- Associated Press - Friday, April 1, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Playing in the Final Four has become an annual rite of spring for Connecticut and Stanford.

The two veteran teams hope that their experience will buoy them to another national championship matchup Tuesday night.

“Well, I wish they just gave you points right up on the board, but obviously that’s not the case,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I think that there’s maybe a certain amount of more calmness, that’s all I would say having gone back. People know a little bit more what to expect.”

While UConn and Stanford have each made it to the Final Four the past four seasons, Notre Dame earned its first trip since 2001, and Texas A&M is making its first appearance.

What all four teams can count on are people pulling them in different directions. Longer news conferences, autograph sessions, and open practices to the public. Not to mention the extra ticket requests.

How they deal with those distractions might determine who is crowned the next national champion.

Connecticut has been able to put all of that aside the past two seasons in winning consecutive national titles. Coach Geno Auriemma feels that his team has an edge because of those victories.

“One thing is the absolute truth, there’s only one team playing right now that knows how to win a national championship,” he said. “Only a couple kids playing know how to win a national championship and I’m fortunate to have them on my team.”

To win an eighth title overall, the Huskies will have to first get through Notre Dame _ a team they’ve already beaten three times this season.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw only needs to look across the bracket to Texas A&M for inspiration on beating the Huskies. The Aggies beat Baylor in the regional final after falling to the Lady Bears three times this season.

“We will definitely reference Texas A&M; the fourth time’s a charm,” McGraw said. “I think it’s going to be a mental hurdle to get over. It’s difficult, I hope, to beat a team four times.”

While her players are lacking Final Four experience, McGraw certainly isn’t. Her Irish won the national championship in 2001 after knocking off UConn in the national semifinals that season. Only a few weeks earlier they lost to Connecticut in the Big East championship game on a last-second shot by Sue Bird.

Notre Dame already has erased one losing streak by topping Tennessee in the regional final. The Irish had dropped 20 straight to the Lady Vols. Sunday will be a chance to end another slide.

They also aren’t intimidated by the Huskies, having lost two of the three games this season by less than 10 points. Notre Dame had a chance to beat UConn at home in early January, leading most of the way before the Huskies rallied late for a 79-76 victory.

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair isn’t in awe of the Final Four. Blair coached Arkansas to the Final Four in 1998 and played down how much the past four trips to the national semifinals will help the Cardinal.

“The experience factor is in age, and I’m older than Tara and I’m going to use that to my advantage,” he said. “That’s the number one thing I’ve got over her right now. And I don’t think she can do a thing about that.”

He vowed his team won’t be wide-eyed at the experience.

“What we’re going to have to do is put our cell phones away,” he said. “We’re not going on a sightseeing trip. We’re not going to look at all of the statues and stuff _ we’re going to win a national championship.”

Stanford hasn’t brought home the title since 1992 despite reaching the NCAA final twice in the program’s past three trips to the Final Four. The Cardinal lost to Tennessee in 2008 and to Connecticut last year.

“For Kayla and I and the other seniors, we’re very focused coming into this Final Four,” Stanford senior Jeanette Pohlen said. “It’s tough making it that far and not coming away with the national championship. I think it’s motivating us even more and making us even more excited because we do know this is our last chance at it. We’ve gone this far. We’re just going to give it all we have.”

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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