Five storylines to watch in Final Four
No, we won't get a Pat Summitt versus Geno Auriemma smackdown. And no, there will be no Brittney Griner blocking her way through the streets of Indianapolis.
Only two of the four big dogs in women's basketball -- Connecticut and Stanford -- managed to avoid a stumble heading into the Final Four. But neither team avoided a challenge. The Cardinal got theirs from North Carolina. The Huskies had to sweat out a win over Georgetown.
Notre Dame and Texas A&M, both No. 2 seeds, can hardly be considered dark horses, but their presence injects an air of mystery into this season-ending gathering at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Here are the top five storylines to watch in the 2011 Women's Final Four:
1. Is the fourth time the charm for Stanford? The Cardinal became one of five programs, joining Louisiana Tech, Connecticut, Tennessee and LSU, that have made four consecutive trips to the Final Four. In that group, only LSU came away empty-handed. That is not a list Stanford wants to join.
It's been 19 years since Tara VanDerveer's program last won a title, and this might be the best-equipped group she's had since. The Cardinal have size and athleticism inside with the sublime Ogwumike sisters, who have dominated opposing teams in the paint throughout the tournament. They have experience in the steady duo of Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen. They have people who can knock down 3-pointers, good minutes off the bench from the likes of Toni Kokenis and Joslyn Tinkle. They can score in the half court and in transition. They play stellar scouting-report defense.
The one thing Stanford doesn't have is quickness on the perimeter. Is one Achilles' heel enough to keep Stanford from a title?
2. Is the fourth time a charm for Notre Dame? The Irish have had three shots at Connecticut this season, and the squad came up short in each one. But Monday night's decisive win over Tennessee, their first in 20 tries against the Lady Vols, sent a message: The past doesn't matter.
The Irish, who are in the Final Four for the first time since the team won a title back in 2001, have an experienced point guard in sophomore Skylar Diggins, who came up huge against Tennessee with 24 points. Notre Dame also showed defensive mettle, forcing 19 turnovers. The Irish won't be intimidated by the Huskies. That counts for a lot when the big stage is plenty intimidating on its own.
3. Connecticut, vulnerable or venerable? Yes, the Huskies have won a whole lot of games this season. But is this the powerhouse team that won the past two titles? Nope. Connecticut is not deep. The Huskies are not as nearly as experienced or dominant in the post as they were when Tina Charles ruled the paint.
Maya Moore carries the heaviest load, but at times down the stretch of the season, she has looked a little weary from the task. Geno Auriemma has a freshman point guard in Bria Hartley, and his team could ill afford foul trouble or an untimely injury. If there is a changing of the guard this season, would it really be that big a surprise?
4. Bye-bye, Maya. The country will have one last chance to appreciate the amazing talent of Moore, who is probably one of the best basketball players on the planet right now. She wants a third title in her final NCAA tournament; she wants to match Diana Taurasi. And she'll play as though she wants it, which is going to make her a joy to watch no matter how things turn out.
5. Is Texas A&M crashing the party? Gary Blair's team made it look a little bit easy against Baylor for most of Tuesday's regional final. The Aggies are quick, aggressive and confident, led by guards Sydney Carter and Sydney Colson. A&M might be able to cause the same type of problems against Stanford that North Carolina did in the regional semifinals, forcing turnovers, scoring off the dribble and keeping Stanford guards shooting from out beyond the arc. If post Danielle Adams can stay in the game, A&M just might have enough momentum to surprise everyone.