Future-school spirit from top recruits

AP Photo/Michael Thomas

Notre Dame recruit Brianna Turner says the Irish are in good hands with Muffet McGraw and Kayla McBride.

Brianna Turner and Kia Nurse may be a bit biased, but that doesn't mean they're wrong.

Like many women's basketball experts, Turner, a Notre Dame signee, and Nurse, a Connecticut commit, expect to see their undefeated teams on the court in the season finale in Nashville next month.

But that's where the consensus ends.

Turner thinks 2014 will be the year of the Irish; Nurse thinks it'll be Connecticut celebrating a women's basketball-record ninth national championship.

As for other recruits across the nation?

Not so fast, they say.

Brianna Turner, Notre Dame

Turner, the No. 2 prospect in the espnW Top 100 for the 2014 class, fully expects to be suiting up for the defending national champions when she arrives on the Notre Dame campus next fall.

"I think they have a really great chance of winning the whole thing," the 6-foot-3 forward at Manvel (Texas) said of the undefeated No. 1 seed in the Notre Dame Regional. "They know what to expect and know how to get it done."

Turner thinks the composure that coach Muffet McGraw brings to the Irish bench and skills that Kayla McBride brings to the court will prove to be too much for any opponent, including in a possible showdown with Connecticut in the national championship game on April 8 in Nashville.

"She's smooth," Turner said of McBride, who is averaging 17.5 points and has led Notre Dame to a 32-0 record and the ACC title. "Every time she shoots I think it's going in, even when it doesn't."

Her advice to her future teammates?

"You can either finish undefeated or with one loss, so finish undefeated."

Lynee' Belton, Duke

Belton, a 6-2 senior forward at Bullis School (Potomac, Md.), acknowledges that her Blue Devils have had a rough season so far against "big competitors."

She was referring to the fact that Duke (27-6), the No. 2 seed in the Lincoln Regional, has lost three times to Turner's Notre Dame, twice to North Carolina and once to Connecticut.

"But I think Duke will step up and win the national title," she said. "Every time I've gone [to the Duke campus], the players are talking about winning the national title. I know that's their goal. And even though they've struggled, I think they will step up."

Belton will watch most of the tournament in her family's basement, also known as her father's "man cave," complete with a projection-screen TV.

She will keep her eyes on Duke's transition defense because when the Blue Devils have lost, she said, it has been because they have not done a good job on their opponents' fast breaks.

And she also will keep an eye out for a couple of rival players.

"Breanna Stewart of UConn or Diamond DeShields of North Carolina," Belton said when asked about the players to watch in the tournament. "It's probably more DeShields because she's a freshman. I hate saying that, because she's a UNC player and they are our rivals, but she can be the best player out there, hands down, if she tweaks a couple of things."

Dekeiya Cohen, Baylor

Cohen, a 6-1 wing for West Ashley (Charleston, S.C.), has faith in Baylor, the No. 2 seed in the Notre Dame Region.

For starters, she said, the Bears have Odyssey Sims.

"Sims is a good leader -- I like her fire," Cohen said. "But they have a lot of people who are role players. All they care about is winning."

Cohen, who said she will watch the tournament at home with her parents, will pay special attention to Baylor's shooters. Baylor players are skilled at penetrating and dishing, she said. From there, it's up to the other Bears to knock down open looks.

If there is one player to watch beyond the Baylor roster, Cohen agrees with Turner and singles out McBride, Notre Dame's 5-11 senior guard.

"She's had a great season," Cohen said. "To go undefeated so far in the year after Skylar Diggins left [for the WNBA] is great."

Sydney Brackemyre, Louisville

Brackemyre, a 6-foot forward from Clinton-Massie (Clarksville, Ohio), keeps it simple when explaining why she likes Louisville's chances.

"Two words: Jeff Walz," Brackemyre said of the Louisville coach when asked why the Cardinals could go a step beyond their runner-up finish from a year ago. "The entire Louisville staff does a great job of preparing the X's and O's and scouting the opponent.

"I think Louisville has a chance to get back to the championship game because history repeats itself. Their past success will repeat itself, in my opinion."

While Brackemyre agrees that UConn and Notre Dame are the favorites, she also has been impressed with South Carolina (27-4), the No. 1 seed in the Stanford Regional.

"[Coach] Dawn Staley is doing a great job with the program," she said.

Brackemyre said she will watch most of the tournament at home decked out in her favorite Louisville T-shirt, but there is also a chance she will catch some games in Louisville since the city will host a regional.

As for players to watch outside of Louisville, the No. 3 seed in the Louisville Regional, Brackemyre listed two: "Tricia Liston of Duke - I love how she plays. She is so skilled. And Diamond DeShields has been blowing up this year. I want to see how she does in her first NCAA tournament."

Kaylee Page, Nebraska

Page, a 6-2 guard for Wamego (Kan.), will be rooting hard for her Cornhuskers, the No. 4 seed in the Lincoln Regional, but she knows there's a giant potentially waiting in the Sweet 16.

"[Nebraska] needs to get balanced scoring and play good defense," Page said. "They need to stay calm and not get caught up playing other teams' games.

"My player to watch is (Nebraska's 6-foot sophomore guard)Rachel Theriot because she is so important to the team. She can score when she needs to, but she can pass, too. She is well-rounded."

Of course, UConn is a powerhouse, and Page is not going to pretend otherwise.

"They have so many players who can be used at different positions," Page said. "They are so skilled and have great fundamentals.

"And they are in such good condition. When it's near the end of the game and the other team is getting tired, UConn is still pushing."

No matter the matchup, Page will be in her family's living room, taking in as many games as she can, in both the men's and women's tournaments. She's on spring break, so basketball will be her main focus.

"The TV shows I normally watch can wait," she said. "Right now, it's all about basketball."

Kia Nurse, Connecticut

Nurse, a 6-foot point guard from Canada, says she hasn't had the opportunity to see many of the teams in the field of 64, but she feels pretty confident that Connecticut will win its ninth national title next month in Nashville.

"I like them a lot," Nurse said of the No. 1 seed in the Lincoln Regional and the reigning national champions. "It's a team full of weapons, and it's hard to shut down multiple players on the floor at the same time."

Nurse says she's not worried about the additional pressure that comes with an undefeated season because seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley will have it all under control.

As for the most important player on the Huskies' court?

"Breanna Stewart is an overall special player. It's pretty amazing to watch her."

Alexa Middleton, Tennessee

Middleton, a 5-8 guard for Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), gives her Volunteers a "pretty good chance" to be the last team standing in 2014.

The Lady Vols, the No. 1 seed in the Louisville Regional, beat Kentucky to win the SEC title and will enter the NCAA tournament a confident bunch, Middleton said.

"I think they just have to play good team defense and pass the ball well," Middleton said. "They are a determined team."

Middleton will likely see this year's Final Four -- which will be held 30 minutes from her home -- in person.

The Final Four will be held during spring break, when she had originally planned to go to the beach in Florida. But the opportunity in Nashville may be too good for her to pass up.

"My mom got us tickets through her job," Middleton said. "So I'm going to try to make it all work."

Like many who follow women's basketball, Middleton said UConn is the big-time favorite.

"They have great players at every position," she said. "But it's March Madness -- anything can happen."

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