Consistent guard play is the key to beating Connecticut; familiarity helps too. Notre Dame has both, even though coach Muffet McGraw says the Huskies "couldn't find a date" on their schedule for the two teams to play this season. Winners of seven of their last nine against UConn, the Irish have one of the nation's top backcourts. Kayla McBride, a 5'11" senior, put together player of the year numbers, averaging 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in leading Notre Dame to a 32--0 record. Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd adds 18.5 points and 2.4 assists per game, and ever-poised 6'3" senior forward Natalie Achonwa (in white) contributes 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. UConn--Notre Dame is the best rivalry in women's basketball, and if March plays out as expected, the next clash will come on April 8, when the two undefeated teams meet for the championship.
The breakout star of the 2012--13 season, 5'9" guard Shoni Schimmel (in red), says "you learn something each time you play UConn." So at this point she should be an expert on how to beat them—it's just a matter of closing the deal. The Cardinals led by one at the under-12 timeout in the first half of the season finale before UConn turned it on and ran away with a 68--48 win. "Upsetting Baylor and upsetting UConn are two different things," says Schimmel, referring to last year's stunner of Brittney Griner and the No. 1 Bears in the regional semifinals. "Baylor had more weaknesses. But we had [the Huskies] for a little bit at our place, and it gave us a glimpse of hope. They are beatable." Louisville will need more from Schimmel: The senior scored just nine points in three straight games against UConn before pouring in 20 in the final of the Big East tournament.
Senior forward Chiney Ogwumike, who averages 26.8 points and 12.3 rebounds, is practically guaranteed a double double anytime she steps on the floor, but guard play from junior Amber Orrange (in black), who scores 9.9 points and dishes out 4.5 assists, and freshman Lili Thompson (7.8 points) will determine how deep the Cardinal go. They lost 76--57 to Connecticut in the third game of the season, but coach Tara VanDerveer has solved the Huskies before—famously ending their record 90-game winning streak on Dec. 30, 2010. Can she pull off a Music City miracle?
SI went to press before the women's NCAA bracket was announced.
PHIL HAWKINS/CSM (ORRANGE)
CHRIS O'MEARA/AP (SCHIMMEL)
JOHN MERSITS/CSM (ACHONWA)