Which team is most likely to dethrone Baylor? Notre Dame, UConn, Stanford or someone else?
By Mechelle Voepel
Despite UConn's three losses to Notre Dame, the Huskies still seem to be the team most likely to upset Baylor. That's because of personnel matchups, especially having Stefanie Dolson to battle inside against Brittney Griner.
Griner always seems to wear down whoever tries to stop her, and she eventually gets her points. But if Dolson can stay out of foul trouble, she helps give UConn's defense a chance to keep Baylor from taking control of the game as the Lady Bears are used to doing.
UConn's game plan worked well for much of their Feb. 18 meeting with Baylor -- with Dolson's teammates strategically helping her against Griner -- but the Huskies couldn't sustain it for 40 minutes. Playing well in the final minutes of tight games has been an uncharacteristic problem for UConn this season, at least somewhat stemming from the struggles they've had with consistent point guard play.
Still, the personnel and the formula are there for the Huskies to -- at least theoretically -- beat Baylor. Of course, they'll have to first get that far.
By Graham Hays
Connecticut is the team among the three likely candidates that seems the least sure of itself at the moment, but it is also the team that made the strongest case against Baylor the past two seasons. That sounds strange, considering that Stanford actually beat Baylor, the only team to do so in that span, but the Cardinal are in a no-win situation when it comes to that result. It's not their fault Odyssey Sims missed most of the game in Hawaii with an injury, but that dynamic does make it difficult to know what to make of it as a predictive tool (although it's worth noting that Stanford turned in a strong effort against Sims when the teams met in the Final Four a season ago).
That long caveat aside, Connecticut led Baylor at halftime in Waco last season and in Hartford this season, only to succumb to Brittney Griner and its own mistakes down the stretch on both occasions. There's no reason to believe the Huskies will suddenly morph into a team that plays focused, mistake-free basketball for 40 minutes, but if they come close, their mix of a post game that makes Griner work on both ends, 3-point shooting and team defense makes them the toughest matchup for Baylor. Not to mention that in Breanna Stewart, they still have the one player among all four teams with the most tournament-changing potential.
We know what Griner, Sims, Chiney Ogwumike, Skylar Diggins, Natalie Achonwa, Stefanie Dolson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, etc. can do when they are at their best. Jewell Loyd is even at her best right now, a tribute to her consistency as a freshman. Stewart remains a player who could do anything from changing the entire shape of the tournament to drifting nearly invisible through the games.
By Kate Fagan
I want to write "Nobody can beat Baylor," but the question is phrased in such a way that I must choose the team most likely to beat Baylor. For me, that team is Notre Dame. After watching last month's game between the Lady Bears and UConn, I thought the Huskies might give Baylor the toughest test in the NCAA tournament, but given the way the Fighting Irish have played these past few weeks, and how UConn has faltered, I don't think the Huskies are in the mix anymore. I think Notre Dame will prove the toughest opponent for Brittney Griner and the Lady Bears.
So that means my prediction is we'll see the same NCAA final as last season: Baylor versus Notre Dame. (This is assuming, of course, the two teams are put on opposite sides of the bracket.)
Obviously Stanford is the only team to have beaten Baylor this season -- in fact, the Cardinal are the only team to have beaten the Lady Bears since 2011. The only problem is that during that early-season game, Baylor was missing star point guard Odyssey Sims. If Sims had played, I don't believe Baylor would have lost to Stanford in Hawaii.
Notre Dame has the most offensive firepower of the top teams. If any squad can challenge Baylor's dominance, it will be the one led by guards Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride, two players who seem to find it very difficult to lose.
By Melissa Isaacson
Lacking the size to stop or at least contain Brittney Griner, Notre Dame would not appear to be the team most capable of knocking off the Lady Bears, the odds-on favorites to repeat as NCAA champions.
Yet there is something about the Fighting Irish in their last year in the Big East, and about Skylar Diggins in her last season in college, that portends something special. Winning the conference title with a third victory of the season over Connecticut, in addition to wins over Ohio State, UCLA, Purdue and Texas A&M and a sure No. 1 seed, give Notre Dame plenty of momentum going into the tournament.
A loss to Baylor in last season's championship game and an 0-4 record against the Lady Bears in the past four seasons aside, there is something to be said about having a magical season. And a 12-point loss to Baylor in December for Notre Dame's lone defeat of the season will only make an NCAA title more so.
By Michelle Smith
Notre Dame has the best chance to knock off Baylor and keep the Bears from winning another national title. The Fighting Irish came together more quickly than anyone thought they would have with last year's trip to the title game and have played some of the best, gutsiest basketball all season long. Skylar Diggins is one of the few guards in the country -- perhaps the only one -- who can match the skills of Baylor's Odyssey Sims, and while no team will provide an answer to Brittney Griner inside, the Irish have proved they can stay with the Lady Bears.
December's 12-point loss was one of the closest games Baylor played all season. And the Irish have toughened with their overtime wins over Connecticut in the past few weeks, perhaps steeling for a great matchup to win a title.
By Sarah Spain
Let me start by saying Baylor is my choice to win it all this year. I just don't see any team finding a way to shut down Brittney Griner. In order to contain her (she clearly can't be stopped), teams have to sacrifice their own style and get out of their own schemes. And if they can find a way to slow her down, they still have to deal with Odyssey Sims, Brooklyn Pope and the rest of the stacked lineup. Slowing down Griner just makes for a close game.
That being said, if I have to pick a team to see in the final against the Lady Bears, it's Notre Dame, and that's purely from a selfish standpoint. I want to see a rematch of last season's title game -- Part 2 of Skylar Diggins versus Griner -- two women at the top of their game doing battle in their last collegiate contest. Do I think Diggins and her teammates can pull off the upset? Nope, but we'd at least have fun watching them try.