Continued from page 1

“I’ve never done it so I’m excited,” she said. “I feel like everybody but me has played against her. I’m just really excited. We’re going to Denver, one. It’s more exciting to play her in Denver than in the regular season. I’m really looking forward to this matchup. It’s great to have a challenge like that. I played against her in high school _ that’s when I learned to shoot the 3.”

While Stanford and Baylor haven’t played yet this season, Notre Dame and Connecticut are very familiar with each other, having squared off three times. The Irish took the first two meetings to win the Big East regular-season title outright. UConn won the championship game of the conference tournament.

It’s the second straight season that the teams will play in the NCAA semifinals. Notre Dame ended UConn’s run at a third consecutive national title last year before losing to Texas A&M in the title game.

“That’s not right,” Auriemma said of having to face Notre Dame again. “But the Big East is the Big East. We’ve got two of the best teams in the country. They’ve been one of the best teams all year long. They have national championship game experience. That’s going to be as hard to win as any other time we’ve played them. You would love to say you want to see someone different, but the reality is they are really good. They are really, really, really good.”

It’s been a strange season for UConn. Even though his team ran through the early part of the schedule, Auriemma knew it was just a matter of time before the Huskies’ shortcomings were exposed. Losses to Baylor and Notre Dame on the road were understandable, but it wasn’t until the end of February that Connecticut really came to a crossroads.

The Huskies lost to St. John’s on senior night, snapping a 99-game home winning streak. Nine days later, they were beaten by Notre Dame. But those two defeats got the Huskies refocused and they’ve been unstoppable ever since. They cruised to the Big East championship and rolled through their first three NCAA tournament games before pulling away from Kentucky in the Kingston Regional final.

Now, they’re back in the Final Four for the 13th time in the last 18 years.

Notre Dame has played with a purpose all postseason, yearning to get back to the title game and finish what it started last year.

“Absolutely,” Irish guard Natalie Novosel said. “Actually it was on today when we were flipping through channels. It was reminiscent of where we wanted to be. It’s a constant reminder, a motivator. We were determined to get to the Final Four and we did it, and now we want to get to where we were last year.”

The Irish have won all four NCAA tournament games by double figures, including a 44-point rout of St. Bonaventure that matched the 22-year-old record for most lopsided victory in the round of 16. Then they blew out Maryland 80-49 in the Raleigh Regional final.

But to get back to the championship game, Notre Dame will have to figure out a way to stop UConn again.

“To be honest, I think they’re our nemesis,” Novosel said. “It wouldn’t be the Final Four if we didn’t play them.”

___

AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard and Janie McCauley and AP freelancer Chuck Schoffner contributed to this report.