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NCAA Women's Championship Game 2011: How Notre Dame Advanced Past UConn

During the Texas A&M Aggies' press conference yesterday morning, point guard Sydney Colson leaned over to her teammates to suggest that only one person on ESPN correctly picked the National Championship pairing between them and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Even while watching her say that on the day before they were set to play for the title, the whole thing still seemed somewhat surreal - the consensus opinion this year was that the champion would be one of either Baylor, Connecticut or Stanford. Maybe some Lady Vols fans would have insisted that they be considered as well. But nobody really thought there was a possibility of none of the above making it, even if the presence of two-seeds in the National Championship is hard to consider an "upset".

Nonetheless, this is historic: just having a National Championship without #1 seeds is something that's only happened once prior in women's basketball in addition to TAMU making their first title game attendance.

So there was a lot of talk about whether it was good for game both during and outside of media sessions. What that probably comes down to is that this game will not generate the type of excitement among mainstream sports fans that could conceivably create high ratings. However, for those who truly appreciate women's basketball - or have seen enough to develop an open mind about the possibilities for the sport to be entertaining, if not the same type of entertainment as the men's game - there may be few better showcases for exactly what this game is about.

"Can a good women's basketball game that's going to be played between the ears and below the rim excite people out there enough to watch this thing," Biar said when discussing how media should talk about this game. "You look at the NBA, all the chosen stars are all going to the major cities to play. And right now we're starting to spread it out a little bit more in women's basketball instead of everyone going to Tennessee, Duke, and Connecticut, Stanford and a couple other schools."

Although I will maintain that Stanford is the most talented unit in the nation - both in terms of how the individual talents fit together and how they played together - I have also said that Notre Dame is the most balanced unit while playing a style of defense that can be hard for casual observers to fully grasp while watching on television.

"They do it by old school ball," Blair said about Notre Dame's defense during his hour and five minute oratory. "They know how to play. Their guards have always got their forearms out. Mallory and Novosel..they're just smart. Now Skylar is similar to Colson: they're out there, they're flying around, and they're very similar to what they like to do. But the post players, I think size-wise we match up a little bit better than what we did against Stanford with the size.

"God, Stanford was just so huge."

So while this game might get billed by some as a "contrast of styles" or "contrast of coaches" - two easy storylines to fall back on when Geno Auriemma, Maya Moore, or a Stanford-UConn rematch are unavailable - it's probably best to simply think of this as a showcase of two of the most cohesive units in the nation. And while Stanford's chemistry is almost unreflectively assumed while Notre Dame's was also justifiably assumed in beating UConn, it was Texas A&M who had the most balanced Final Four performance of any team.

Yes, a showcase of cohesion sounds about as exciting as a Molecular Biology pop quiz and TAMU is not averse to making games downright ugly, but it should be a very competitive game and ultimately - perhaps moreso than any other game in the tournament - the team that plays the best together might win.

And a quick review of the UConn game might help with that.

Key statistic: Notre Dame's shooting efficiency

It's difficult to imagine shooting as well as they did against UConn in the second half (an effective field goal percentage of nearly 60%), but moreso because of how they were making those shot as opposed to just making them - many of those shots were contested or not exactly the type with time to set feet and take a patient look.

With TAMU having Sydney Carter, Sydney Colson, and Tyra White swarming around to contest and pressure, this particular team will struggle to shoot as well against an even more intense defense.

Statistical MVP: Diggins will need to find ways to facilitate keeping every player involved

An interesting statistical feature from the Final Four games is that both winners - normally lauded for balance and playing as a unit as opposed to relying on stars - ended up with much lower than average synergy ratings than the teams they defeated. As I've said before, synergy is definitely more descriptive than explanatory so it's not odd that a team with a lower synergy won - it simply suggests that they relied less on ball movement than average.

Against a team that applies pressure the way TAMU does, if both teams experience a repeat of low synergy games, the question is who might benefit more?

When TAMU stops moving the ball, it results in settling for jumpshots. Notre Dame can still work well when settling, but doesn't want to turn into the confused team that Baylor morphed into either. That likely won't happen because ND controls the ball well, but if it turns sloppy and not rhythmic, that stands in TAMU's favor.

Key player: Natalie Novosel

Novosel stepping up was obviously big, but she will be a key part of that synergy stat both in terms of hitting shots and controlling the ball better than 0 assists and 3 turnovers - to beat a team like TAMU, multiple players have to distribute the ball well. Novosel as well as Mallory will be a part of that.

Prediction: TAMU

If they can much up Notre Dame's fluidity on offense and win the battle of the boards, this game is theirs. Both of those outcomes could occur.

Now we will watch and see.