When Skylar (Diggins) came in, I think people expected that we would be in the Final Four, and then when Skylar graduated I don’t think anyone expected that we’d be back in the Final Four. So I think it says a lot about this team.”

The Irish’s chances of winning their first national championship since 2001 took a big blow when forward Natalie Achonwa tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in the regional final victory over Baylor.

“We still believe,” McGraw said. “She got us to this point, now somebody else has to finish it.”

Achonwa was third on the team at 14.9 points per game, but the Irish will miss her most on the boards since she led the Irish in rebounding with 7.7 per game.

The Terps advanced to their first Final Four since winning the national championship in 2006.

“There was a lot of deja vu the last couple days,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “It brings back special memories from 2006. Really, the teamwork is the same, when you talk about your players and your staff and support staff, very similar to ’06 in terms of just being lined up together.”