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Monday, March 4, 2013
Breaking down Big Monday's matchup

By espnW

Who will win the Big Monday matchup between UConn and Notre Dame?

Advantage: Notre Dame

By Melissa Isaacson

In theory, UConn would appear to have at least a motivational edge going into Monday night's showdown with Notre Dame. Still fresh is their one-point loss at home to the Irish on Jan. 5. At stake is a piece of the Big East title, which the Irish have already assured themselves. And the Huskies are on a roll, having won 15 of 16 games since the Notre Dame loss, their only other defeat to No. 1 Baylor.

But there's also the little matter of Notre Dame being the better team right now. The guard play of Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride is enough to favor the Irish (freshman Jewell Loyd might also be back from a concussion). Coach Muffet McGraw calls this club one of her favorites for its ability to battle. If the game is close -- which it is bound to be -- give the Irish, who have won five of their last six games with UConn, the advantage at home.

Notre Dame too hot to handle

By Mechelle Voepel

Notre Dame is heading soon to the ACC, though the Irish may spend next season along with the Catholic 7 in the so-called "new" Big East. As a type of way station, if you will.

That leaves UConn in the remnants of the "old" Big East. A league that apparently will have to be called something different and merge with other castaways/refugees/orphans created by the continuing game of conference musical chairs.

Does that sound like a lot of disruption and abandonment, all for the purpose of dollar-chasing? Well, it is. And, unfortunately, there's really no stopping it. So we should enjoy this last sure year of the UConn-Notre Dame women's basketball rivalry.

It might continue at some point -- maybe the programs will play each other in a nonconference game. Or, who knows, perhaps UConn somehow will eventually show up in the ACC, too.

But in contrast to all the haziness about the future is the certainty of UConn-Notre Dame right now. The teams will meet for the second time this season Monday night at Notre Dame, and the Irish will try to sweep the regular-season series again.

That's what Notre Dame did last year. UConn won their Big East tournament matchup, but then the Irish got the last word in the national semifinals.

We don't know if we'll see two more games between the Irish and UConn this year, which makes Monday's showdown all the more valued by fans of both teams and the sport in general.

Notre Dame surprised most people with a one-point victory at Connecticut on Jan. 5. The Irish have followed that up with 14 more Big East victories and can close out an undefeated league season Monday.

It's almost otherworldly for any team to have a 5-1 record in its last six games against UConn, but the Irish do. And in Skylar Diggins' last home appearance for the Irish, I think they'll make it 6-1 in the last seven.

UConn studying the game plan

By Kate Fagan

I think UConn will win in South Bend, flipping the table on the Fighting Irish. Two months ago, Notre Dame won 73-72 on UConn's home floor -- an impressive result for the Irish and one that also jump-started their stellar conference season (Notre Dame is 27-1 overall, 15-0 Big East). Still, I think the Huskies, led by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and center Stefanie Dolson, will avenge their early January loss and grab a share of the Big East title (UConn enters the game 27-2, 14-1).

Monday night's game will come down to the final few minutes, just like the first matchup between these two powerhouse programs. There is just too much talent on both sides for this to go any other way.

But what UConn has going for it is a recent loss to No. 1 Baylor on Feb. 18. The Huskies always respond well to losses, and this time is no different. Geno Auriemma will have his team focused, because two losses in two weeks is unacceptable at UConn. Notre Dame, meanwhile, is on a 22-game winning streak.

Bottom line: The Huskies will arrive in South Bend knowing exactly what they need to do to make sure the Irish don't win the conference title outright.

Advantage, UConn.

Connecticut due for win in too-close-to-call series

By Graham Hays

Notre Dame has series momentum, the home crowd and the emotion of Skylar Diggins' final home game on its side in Monday night's game. Connecticut has the law of averages.

The main reason this has become the best rivalry of the moment in women's basketball is that these two teams are separated by just 29 points over their past six meetings, a stretch that includes a pair of overtime games. They are separated by just 14 points in those six games if you go by the score at the end of regulation. Probability suggests one team shouldn't dominate the results in such a scenario, but the Fighting Irish won five of those games.

I don't believe it's all luck for the Fighting Irish. I believe the mental part of winning isn't pure hokum, that it matters because Notre Dame players believe they can beat the team that owned the series for so many years. I believe it isn't coincidence that all the close wins came with Diggins around, and that her success in this series may be the greatest part of her collegiate legacy. And if Natalie Achonwa is better able to stay out of foul trouble than Stefanie Dolson, if Connecticut again struggles to guard Kayla McBride, if someone like Michaela Mabrey or Madison Cable provides 3-point cover the way Mabrey did in Storrs last month, Notre Dame can absolutely make it six wins in seven, just as a coin that came up heads eight times in a row has a 50-50 chance of coming up heads on the ninth flip.

But if this series really is a flip of the coin, and I struggle to find convincing reasons to believe with any certainty that either team should win, surely the coin lands on Connecticut's side one of these times.

Odds are in UConn's favor

By Michelle Smith

Connecticut comes away with the big road win on Monday night. The Huskies have lost five of six to Notre Dame, and despite the emotion of Skylar Diggins' final home game, the odds swing back to their favor. Sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and senior Stefanie Dolson are coming off big games on Saturday, momentum that will carry into South Bend. Mosqueda-Lewis has scored 98 points in the last four games. But she can't do it alone.

To win this game, Connecticut needs better guard play than it got over the weekend.

On paper, Notre Dame looks like the favorite to win the Big East title, but Connecticut will grab its share.

Mental hurdles too much for Huskies

By Sarah Spain

The Irish have won five of their last six meetings with UConn and I think they'll make it six of seven with a win tonight.

Not only do the Huskies have to move past their one-point loss to Skylar Diggins & Co. in January, they also have to try to forget last year's regular-season finale against the Irish, a double-digit blowout loss. Mentally, they have a bigger battle to fight. It'll be Notre Dame hanging on for the win and sole possession of the Big East title.