UConn, Notre Dame square off in Final Four

Coming off a season in which it was revealed that Geno Auriemma and the Connecticut women's basketball team is, yes, human, the Huskies enter their record 11th straight Final Four looking to heal a year-old wound: A stunning 64-62 overtime loss to Mississippi State in the Final Four that erased any chances of what would have been a fifth straight championship.

But if the Huskies think that wound is deep, they should check out their Final Four foe this season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame's knees have been a nightmare for head coach Muffet McGraw, whose team has advanced to the sport's final weekend despite losing four key contributors to this year's team to torn ligaments. But it turns out, you can't spell Cinderella without A-C-L, even if the Irish are hoping to become one without so many of theirs.

The two top programs play on Friday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, for a chance to meet either Louisville or Mississippi State in the championship game. All four teams are No. 1 seeds in their respective regions.

"When you come out of high school and you choose to go to Notre Dame or Connecticut, you're saying I want to play in big games," Auriemma said. "You're making that decision. I want to play in big games. I want to play on the big stage."

If Notre Dame's path to the Final Four has been full of knee-twisting potholes, the Huskies arrive at the same place healthy, strong and eager to atone for last season's surprising loss.

Connecticut is looking to wrap up what would be a fifth undefeated season in the last 10 years as they enter the Final Four coming off a 29-point win over defending national champion South Carolina in the Elite 8. No team has come closer than a dozen points against the Huskies since Louisville made it an 11-point loss on Feb. 12.

Aside from a four-point win at Texas in January and a nine-point win over the then-No. 3 Fighting Irish back on Dec. 3, no team has gotten within double-digits of UConn.

"You come to Connecticut, and you look up on those walls when you come to our practice facility, and you look around and you go, 'All right, well, I'm going to be here four years. Well, what in God's name can I accomplish that hasn't already been done?'" Auriemma said. "If you're in awe by that, or you're intimidated by that, then you're not going to be successful here and we're not going to be successful."

In that early December matchup, the Fighting Irish actually led going into the fourth quarter, before the Huskies went on a 26-6 run to end the game.

Marina Mabrey had 21 points in that game and Arike Ogunbowale added 19 for Notre Dame, which would go on to lose just two more games the rest of the year, both to Louisville.

That the Fighting Irish have even advanced this far despite their personnel losses has McGraw emotional.

"I think I'm kind of torn between crying and laughing," McGraw said. "It means so much. There's so much emotion because of what we've been through. The resilience of this team, how they just are relentless in pursuit of their goal. They didn't ever quit or question whether or not we could do it."