- Kate Fagan, Columnist, espnW.com
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DENVER -- These two teams could not be more different.
The Baylor Lady Bears are anchored by the game's best center, junior Brittney Griner, while the Notre Dame Fighting Irish play a center-less lineup, starting four guards and a forward. So on Tuesday night, as Baylor goes for a record 40-0 season and the second national championship in program history (ESPN/ESPN3, 8:30 ET), the Lady Bears will be doing so against a smart, scrappy Notre Dame squad that's playing in its second consecutive title game.
Two top seeds, two teams with distinct styles, two programs looking to make history will clash at the Pepsi Center in what should be an up-and-down game. Baylor will try to do what it has done all season: work its offense around Griner and rely on her inside presence to intimidate the Irish. And Notre Dame, with its slew of juniors and seniors, will try to slay the giant by darting around the court and knocking down jumpers and 3-pointers.
"Our posts are going to have to be ready," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Notre Dame will run forwards Devereaux Peters and Natalie Achonwa at Griner, but the Irish also will likely run some full-court press and half-court zone to try to outwit the Lady Bears. These two teams played in November, with Griner finishing with 32 points and 14 rebounds in a 94-81 win. Of course, Tuesday's game will be an entirely different beast, with Notre Dame fighting to avoid becoming the third team in NCAA women's basketball history to lose in back-to-back title games (Auburn lost in 1988, 1989 and 1990; Tennessee lost in 1980 and 1981). In last year's title game, Notre Dame lost to Texas A&M. Baylor went to the Final Four during Griner's freshman season and then lost in the regional final in 2011.
"We're 39-and-0 and we're going to play for the national championship, and they deserve to play for the national championship," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said after her team's 59-47 semifinal victory over Stanford on Sunday. "They've taken everybody's best shot ... we'll be out there come Tuesday and we'll give it our best shot again."
Another key matchup Tuesday night will be at point guard, where Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins will face Baylor's pesky, defensive-minded lefty, Odyssey Sims. On Sunday night, Diggins finished with 19 points during Notre Dame's 83-75 overtime victory over Connecticut. Diggins and Sims can pick up full court on defense and look to penetrate before they look to shoot from the outside.
Diggins and Sims will most likely offset one another, and Tuesday's game will come down to whether Notre Dame's supporting cast of guards (Natalie Novosel, Brittany Mallory and Kayla McBride) can offset the interior domination provided by Griner. There's very little chance the Irish will be able to effectively stop Griner; Notre Dame just doesn't have the interior presence. The Irish can't, and almost certainly won't, try to tailor their game to match Baylor's. Instead, they'll keep playing their game -- run their sets, hustle, stay focused -- and hope enough shots fall to keep them around come the final few possessions.
Tuesday night's title matchup between Notre Dame and Baylor pairs two teams with distinct styles that are looking to make history.