Final Four isn't what most predicted
But there will be a key rematch, a team chasing a three-peat and a first-timer
DALLAS -- Nope, there won't be the Pat and Geno Show. Those Brittney Griner wingspan graphics? Gotta shelve 'em until next season. Oh, and that rematch between UConn and Baylor, which met in a thriller at the start of this season? Not happening.
There will be at least one rematch at the Women's Final Four, but not necessarily the one most people predicted. And there will be a team that's a first-timer, even though its coach will gleefully call himself an old-timer.
The all-Big 12 battle here in the city that houses the league's headquarters concluded regional play on Tuesday, and it provided one more surprise in a women's tournament that definitely has had a few of them. No. 2 seed Texas A&M defeated No. 1 seed Baylor to join two-time defending champion UConn, Stanford and Notre Dame in Indianapolis this weekend for the Women's Final Four.
"Both of us could have been in the Final Four," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said of his program and Baylor. "We were not making excuses when we were put in this region. We embraced it."
Last season, the Big 12 did send two teams to the Final Four: Baylor and Oklahoma. This year, the Big East is the league that will double-dip at the Final Four. UConn, the No. 1 seed in the Philadelphia Regional, had to rally to beat another Big East foe, Georgetown, in the semifinals before crushing No. 2 seed Duke on Tuesday to advance to the Huskies' fourth consecutive Final Four.
Also going for a fourth year in a row is Spokane No. 1 seed Stanford, which had to beat the tournament's furthest-reaching underdog, No. 11 seed Gonzaga, in the regional final Monday.
UConn and Stanford have met at the Final Four the previous three seasons: in the semis in 2008 and '09, and in the final last year. They could face off in the championship game again this year. That would be a rematch of their Dec. 30 meeting at Stanford, which the Cardinal won to break the Huskies' 90-game winning streak.
Before that could happen, though, UConn must face Notre Dame for the fourth time this season, and perhaps the Irish took note of how Texas A&M fared against Baylor on Tuesday in those programs' fourth meeting in 2011.
UConn won the previous three against Notre Dame (just like Baylor did versus A&M), but can the Huskies do it once more, this time in the capital city of the Irish's home state? The closest the Irish came to UConn was in their meeting at Notre Dame on Jan. 8, a 79-76 Huskies victory.
NOTRE DAME VS. UCONN
Connecticut and Notre Dame will meet Sunday at the Final Four. The Big East rivals already have played three times this season, most recently March 8 in the Big East championship game in Hartford, Conn.
|Jan. 8||UConn 79, at Notre Dame 76|
|Feb. 19||At UConn 78, Notre Dame 57|
|March 8||UConn 73, Notre Dame 64|
How have each team's stars performed in the series? Diggins, a 42.5 percent shooter on the season, has shot 35 percent against UConn. Maya Moore's stats include a 31-point performance in their first meeting.
Of course, the Irish set up this Big East battle in Indy by defeating No. 1 seed Tennessee on Monday in the Dayton Regional final, which was in itself a historical victory. Notre Dame was 0-20 against Tennessee before that, including a loss in the 1997 NCAA semifinals.
Texas A&M's record against Baylor wasn't nearly that bad -- the Lady Bears led the series 47-35 coming into Tuesday's showdown in the Dallas Regional final -- but the Aggies had lost the last eight in a row to their Lone Star State rivals.
Baylor made it to the Final Four last season behind then-freshman Griner. And after she scored 40 points Sunday in the regional semifinals in Dallas, it looked as if the Lady Bears might be unstoppable on the way to Indy, where Baylor won an NCAA title in 2005.
But Texas A&M's defense dictated Tuesday's game, a 58-46 upset, sending the Aggies to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
It will be the second Final Four appearance as a head coach for Blair. He has coached girls' and women's basketball since the early 1970s, and previously went to the Final Four with Arkansas in 1998.
"We were the highest seed to get in, the ninth seed," Blair said of the '98 Razorbacks. "And that's always asked at the trivia questions."
That year, Arkansas lost in the Final Four semis to Tennessee. Coach Pat Summitt's program has won eight NCAA titles, but has fallen short of the Final Four the past three seasons.
This year's bracket was set up for a potential meeting between Tennessee and coach Geno Auriemma's Huskies in the national semifinals, but Notre Dame prevented that. UConn, a seven-time national champion, and Tennessee haven't met since Summitt ended their regular-season series following the 2007 season.
While some folks were very eager to see that rivalry renewed, plenty of other women's basketball fans are just as glad not to have the UConn-Tennessee war overshadowing the Final Four.
Coach Muffet McGraw's Notre Dame program has won the NCAA title before -- in 2001 when the Irish went through UConn in the semifinals -- and the Irish, as mentioned, also made the NCAA semifinals in 1997. Still, there's an element of freshness in Notre Dame's presence in the Final Four again. And it's a completely brand-new thing for Texas A&M.
As for Stanford, even though it's making a fourth straight trip and the program's 10th overall, the Cardinal haven't gone home happy from the Final Four since 1992, when coach Tara VanDerveer won her second championship.
So Indy will have a little of everything: A home-state team in Notre Dame, a newcomer in Texas A&M, a program that has come very close but hasn't won it all in nearly two decades in Stanford and the program that just won't go away, UConn.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.