Muffet on challenge of beating UConn for 4th time: We must paint our masterpiece

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When Notre Dame faces UConn in the Final Four tonight, the Irish will be looking to do something no women's basketball team has ever done before--beat the same team four times in one season.

Only once on the men's side has the daunting task been accomplished. That was back in 2000 when Michigan State ousted Wisconsin four times.

The Irish know it won't be easy---and that's what would make it that much sweeter.

"To beat UConn for a 4th time in one season would be great for our program and great for this team," Irish center Natalie Achonwa says. "Coming in at the beginning we were young and we still are young, but we've come of age this year. So far we've done everything we weren't supposed to. To beat UConn in a season when people say we can't do it, here's a challenge."

UConn has lost to Notre Dame not just three times this season, but also the last two times in the Final Four. In fact, it was the Huskies that beat the Irish three times in 2011 before Notre Dame upended UConn in the Final Four to end the streak.

This year's games have all been close and UConn is coming in with the motivation shown by the Irish two years ago.

"We know each other like its the back of our hand," Huskies senior Kelly Faris says. "We play them so many times throughout the year. This is it. It's one and done and the stakes are high. we have to learn from our past mistakes."

Make no mistake, Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma is reminding his team of its past mistakes that led to two 2 point losses---and a triple overtime defeat at Notre Dame.

"I love the play that they ran at the end of [the 1st overtime} at their place when we are up 3," Auriemma says with sarcasm. "We double team Skylar and Kayla McBride just dribbles to the 3 point line and ties the game. I don't know why I can't think of that Sh**."

"One of these times I'm going to think of that. Just give it to a guy, let 'em dribble to the 3 point line and shoot it."

Yeah, you can tell Geno has laid it on thick to his players about their mistakes down the stretch that have cost them games.

Kayla McBride, who hit the three to force double overtime in that game Geno referenced, feels this game will come down to the same type of scenarios.

"I think we have to make big plays down the stretch," McBride explains. "It's going to be a battle for 40 minutes."

"It's going to be a tough game," Skylar Diggins adds. "They are going to make you play 40 minutes to win. It's going to be non stop, up and down, intense, competitive. Something like that."

Despite the three wins this season, Irish coach Muffet McGraw says Notre Dame must play better this time around.

"We didn't play well in any of the games we've played yet," McGraw said of the previous battles with UConn. "We always feel we can play better. We gotta paint our masterpiece on this next one."

If the Irish paint that masterpiece, they are headed to the national title game for the 3rd straight season.

"It would mean everything," McBride says. "This team has come so far this year and to just go to the national championship game with Sky and [Kalia Turner] as seniors with everything they've been through--it would mean so much for this university and this program."

"It would mean a lot for our team to get to the national championship game because we feel like this team is special," Irish senior captain Skylar Diggins adds. "It's a different feeling about this team that I haven't felt before. I kind of feel like our destiny was written for us before anything happened this year. I feel like this is such a special group of players. I think we exceeded a lot of people's expectations, especially if you asked where we would finish. I don't think they would say we would end up in the Final Four. I'm just proud of my team in the way we fought through adversity and put ourselves in a position to fight for another national championship."

If the Irish lose, Skylar's remarkable career comes to an end.

Faris is right--the stakes can't get higher.

Tipoff tonight is 9pm on ESPN.


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