2013 Final Four preview: Three keys to UConn overcoming Notre Dame

USA TODAY Sports

In three previous meetings with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this season, the Connecticut Huskies have lost by a combined 12 points. So what do they have to do to finally overcome their Big East rival in the Final Four?

It's almost impossible to begin previewing the fourth meeting between the Connecticut Huskies and Notre Dame Fighting Irish without acknowledging a very simple truth: ultimately, the outcome of these games has been determined by heart and mental fortitude in big moments.

So in a way, looking at the numbers is pointless.

Nevertheless, I was curious about what the numbers might say about the key factors in this series. And three things stood out as their fourth and final meeting in the Final Four draws nearer.

1. Turnovers have really hurt UConn against Notre Dame

Given the end of the third game in this season series in the Big East Championship game, you probably don't have to tell UConn fans that turnovers have been a problem in this series.

But as it turns out, turnovers have killed the Huskies in more than just the final moments of their games - they've been a significant factor in the final two games and also hurt them down the stretch in the first. In fact, out of the Four Factors, turnovers were the only one that Notre Dame established an advantage in during the final game.

The problem for UConn - in contrast to Notre Dame, whose turnovers have come primarily from star guard Skylar Diggins - is that the turnovers are coming from all over the place and there isn't one player who needs to stop turning the ball over so much.

Dolson is probably a player to watch because UConn runs so much of their offense through her and she had 11 turnovers in that triple overtime game. But as a unit, they have to try to keep their turnovers to 14 (their season average) or less.

2. Breanna Stewart needs to play well

It might be unfair to say that freshman Breanna Stewart has been a non-factor for UConn in these previous three games, but she has certainly been inconsistent.

If the first two games, she was a combined 6-for-24 (25%) from the field though she combined for 11 blocks over the two games. In the third game, she turned around those shooting woes by shooting 7-for-14 from the field, she had just two rebounds - and only two offensive rebounds - and one block. She shot 0-for-11 from the 3-point line across the three games; she's a 32.3% shooting in all non-Notre Dame games this season (21-for-65).

Considering that the first and third games were decided by a combined three points and the second game was decided in triple overtime, it's not unreasonable for UConn to believe that the outcome could swing in their favor if Stewart continues to play as well as she has in the last three games of the NCAA Tournament.

3. Contain Skylar Diggins

For the most part, UConn has in fact contained Diggins during this season as a scorer and distributor: Diggins has been just 20-for-61 (32.37%) from the field against UConn and committed 20 turnovers in three games, which sounds worse than it really is due to her 8 turnovers in a triple overtime game (a turnover ratio of 17.40%) but still a lot.

Of course, Diggins hasn't been a non-factor for Notre Dame in this series either: defensively she has been solid and at the end of these games she just seems to have an ability to win games by sheer force of will.

But similar to what is noted above about Stewart, if Notre Dame does get a good game out of Diggins they'd be in a much better position to win these games.

Today's game is no more predictable than the previous three: while UConn fans could point to Stewart's performances as reason they'll win, Notre Dame fans could easily point to Diggins' inefficiency as reason to believe they could complete a season sweep of UConn.

What we probably can say about this one based on recent history: it will definitely be a good game worthy of the anticipation it has attracted.

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