A primer for women's hoops' biggest game
March Madness is over.
The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Kansas Jayhawks on Monday night to claim the NCAA men's national title and the much-coveted final clip in the "One Shining Moment" montage.
You're either counting your cash after a big win in your office pool or shoving in your earbuds hoping to drown out your cube-mate's incessant bragging. You've already redirected your attention to the NBA, having turned the page on college basketball season until the fall.
Not so fast.
There's one last game to be contested -- and it's a big one.
Tonight's women's national championship game between Baylor and Notre Dame is a must-see for all hoops fans, a bona fide marquee matchup between two No. 1 seeds, each with a title win in the past decade. Both teams enter the contest looking to avenge losses in last year's tournament; an Elite Eight defeat for the Lady Bears and a championship game loss for the Irish.
If you haven't yet gotten into women's college hoops or simply don't know enough about this year's matchup, here is a primer on the players and coaches, so consider extending your college hoops calendar for one more day.
• Talk about a lifer -- Muffet McGraw has been the coach of the Irish since before her current players were born. She took the reins in South Bend 25 seasons ago and has been piling up awards and accomplishments ever since. Just last year, she became the first Notre Dame representative inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. It's been a decade since her most recent title win, and you'd better believe last year's tourney loss to Texas A&M is still fresh in her mind.
• Shortly after that title loss, then-sophomore point guard Skylar Diggins put the words "unfinished business" on the white board in the Irish locker room, her sights already set on a second chance at the title. The junior All-American is the undisputed leader of this team, a star on the court and off of it, where she tweets to an audience of nearly 200,000 followers and has the likes of Lil Wayne rockin' her jersey.
• Fifth-year senior Brittany Mallory and senior Natalie Novosel complement Diggins in the backcourt, with Mallory playing tough-nosed defense on the opposition's best perimeter player and Novosel fearlessly attacking the lane. Devereaux Peters and Natalie Achonwa will need to play big tonight, as they give up serious inches to 6-foot-8 superstar Baylor center Brittney Griner.
Diggins' words are still there on that locker room white board, a reminder of last year's heartache and this year's goal. Sunday's hard-fought, overtime win against UConn put the Irish right back in the title game.
• Success starts at the top for the Lady Bears. Coach Kim Mulkey is the first person in NCAA history to win a national championship as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach. Toughness isn't reserved just for the players on this team. Last week, Mulkey was diagnosed with Bell's palsy, a dysfunction of the nerve that controls the facial muscles. Bell's palsy is treatable, and Mulkey has said she is determined not to let the diagnosis affect her coaching.
• Baylor's biggest threat is Griner, who was named this year's AP Player of the Year and Wade Trophy winner. She is universally heralded as one of the biggest game-changers in the history of women's basketball. You've seen her dunks on "SportsCenter" (including this effusive two-handed slam against Georgia Tech) and you've heard about her big frame, but she's so much more than her 88-inch wingspan and size 17 shoes.
Griner averaged 23.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.2 blocks in the regular season and shot 61 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line. Her shot-blocking ability and presence in the lane are the stuff of nightmares for opposing forwards and coaches, who have to strip their playbooks of anything near the paint.
• Sophomore point guard Odyssey Sims runs the backcourt for the Lady Bears, attacking the paint on offense and playing hungry, relentless defense. Sims has stepped up her game when it matters most, raising her points-per-game average by six when facing ranked opponents. She came up big in the Lady Bears' 94-81 victory against the Irish in the preseason WNIT final in November, putting up 25 points, 6 assists and 6 steals.
With a win tonight, Baylor can become the first team in NCAA hoops history to go 40-0 in a season. A victory also would help cement Griner's legacy as one of the greatest the game has ever seen; not just a dominant player but a proven winner.
If you thought March Madness was over, think again. The NCAA women's championship game is your college hoops "leap day." What else to do but carpe diem.