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Notre Dame knows Baylor's strengths all too well heading into women's NCAA national title game

Graham Watson
Yahoo Sports

DENVER, Colo. – There aren't many days that go by that Notre Dame doesn't think of its early season loss to Baylor. The 94-81 defeat was its worst of the season – and even though it was only the fourth game in, it gave the then-No. 2 Fighting Irish a clear idea of what it was going to take to win the national title that eluded them a year ago.

"Everybody was really frustrated," forward Devereaux Peters said. "Especially our team, we're always thinking about that one thing we didn't do right. We really take a lot of responsibility in ourselves so it was a rough plane ride. But I think after that we really focused in on what we needed to fix from that point on."

The Irish lost two more times this season but never lost focus on trying to get back to the women's national title game – a game they lost last season to Texas A&M. And as they watched the other side of the NCAA tournament bracket unfold, they knew their path could cross Baylor's again.

And similar to the first game, no one is giving Notre Dame a chance to top the Lady Bears.

"We play better when we have a chip on our shoulder," guard Skylar Diggins said. "This is the national championship, so this is all or nothing. If you don't put it all out there then what else are we going to do? This is it for us. This is it for this team. This is the time now to be the most aggressive we've ever been."

[ Related: Skylar Diggins wills Notre Dame to OT win over UConn ]

Notre Dame knows it faces an uphill battle, especially in the post against Baylor star Brittney Griner, who lit up the Irish with 32 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in their first meeting. The Irish really don't have a strong post player who can handle Griner. Instead, they're focusing on the perimeter and limiting players such as Odyssey Sims, Nae Hayden and Jordan Madden.

"I really think it's going to come down to our perimeter defense," Peters said. "[Griner] is 6-8, she's going to get her points and she's going to do what she does. She's proven that all year, scoring on triple teams and just playing so well with whatever teams have throw at her. The main difference in our [first] game was we let Odyssey go off and we let a lot of other people make key plays and hit key 3's that we really couldn't take at that point."

Sims' play against Notre Dame is something that has haunted Diggins for the past five months. Sims had 25 points, six steals and six assists in one of the best games of her season and one of the worst of Diggins'. Sims and Griner dominated Notre Dame on their own, forward Destiny Williams added 15 points for good measure, and the rest of the Bears were fairly quiet.

[ Related: Brittney Griner's impact extends beyond the court ]

"She got to score whatever way she wanted to," Diggins said. "That was just bad, just a bad job of me not executing the scouting report.

"I'm very competitive and Odyssey is too. We want to win and we'll do whatever we need to do to win. I think that's what you're going to see out there [Tuesday]. It's not going to be all kicks and giggles out there. It will be fierce."

Of course, Notre Dame's game plan isn't going to be something Baylor hasn't seen before. Teams have tried – and failed – to put one player on Griner while concentrating defensive efforts on perimeter players.

"If that's the game plan, let me get mine and stop everybody else, whatever I have to do to help my team out," Griner said. "We've seen it before. Other teams have tried it before. Some teams kind of shied away from it through the course of the game and some teams stuck to it."

But Notre Dame thinks its speed and transition game will be enough to keep the Bears back on their heels and perhaps keep Griner out of the paint to block shots.

Notre Dame knows none of this will be easy, but it also knows that it's not the same team Baylor was able to push around back in November.

"It's always nice to play a team that you lost to early on, especially at this point in the season, whenever your team is at their peak and playing their best game," Peters said. "So it would be nice to get that game back. And we were a completely different team back then. It's just going to show how much we've grown since then."

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