TAMPA, Fla. — Will Notre Dame win back-to-back national championships? Will Baylor win its first NCAA title since 2012?
The Fighting Irish and Lady Bears meet Sunday (ESPN/ESPN App, 6 p.m. ET) at Amalie Arena in the championship game of the women’s NCAA tournament. Last season, Notre Dame won its second championship, adding to its 2001 title. Baylor, which is 2-0 in championship games, won in 2005 and 2012.
Sunday’s final is a rematch of the 2012 championship game. Seven years later, the Lady Bears’ Kim Mulkey and the Irish’s Muffet McGraw meet again, each seeking to become the third head coach in women’s Division I basketball history to win three national titles.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index says Notre Dame has a 53 percent chance to win. Our panel weighs in with its picks:
Andrea Adelson: Baylor
The Lady Bears thrive on their post players and defensive play, and those two factors will put them over the top. Baylor feels especially confident in this matchup because of its swarming defense, and believes that will help take Notre Dame and its powerful guards off rhythm. Its play against Oregon, and Sabrina Ionescu in particular, only enhanced that confidence going into the championship game. Beyond Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox, watch for Didi Richards’ defense on Arike Ogunbowale to be one of the difference-makers.
Charlie Creme: Notre Dame
Experience will carry the day for the Irish. Note Dame delivered in the key moments against UConn in the semifinals and certainly did last year in winning the national championship. Baylor handled its first close game in a while well in its semifinal win over Oregon, but that pales in comparison to the on-the-job training that the Irish have.
Graham Hays: Notre Dame
Repeating is difficult over the course of a season, but no defending champion that reached the final has lost a repeat bid since 1983. And with Jessica Shepard and Brianna Turner uniquely suited to challenge a team with Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox, Notre Dame has more than history on its side.
Elizabeth Merrill: Notre Dame
Initially, I picked Baylor, but the Irish really seem to be on a mission. And I’m not sure anything is going to get in the way of Arike Ogunbowale.
Kevin Pelton: Baylor
Before the NCAA tournament, Notre Dame was the consensus statistical favorite, but Baylor has been so dominant in March and April — aside from Friday’s narrow win over Oregon to reach the title game. Despite Notre Dame’s history of Final Four heroics, I’m going with Baylor.
LaChina Robinson: Notre Dame
Experience means a lot at the Final Four, and Notre Dame has players on its roster that have competed for a national championship. Handling pressure, responding to runs and getting over the hump of adversity in a pressure situation is always a little easier when you have done it before.
Mechelle Voepel: Notre Dame
The Irish’s offense is so difficult to beat; they can strike from anywhere, and they never lose confidence. Every starter is a threat. Baylor is better-positioned than any other team to combat that defensively, and there is a belief that much of the time, defense ultimately wins championships. But in this case, Notre Dame’s offense probably will.