The Final Four festivities are kicking off in Nashville. Washington coach Mike Neighbors is among the throng in attendance, staying true to his reputation as one of the more vibrant coaches at the event. His weekend started with hitting the stage with his guitar to play some country tunes and he’ll be honored Monday as a finalist for the Maggie Dixon Rookie Coach of the Year award.
“I’m known for the times I have at the Final Four and last night was a great start,” Neighbors said via phone of his arrival Thursday after a quick recruiting trip. UW lost Monday to UTEP in the quarterfinals of the WNIT. The Miners will host Rutgers for the championship on Saturday at noon PT on CBS Sports Network.
“From the first year that I came here, I was on the All-Lobby team, which means you stay in the hotel lobby until everybody else goes to bed,” Neighbors continued. “I’ve met a lot of people in this profession and it’s something I will never change. It’s something I love about this weekend; seeing everybody that you haven’t seen all year and people that have gone through seasons like you have. You’ve just got to soak it all up.”
The games start Sunday when No. 1 seed Notre Dame (36-0) plays fourth-seeded Maryland (28-6) at 3:30pm PT on ESPN. Some of the intrigue is gone, however. Notre Dame senior F Natalie Achonwa was playing her best basketball through the tournament run but suffered a season-ending ACL injury toward the end of the Irish’s home regional win against Baylor on Monday.
The Terps, meanwhile, are playing great team basketball through its tourney run, suddenly making them the favorite to win the semifinal matchup.
“We’re a little bit tired of the apologies and, ‘I feel sorry for you,’ because we don’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw told the South Bend Tribune before the team departed for Nashville. “We want to get out there to play. We appreciate that nobody thinks we can win. That gives us added incentive. I want (the players) to hear (that people are counting them out) all day long. That’s a good thing for us. It puts a big chip on our shoulder.”
Top-seeded UConn (38-0) plays No. 2 seed Stanford (33-3) in the Sunday nightcap at 5:30pm PT on ESPN. You may remember the disappointing loss Stanford suffered in November at UConn. Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said then the game was a barometer for where the team will need to be in April. It’ll be interesting to see if the Hall of Fame coach can get a young Stanford team on the level to at least be competitive with the Huskies in the rematch.
When talking about youth and the NCAA tournament, there’s no shortage in examples of freshmen performing at their best before big crowds on the biggest stage for college basketball. The first is a classic you may not see replayed too often as freshman Cheryl Miller led USC through a tough second-half comeback to win the 1983 NCAA championship. It was the second NCAA championship ever awarded. The “shot chart” broadcaster Ann Meyers demonstrates is worth a gander on its own.
Here’s the full game in a two-part series:
Here’s a clip featuring Stanford’s first NCAA championship. The 1990 run has some similarities to this season — UW was Stanford’s only loss then, a three-point decision in Seattle, and the NCAA title game was in Knoxville. Stanford heads back to Tennessee looking for a championship, one of its three loses being at Washington. Hmm…
Phoenix Mercury C Brittney Griner will release her memoir “In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court” this month. Of course the coming-of-age story deals with her time at Baylor. Here’s Griner leading the Bears to the 2012 NCAA title against Notre Dame.
Here’s a two-part clip on Maryland’s first NCAA tournament title. It’ll forever be known for current LA G Kristi Toliver’s three-point shot to send the game into overtime and ultimately win.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma can pass former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt’s record for total NCAA championships with a ninth title win. The Huskies are currently undefeated and it would be the fifth time UConn finished a title run without losing a game. Here’s the full game where Storm guard Sue Bird led the team to a 39-0 championship season: