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Split-decision predicting NCAA Women’s Basketball National Champion

By Brendan Rourke, Aidan Wilkins | @B_RourkeSports @AidanJWilkins

Sports Capital Journalism Program

By Brendan Rourke

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 1 Notre Dame

It’s no coincidence that both the men’s and women’s national championship games feature teams with defense-first mentalities.  The Baylor Lady Bears held the high-powered Oregon Ducks to 67 points – 18 points below its season average. 

Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox held Ruthy Hebard to just six points in the paint while scoring 22 and 21 apiece on a combined 69.2% shooting night. While Sabrina Ionescu did score 18 points against the Baylor guards, she finished just 6-of-24 from the floor. The Ducks’ 38.6% shooting night marked the third-worst performance of their season.

Notre Dame’s length will present a tougher challenge for Brown and Cox. Jessica Shepard and Brianna Turner will compete better against Baylor’s frontcourt than Hebard did.  The question is if they can match up for the full 40 minutes. The responsibility then belongs to Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey to open up spaces for the Irish from beyond the arc.  However, Mabrey will have to have a better shooting night than she did against UConn when she went 3-of-10 from deep.

Nonetheless, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey trusts her guards to rotate, attack and close out quickly.  She’ll clean up rebounding issues from the Oregon game, and the Lady Bears will bring the trophy back to Waco, Texas in a close, low-scoring game. The old adage, “defense wins championships,” will prove true once again.

Baylor 68, Notre Dame 64  

 

By Aidan Wilkins

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 1 Notre Dame

It all comes down to this. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Baylor Bears will square off for the National Championship. The two teams play with very different styles and ways of scoring. Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox are the focal points of the Baylor attack, using a high-low post game for a bulk of their offense. The Irish, with all five of their starters averaging in double figures, score from all over the court but predominantly the guard position.

The Irish guard trio of Arike Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey and Jackie Young are potent offensive threats that will challenge Baylor’s perimeter defense. Forwards Brianna Turner and Jessica Shepard will be tasked with handling Brown and Cox defensively, looking to shut down Baylor’s biggest strength, literally.

After all is said and done, the firepower possessed by the Fighting Irish will be too much to overcome for Baylor. The Bears did a good job of keeping Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu in check during their Final Four semifinal matchup, but Notre Dame boasts multiple players who can score at a similar level, making a comparable defensive game plan much more difficult to implement.

Notre Dame wins and walks away as back-to-back national champions.

Notre Dame 72, Baylor 60

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