For the first time during this 4-year Final Four run, the Irish women's basketball team will not face UConn in the National Semifinals. Should the two undefeated arch rivals battle, it would be for the National Championship on Tuesday night.
Notre Dame defeated UConn to advance to the national title game in 2011 and 2012 but the Huskies knocked off the Irish in the Final Four last year. The Irish have not forgotten that feeling as they prepare to face Maryland tonight at 6:30 in Nashville.
Notre Dame wants to ensure a victory to put itself in position to possibly win a national championship.
"Last year, we felt like we were really disappointed that we didn’t get one more game," Irish coach Muffet McGraw explains. "Really thought that that was the year we had a chance at a national championship. So when you lose in that first game… you’re so excited to get here, but you wanna keep winning, so our motto’s kinda ‘just one more game.’"
The Irish seniors have made it to the Final Four in each of their four seasons now but have yet to win it all. They want one more shot.
"That would be awesome, especially in my last year," senior Ariel Braker says. "You know, after last year losing in the semifinal game, didn’t feel good. I don’t wanna do that again."
While the senior class of Braker, Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa have all been here, freshman point guard Lindsay Allen is making her Final Four debut. But she wants to do it for the team leaders, in particular Achonwa who is out with a torn ACL.
"It would mean a lot, especially for our seniors," Allen says. "You don’t want their season to end too early, so you know we’re just doing it for our seniors, especially Natalie, who doesn’t get a chance to play anymore. So definitely doing it for them."
Sophomore All-American Jewell Loyd was a starter on last year's team, but has yet to be a part of the ride of going to the championship.
"It would mean a lot," Loyd says. "It shows how hard we work for this, and definitely, since we have more incentive now since Ace is out, to play for her. She got us here, now we have to finish it. Let’s close the deal for her."
You can watch the game at 6:30 on ESPN.