Who will win? Four teams, four arguments
We asked staff writers from each of the student newspapers to state the case for why their school will win it all. Now we're asking you to comment, based on their arguments. Who's it going to be: Stanford, Notre Dame, UConn or Texas A&M? You make the call.
The Aggies are the most complete team
Fresh off the biggest win in the history of Texas A&M basketball, the second-seeded Aggies are headed to the Final Four in Indianapolis to win a national championship. A combination of talent, teamwork and determination gives A&M an excellent chance of reaching that goal.
Although the Aggies have never been to a Final Four and likely will be underdogs in both games, coach Gary Blair has experience in overachieving. In 1998, Blair led ninth-seeded Arkansas, the lowest-seeded team ever, to the Final Four.
In its first three games of the NCAA tournament, Texas A&M (31-5) dominated the competition more than any other team. The Aggies outscored opponents 236-133, including a 41-point win over sixth-seeded Georgia in the Sweet 16.
A&M also has the biggest upset of the tournament after knocking off No. 1-seeded Baylor 58-46 in the Elite Eight. Baylor had beaten the Aggies twice in the regular season and again in the Big 12 tournament championship game. A&M enters the Final Four with its confidence peaking.
Senior center Danielle Adams, a first-team All-American, leads the charge. Adams presents a dual threat with a dominating presence in the post complemented by her touch from outside. She ranks seventh in the nation in scoring with 22.3 points per game and has 15 double-doubles.
A&M has other options when its star player isn't on top of her game. In the Aggies' win over Baylor, Adams scored only 6, but they still upset the Bears by double digits.
The Aggies' guard play will make them a tough out in the Final Four. Senior point guard Sydney Colson has been directing the offense since her sophomore season and ranks ninth in the nation in assists with 6.2 per game.
Junior guard Sydney Carter is the Aggies' top defender and has shut down some of the best perimeter players in the country, including Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson and Baylor's Odyssey Sims. Carter also is one of the team's top outside shooters and is fresh off a season-high 22 points in the win over Baylor.
Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Vic Schaefer has A&M giving up only 44.8 points per game in the NCAA tournament. Schaefer's defensive prowess showed when the Aggies shut down Baylor phenom Brittney Griner with a zone scheme that was implemented the day before the game.
Despite the plethora of talent that will be present at Conseco Fieldhouse this weekend, the Aggies present the most complete team in the Final Four. Texas A&M is destined to leave Indianapolis as the 2010-11 national champion.
Michael Teague is a beat writer for The Battalion, the Texas A&M student newspaper. This is his third year covering the women's basketball team.
UConn's experience will be the difference
The No. 1 seed UConn women's basketball team will win the national championship for the third consecutive season because, frankly, the Huskies are the only team that knows how.
Four-time All-American Maya Moore, along with senior captain Lorin Dixon, Tiffany Hayes, Kelly Faris and Heather Buck are the last remaining players in the NCAA tournament with championship experience. Notre Dame is in its first Final Four since 2001, and Texas A&M is making its first appearance in school history. Stanford has experience in the season's final weekend, but none of its players have tasted a championship victory.
Moore is hands down the best player in the country. If there were any doubt, that question died when Baylor and Brittney Griner lost to the Aggies in the Elite Eight.
Moore has the heart of a champion. She has done what Kemba Walker did this season with the UConn men's team. Moore has taken freshmen under her wing and trusts Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson to be other options during crunch time. And they've come through.
It was Hartley who knocked down two crucial 3-pointers in the Huskies' win over Baylor in November. Dolson was arguably the best player in UConn's three wins in the Big East tournament, leading the team with 24 points in the final win over Notre Dame.
The biggest stab at the Huskies this season has been their lack of depth, but that hasn't affected them. The six players in the rotation are arguably the best six-woman team in the nation.
Stanford has been the only bump in the road the past four seasons. In 2008, the Cardinal beat UConn in the national semifinals. This year Stanford ended UConn's 90-game winning streak in late December. The Huskies are 3-2 against the Cardinal during Moore's tenure, including last season's win in the title game. There could be another meeting in the final, but UConn is not the same team it was Dec. 30. The Huskies have grown and gained more experience since their only loss of the season.
Destiny may be the real reason UConn won't lose Sunday or Tuesday. Moore has been compared to Diana Taurasi during her entire career in Storrs, and if all goes according to plan this week, she'll follow the same path. Like Taurasi, Moore lost in the national semifinals her freshman season. If UConn wins it all again she would end her career with a three-peat, as Taurasi did.
The Huskies are 7-0 in national championship games. So if they get past Notre Dame for the fourth time, they are unbeatable in the big game.
Colin McDonough is a senior staff writer for the Daily Campus, the UConn student newspaper. This is his first year covering the women's basketball team.
The Irish have close-to-home advantage
The story of Notre Dame's season could start in April 2001, when Ruth Riley hit two free throws to seal the first and only national championship for the Fighting Irish.
