Baylor nearly a unanimous pick
Lobo picks Irish, who lost to Lady Bears 94-81 in 1-2 showdown on Nov. 20
When Baylor meets Notre Dame in Tuesday's national championship game (ESPN/ESPN3, 8:30 p.m. ET), the 39-0 Lady Bears will be looking to cap just the seventh unbeaten season in Division I women's history. While not a unanimous pick, Baylor heads into the matchup seemingly as a very heavy favorite.
Doris Burke, ESPN analyst
Going all the way back to the first game of the season, Notre Dame and Baylor were the two best teams and the two squads with the best chance to win the title. At the start of the year, I gave Notre Dame a slight edge because I thought it was the better offensive team.
Baylor will have to score more than 59 points to beat the best offensive team still standing. But I am reversing my pick from earlier in the year.
Point guard Odyssey Sims is the verve. Baylor feeds off her mojo. And her defense Sunday was exceptional. I think Sims can help negate some of the Skylar Diggins effect.
Baylor is long and lean at every position. It's going to be a great game.
Rebecca Lobo, ESPN analyst
Offensively, Notre Dame thrives doing the things that Stanford successfully executed against Baylor: pick-and-rolls, backdoor cuts, bringing the bigs to the high post.
I don't know if Notre Dame will defend Baylor as well as Stanford did, but the Irish have the offensive firepower to be able to outscore them.
Obviously, no one knows who is going to win. But this game will be a fascinating chess match between the coaches and a well-played showcase of women's hoops by the players on the floor.
Pick: Notre Dame
Debbie Antonelli, ESPN analyst
While I believe that Notre Dame has the best backcourt in the nation -- which I've contended all season long -- we've never seen anybody like Brittney Griner, who is unique and special at 6-foot-8 with her impact on both ends.
While Notre Dame might try to neutralize her, Baylor has enough [talent] around Griner. And the way Stanford defended the Lady Bears might give some of Griner's teammates more confidence. Players like Jordan Madden just need to quit hesitating and take some quick shots outside the arc. At times Sunday, Madden was wide open. But she's only a 21 percent 3-point shooter, so she put the ball on the floor and made a power dribble toward the defense. All the Lady Bears did a much better job of that in the second half against Stanford.
Mechelle Voepel, espnW columnist
The Irish have an experience edge, playing in their second consecutive NCAA title game. They lost to a Big 12 team, Texas A&M, last year in a game that came down to just a couple of plays that made the difference. Baylor, meanwhile, also lost to the Aggies to end its season in the Elite Eight. So both the Irish and Lady Bears have had the mantra that this season was about unfinished business.
It will have to remain that way for one of them. As fine a team as the Irish are -- tough, smart, resilient -- they might not be able to stop Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims any better Tuesday than they did when the teams met in November. Sims had 25 points and Griner 32 in that game, a 94-81 Baylor victory. Look for both -- who were held somewhat in check in the semifinal victory over Stanford -- to have a big night Tuesday.
Graham Hays, espnW columnist
There is nothing Notre Dame wants more than to see everyone picking Baylor in this game, feeding the Fighting Irish's perception that they don't get the respect they deserve, but there simply isn't a good enough reason to pick against a team that has the most dominant player in the nation and hasn't lost in more than a calendar year.
No team can feel like it has an answer for Griner, but Notre Dame is particularly vulnerable on that count. Devereaux Peters is a fantastic defender, rebounder and emotional presence. She is the most underrated player on her team, if not one of the most underrated in the nation. But she's also 6-2 and isn't going to move Griner off a spot. Notre Dame also has Natalie Achonwa as post support, but more minutes for her would presumably mean fewer for someone like Brittany Mallory or Kayla McBride. It is also going to be difficult for either Skylar Diggins or Mallory -- the lockdown defender who often guards the opposition's best (non-6-8) player -- to stay with Odyssey Sims. It was difficult in November, when Sims got to the free throw line 14 times and finished with 25 points and six assists against Notre Dame.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey reiterated after beating Stanford that her team is much more than Griner and Sims. On a night when those two combined for modest numbers against the Cardinal, she had plenty of proof on her side. But if Baylor wins the championship, it will have a lot to do with its two best players.
Charlie Creme, espnW contributor
Much like in the days when Geno Auriemma used to say the difference between his Connecticut teams and everyone else was that he had Diana Taurasi and the others didn't, this year's Baylor team sets up the same way. Kim Mulkey has Brittney Griner and no one else does. Notre Dame is an even more talented offensive team than Stanford and has a collection of guards that far exceeds the Cardinal's backcourt, but in the end, Baylor has Griner.
As Stanford proved, Griner can be slowed down, but at what cost? The Cardinal still got beat because it takes so much just to try to take Griner out of the game. That leaves too many holes that can't be plugged.
Notre Dame will likely do a better job than it did when these teams met in November, and the Irish will probably score more than the 47 points Stanford put up Sunday, but as 39 other games have proved this season, none of it will be enough.
Michelle Smith, espnW contributor
The Lady Bears' quest for the unbeaten season survived one of its toughest challenges Sunday night against Stanford, and Baylor already knows it can beat Notre Dame, having done it earlier this season by a 94-81 score in November.
This game is going to be closer, and watching sophomore Odyssey Sims and junior Skylar Diggins match up will be one of the highlights of the weekend. But the Irish are going to have the same problem as everyone else this season: dealing with Brittney Griner and the ways in which she changes what you do. She's just too big an obstacle.
Kate Fagan, espnW columnist
This will be the closest game Baylor has played all season. But in the end, the reality is that Notre Dame doesn't have the inside presence to stop Baylor's all-everything center, Brittney Griner. The Irish start 6-2 forward Devereaux Peters at the center spot, and they'll devise a game plan to slow Griner & Co., but -- as has been the case in the previous 39 games Baylor has played -- it won't work.
The Irish are the most disciplined team in the country, and probably also the smartest, so they'll likely hang around until the final few minutes of Tuesday's title game. Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins will offset Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims, and Notre Dame's trio of guards -- Natalie Novosel, Kayla McBride and Brittany Mallory -- will make enough shots to keep this thing close.
But Griner has been building toward this moment for three years. She doesn't take possessions off. She plays as hard on defense as she does on offense. And when it comes time to making the final few plays Tuesday, Notre Dame will not have an answer for Griner's length and athleticism.
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