"Women’s basketball royalty is invading Indiana. Saturday, Pat Summit, the all-time leader in college basketball coaching wins, and Candace Parker, the 2007 player of the year, march the national champion Tennessee Lady Vols into South Bend for a showdown with Notre Dame. The next day, Geno Auriemma struts into West Lafayette with his No. 1 ranked Connecticut Huskies.
There will be sideline explosions. Bodies will crash to the floor. And Parker may unleash a slam dunk. However devastating the battles, its one invasion you won’t want to hide from.
No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 16 Notre Dame
The Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.
Jan. 5, 2 p.m.
For tickets visit www.und.com/tickets
Tennessee has not been kind to Notre Dame this decade, winning all three showdowns with the Fighting Irish by an average of 17 points.
Those Notre Dame teams weren’t slouches either, and once again a formidable team awaits the Lady Vols in South Bend. “We’re really good at the guard spot,” says head coach Muffet McGraw of her backcourt triumvirate of senior Charel Allen, sophomore Ashley Barlow and junior Lindsey Schrader. “I’m impressed at how unselfish they are. All three players are capable of scoring 20 points a night.” The trio combines for an average of 37.9 points. But it’s more than a three-woman show in South Bend. Their teammates contribute 43.5 points.
McGraw knows the extra scoring will be needed. “They have the edge in terms of talent but we have a little more depth,” she says. “We’re going to have a tough time guarding them, though, even in a zone. Candace Parker is the best player in the country and that’s a fact. It’s going to be a tough match up.”
Notre Dame has never defeated Tennessee; McGraw thinks this team has an edge over past teams. “Too often we play against the name and tradition of Tennessee instead of playing against the team on the floor. This is the first team I’ve had that hopefully won’t get wrapped up in the mystique and will just go out and play confident basketball.”
No. 1 Connecticut vs. Purdue
Mackey Arena, West Lafayette
Jan. 6, start time TBA
For tickets, call 1-800-49-Sport
Being at the top is something that’s expected at Connecticut. Purdue is no stranger to expectations of greatness either. But sometimes fate can step in and wreak havoc.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity this year,” explains second year head coach Sharon Versyp. The Boilermakers lost 2007 Big 10 defensive player of the year Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and starting guard Jodi Howell to injuries in the off-season. “All together we are missing four starters from last year’s team. But everyone is starting to pull together now.”
Versyp credits juniors Danielle Campbell and Lakisha Freeman for filling the void left by the injuries. “Freeman has really stepped up for us,” she says. “She’s a good defender, a great rebounder, and is starting to become a scorer.”
Purdue has played one of the toughest schedules in the nation, going up against Duke, North Carolina and Notre Dame. Connecticut is just another in a long line of super powers. “They’re playing at such a high level and operate like a machine,” says Versyp of the five-time national champs, who are steamrolling over opponents by 40 points a game.
But the Boilermakers aren’t going to hide from a challenge. “It’s a great opportunity to play at home against the top team in the country,” she says.