It could start in 2008, when point guard Skylar Diggins, a star for South Bend's Washington High School, chose Notre Dame over Stanford.
It could start in the summer of 2010, when it was announced that coach Muffet McGraw would be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in July 2011.
But why not start the story on Jan. 8, 2011?
In the 24 hours leading up to Notre Dame's game against Connecticut that day, 33 inches of snow fell on South Bend. Regardless, 9,149 fans showed up to cheer on the Irish, who responded by outplaying the Huskies in every way before losing 79-76 at the last second.
Since then, a team that no one expected to contend has played with a vengeance, and that has led it all the way to the Final Four.
Of Notre Dame's starting five, three had never been regular starters and one was switching positions. That led to problems in the first half of the season, but on Jan. 8 the team realized it had figured it out.
Senior forward Devereaux Peters, playing in her first full season after two torn ACLs, began to make the most of her increased minutes. She leads the team in rebounds and blocks and was named the Big East defensive player of the year.
Junior guard Natalie Novosel went from being a productive but inconsistent reserve to being Notre Dame's No. 1 scorer with 14.9 points per game.
Senior guard Brittany Mallory, another former bench player, always has been the one ready to go to the ground for a steal or to chase a loose ball.
Diggins, who converted to point guard at the beginning of the season, grew in her ability to run a game, something that showed last weekend against Oklahoma, when she had a record 12 assists, and against Tennessee, when she hit key 3-pointers and finished with 24 points.
Senior forward Becca Bruszewski has been the constant, the mental leader who keeps the team intense or loose in turn.
McGraw looked at all the events that lined up -- parallels to the 2001 season in the year of its 10-year reunion, Diggins' first Final Four just a two-hour drive away, McGraw's own Hall of Fame induction -- and called it fate. Assistant Niele Ivey, who scored 24 points for Notre Dame in the national semifinals against UConn in 2001, called it destiny.
But the Irish aren't going to win because of the past, or because the stars have aligned.
They're going to win because of what's happening now, the players they have and the momentum they've built since January.
And if that's not enough, consider this: If 9,149 fans are willing to drive through a declared weather emergency to see Notre Dame play Connecticut in January, how many will drive the 138 miles from South Bend to Indianapolis to watch their team play Connecticut when it matters?
Laura Myers is a senior sports writer for The Observer, Notre Dame's student newspaper. She has been covering the women's basketball team for two years.
Stanford wants it more than anyone
The Stanford women are more than familiar with the Final Four. With the exception of redshirt senior Melanie Murphy, no one on the Cardinal roster has ended a season without a trip to the sport's biggest stage. This year's team is making that annual journey once again, and there's more pressure than ever.
Cardinal critics would be quick to point out that Stanford hasn't ended any of its recent trips the way it would like to: cutting down the nets. They would say the team can't finish in the postseason, or that it isn't conditioned enough to play at 100 percent in April. Or that the last three trips to the Final Four don't mean a thing.
But this team is more experienced, more hungry and more prepared than ever before. It knows what it means to lose and bounce back. It's beyond determined to send its seniors away with a championship. This team is healthier and deeper in talent than past Stanford teams, and it's getting hot at the right time.
If the Tara VanDerveer era is going to include any more national titles, it certainly feels like this is the year.
Stanford's edge in terms of "hunger" is admittedly intangible, but its advantage on the court is all too real. Senior point guard Jeanette Pohlen found her stroke against Gonzaga after struggling in some earlier playoff rounds. She's healthy, she doesn't get sloppy under pressure and she's the leader of a team that will do anything to get her a win.
Pohlen scored 31 points in Stanford's last game against the Huskies. Remember that if Stanford faces them again Tuesday.
The Cardinal has a deep pool of talent. Nine players averaged at least 9.8 minutes per game -- more than either Texas A&M or Connecticut -- and they can drastically switch styles with simple substitutions. Joslyn Tinkle and Sarah Boothe can provide a boost in size or power, and freshman guard Toni Kokenis continued to show off her speed in a scrappy game against North Carolina last week.
Versatility has been Stanford's standby this season, and it's unlikely another Final Four team could outmaneuver it the way UConn did in the second half of the championship game last year. Against Gonzaga on Monday, Stanford shut down one of the best guards in the country by switching to a 2-3 zone defense on the fly. Look for mid-game adjustments like that to be the difference-maker in Indianapolis.
That flexible style will be made even deadlier by the simple fact that Stanford will have a nearly full roster of available players -- VanDerveer won't be forced to choose between health and talent as she did a year ago against UConn when Jayne Appel was hobbled with a foot injury.
Stanford has been to the doorstep of immortality enough to know what it takes, and it's come away empty-handed enough to want it more than anyone. The time is right for a Cardinal championship.
Nate Adams is managing editor for sports for The Stanford Daily. He has covered women's basketball for three years.