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What To Watch For In The NCAA Women's Basketball Championship


It's Mississippi State versus Notre Dame in tonight's NCAA Women's College Basketball Championship. This comes after a dramatic upset Friday night when the undefeated UConn Huskies lost to Notre Dame in overtime. Mississippi State also needed overtime to beat Louisville to advance to the championship game. Maria Taylor is a college sports analyst and reporter for ESPN. She's in Columbus, Ohio, for tonight's game. Maria, welcome to the program.

MARIA TAYLOR: Thanks for having me. I'm glad to be here.

COLEMAN: What's the mood like in Columbus ahead of tonight's game?

TAYLOR: First of all, it's been amazing. We've had great attendance. Our first game was a sell-out. And I think the mood is obviously interested to find out who this next national champion's going to be. Mississippi State has never won a national championship. And obviously, Notre Dame - they are a staple in the Final Four. But it would be just their second national title.

COLEMAN: What can we expect tonight between Mississippi State and Notre Dame? What can we see?

TAYLOR: I think the biggest thing is - for Mississippi State - you're going to see four seniors that when they showed up at Mississippi State, it wasn't a common thing that they went to Final Fours. And now they've had back-to-back visits. And they're high-scoring. They were averaging 80 plus points per game in the NCAA Tournament. And then they've got Teaira McCowan. That's 6'7". And she shoots at like, 60 percent in the paint and is just vicious. She set the rebounds record in an NCAA Tournament.

And then for Notre Dame, you're going to see a team that has battled through so much adversity. They've had four players go down with ACL tears, but they've only had three losses on the season. And they're powered by Arike Ogunbowale, who had 27 points in the Final Four, and big plays from Jackie Young, who's only a sophomore. But she came in and had 32 points. So both of these teams are scrapping it out. Like, both have unfinished business. Mississippi State was here a season ago. And they said the goal was to get back. Now they've done it. And Notre Dame - no one believed they would be here. And they're just here to prove everyone wrong again.

COLEMAN: There have been a lot of highlights in women's collegiate basketball this year. Can you recap a few of them for us?

TAYLOR: Obviously, Connecticut - before this loss, they were 36-0. They had not lost since losing the game against Mississippi State a season ago in the national semifinals. And this is the first time that Connecticut has not made it to the national championship in back-to-back years since 2011 - the 2012 season. Another highlight is Notre Dame. They say the turnaround of their season was when they defeated Tennessee at home. They were down by as many as 23 points and basically completed one of the biggest swings we've ever seen in point differential to get the victory by double digits.

COLEMAN: How has women's collegiate basketball grown or expanded its reach, Maria?

TAYLOR: Oh, I would say, like, even this season on ESPN, we decided to add a primetime Thursday night game that would be featured on ESPN, where in past seasons we only had Monday on ESPN2 where a women's matchup would be featured. People are recognizing the name brands of these schools. If you come and see that Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, you're going to see it full of Mississippi State fans, more pouring in from Starkville, Miss., and all over the place because they want to support these teams. And Mississippi State - they have set the record for college basketball attendance in men's or women's in the state.

COLEMAN: That's Maria Taylor, college sports analyst and reporter for ESPN. She's in Columbus, Ohio, covering tonight's NCAA Women's College Basketball Championship. Maria, thank you.

TAYLOR: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.