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Notre Dame's Rebounding Balance Key Against UConn In NCAA Women's Final Four

While Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Devereaux Peters is one of the nation's top rebounders, players like Kayla McBride have also had to step up on the boards against UConn. <em> Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE</em>
While Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Devereaux Peters is one of the nation's top rebounders, players like Kayla McBride have also had to step up on the boards against UConn. Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Connecticut Huskies coach Geno Auriemma believes that rebounding will be a decisive factors in tomorrow's Final Four matchup with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

If so, Notre Dame's performance in the Elite Eight has to be encouraging for Fighting Irish fans.

One of the more surprising things about Notre Dame's 80-49 discomfiting of the Maryland Terrapins in the Elite Eight was how thoroughly they won the battle of the offensive boards.

Not that Notre Dame is a poor rebounding team by any stretch of the imagination - they're 10th in the nation in rebounding percentage. But Maryland is typically dominant on the offensive boards, grabbing nearly half of the offensive boards available to them this season, and had two players taller than Notre Dame's tallest player.

So that Notre Dame beat the Terps by 20% on the offensive boards, even in a blowout, is somewhat surprising. But also yet another sign of the team's balance - point guard Skylar Diggins, who recorded a triple double, led the team in rebounding with 10. And in their Final Four meeting with the Connecticut Huskies, they'll need every bit of that rebounding balance.

Obviously, forward Devereaux Peters is a major part of what Notre Dame is able to do on the boards and she had a team-high 5 offensive rebounds against the but if there was a major difference between Notre Dame's two wins against UConn this season and their loss in the Big East Tournament it was how much help Peters got.

In their two wins against UConn, someone outrebounded their average to help Peters - Kayla McBride picked up a season-high 12 in the first game and Natalie Novosel in the second with a then-season-high 8 rebounds. In their loss to UConn in the Big East Tournament, everybody had a right around average rebounding game and UConn won the offensive rebounding battle by 16.7%.

There's an obvious reason why offensive rebounding could be considered so important in a battle between these two Big East rivals: both of these defenses - particularly the Huskies - are adept at limiting opponents' shooting efficiency making those second chance scoring opportunities more significant than they might be otherwise.

6-foot-3 forward Natalie Achonwa is certainly a player who could have an impact on the boards for Notre Dame in addition to the aforementioned players. Although she only averages 4 rebounds a game, she has only played 16.6 minutes per game giving her an offensive rebounding percentage of 11.6%, second on the team behind Peters (17.67%). She hadn't cracked 20 minutes in the seven games prior to the Maryland blowout, but her presence could make a difference if rebounds matter.

However, 5-foot-11 guard Novosel might be primary candidate to step up on the boards in this one: in the last eight games beginning with their second meeting against UConn, she's averaged nearly 6 rebounds a game. When challenged by the California Golden Bears in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Novosel was second on the team in rebounding behind Peters with 9.

Ultimately, we know Peters is going to get boards - while bigger name stars will get the majority of the media attention, Peters is the best total rebounder by percentage in Denver this weekend (21.6%). The question for Notre Dame is simply who will be there to help her out.

For more on the 2012 NCAA women's basketball tournament, check out our "NCAA Tournament 2012" section.