Five reasons to watch tonight’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships

Today is like Christmas in LinsterLand: The day of The Big Game. Tonight, Baylor and Notre Dame play for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship.

Since many of you don’t have a “dog in the hunt,” as one no doubt Southern reader told me, here are five good reasons to watch the game.

History

No matter who wins tonight, the victory will be one for the record books. If Baylor wins, the Bears will be the first NCAA team to be 40-0, although Kim Mulkey is quick to point out that another team has won 40 games in a season. She was assistant coach at LSU when they were 40-8. If Notre Dame wins, the Irish will be first to beat an undefeated team in the last game of the season.

Interesting sidebar: In the past 20 years, only the Lady Vols and UConn have won multiple NCAA Championships. Tonight, either Baylor or Notre Dame will join them.

Brittney Griner

The 6’8″ center is hard to miss, with epic blocks and reaching over defending players’ heads to score. And, of course, we love to see her dunk.

But during her time at Baylor, Griner has matured in her game and in her demeanor. She can take the ball down the court and see who’s open when she’s not. She is an intimidating presence at the defensive end of the court. She takes aggressive defenders in stride and sloughs off rude, often hateful, comments. She is self-effacing, friendly, and downright funny. Anyone who says otherwise has simply not been paying attention.

Most importantly, Griner is changing the face of women’s basketball. She’s not the first woman to dunk in a game, but she may be the most dominant center we’ve ever seen. And she brings a new dimension to the game that will bring in new fans. Baylor is much more than Brittney Griner, of course, but don’t miss the chance to see her in action.

Skylar Diggins

As a winner of the Nancy Lieberman Award, Diggins officially is the nation’s best point guard — the first Notre Dame player to be chosen. She was also the first Irish player in 22 years to get a triple double in the Elite Eight win over Maryland.

Like most great point guards, Diggins can find a play where it doesn’t seem to exist. Teammate Brittany Mallory says that open players don’t even have time to call for the ball before Diggins gets it to them. She also never hesitates to make the play herself — she’s Notre Dame’s leading scorer.

When Diggins chose Notre Dame over UConn, Tennessee, and Duke, she said it was because she wanted to help bring the Irish back into the conversation about elite programs. She’s certainly done it.

Stellar coaching

Muffet McGraw joined the Fighting Irish in 1987, and women’s basketball at Notre Dame has never been the same. McGraw brought new life and great success to the program through a belief in consistency and excellence. Her record over 24 years is so packed with accomplishments that you have to read it to believe it.

With all of her wins, though, McGraw won’t be satisfied until Notre Dame wins the national championship. The bad taste of losing to Texas A&M last year is still strong. The Final Four game against UConn was a battle — won in overtime — and one of the best of the playoffs so far.

Kim Mulkey is, as ESPNW pointed out, a sort of poster child for Title IX. She was 10 when it was signed into law. Since then, she’s done it all — she’s the first person in NCAA basketball history to win a national championship as a player, assistant coach, and head coach. The three people who have won it both as player and head coach are men.

When Mulkey went to Baylor 12 years ago, she took over a program that had never seen an NCAA tournament. In her fifth season, the Bears won the national championship. This year, Baylor enters the final game undefeated — looking to be 40-0 on the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

The opportunity to watch two women head coaches in the final game is all too rare. Butwatching these particular two women will be a joy. Besides, don’t you want to know what Kim will wear?

A great game

Notre Dame and Baylor met earlier this season. Baylor won, but now Notre Dame knows what to expect. What we can expect is a defensive battle — and probably one of the best championship games in years. Both teams are highly efficient and led by the two best point guards in the league.

I can’t wait.

Pregame coverage starts at 7:30 ET on ESPN. Will you be watching? Who do expect to emerge as the 2012 NCAA Women’s Champion?

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