Roles reversed as Irish set to face UConn in Final Four rematch

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TAMPA BAY, FL -- Notre Dame and UConn will once again square off in the Final Four. It's a rematch of last year's national semifinal, one the Irish won on the way to the national championship. This time though, the roles are reversed.

The Irish are the defending champions, and the Huskies are the ones trying to knock them off and reclaim the crown.

Both players and coaches alike said it's a different feeling than just a year ago.

"It is a little different this year," Irish women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think there's more of an expectation because we did win it last year, so I think it is more of a business trip."

"It's a completely different atmosphere," Irish senior guard Marina Mabrey said. "I think last year people didn't expect us to win, so maybe we weren't getting the best game, I'm not sure, but this year, we're definitely going to get everyone's best game just because we won it last year and have so much experience and talent coming back."

One big difference is that Notre Dame is actually favored to win Friday night. As of Friday morning, the Irish were 2.5 point favorites over the Huskies.

Friday night's Final Four matchup will be the 50th meeting between the two rivals. UConn has dominated the series, owning a 37-12 record over the 49 previous meetings.

That includes the last time they played, when the Huskies handed the Irish their first loss of the season, 89-71, on December 2nd in front of a packed Purcell Pavilion.

Of course, Notre Dame fans will be quick to bring up the time before that, when Arike Ogunbowale hit a buzzer-beater to top UConn in overtime.

Fast forward a year, and it's the same thing: the game's best rivalry, on its biggest stage.

"UConn and Notre Dame have such a rich history, from playing in the Big East to competing every year in the Jimmy V Classic," Irish senior forward Brianna Turner said. "I think it's really exciting for women's college basketball. A lot of people tune in to this game where you see sometimes people don't really follow women's basketball, this is one of the games where people are like oh I have to tune in, so I think it's really great for the exposure of women's basketball overall."

"I think it's just so many talented players on one court at a time," Mabrey said. "Just how many players are really, really good on the court, and just playing against each other is emotional, high-intensity, very competitive, and rightfully so because the players are so good."

Notre Dame tips off against UConn in the Final Four on Friday night at 9:30pm. The game will air on ESPN2.