There's no shame in being the 2nd best team in the country. It should be celebrated. Not in a confetti dropping, net cutting, trophy raising, Freddie Mercury singing We are the Champions sort of way. But Muffet McGraw and the Notre Dame women's basketball team should feel extremely proud of what they accomplished this season, and proud of how they did it. And fans of college athletics should be proud too.
It will take a while for the sting of Tuesday's 80-61 loss to Baylor in the national title game to go away. It's impossible to deny that Baylor was the best team in the country this year. They beat every team in the final four. They beat Notre Dame twice. And even had the Irish been called for a few less fouls and made a few more shots, I still think the Lady Bears were likely to leave Denver with the national championship. Baylor is the best team in the country. Notre Dame is the 2nd best.
I don't say that because the Irish finished as the national runners-up. Notre Dame played six of the other seven elite eight teams this season, and beat five of them. They embarrassed Maryland in the regional final, and toyed with Tennessee in January. Notre Dame beat Connecticut THREE TIMES IN THE SAME YEAR! The Irish are the only school to do that since Geno Auriemma turned the Huskies into a national power in 1995. Muffet McGraw's team was really, really good this year. They were good all year long. And one loss to a dominant team in the title game doesn't change that. It shouldn't change the way fans remember this season either. he Irish took us on quite a ride this season.
With respect to the 2001 national championship team, the 2012 Fighting Irish are, in my opinion, the most talented group Muffet McGraw has coached. Skylar Diggins was asked on Monday if she had to win a national championship to be considered a great player. She answered quickly & coyly, "Did Lisa Leslie ever win a national championship?" Answer: No. "I think she's a pretty good player." Skylar added a few others, including Candace Wiggins.
Like her idols, Skylar Diggins is a great player. Following the title game loss, she blamed herself, despite scoring 20 points and being hampered with foul trouble. She then told me that she felt she needed to be a better leader, and promised Muffet McGraw that she would be. I don't know how she gets any better than she already is, but I also know better than to doubt Skylar's ability to accomplish anything she sets out to do. Between high school and college, Skylar has led her team to seven state or national championship games (Her teams are 1-6 in those games). As frustrating as that must be, its so impressive I can't think of anything to compare it to. Like I've said, there's no shame in 2nd place here.
Finally basketball fans in the South Bend area: We should feel privileged to have such a tremendous group of young adults to cheer for, and to be role models for our kids. I think it's great that the NCAA chose to announce the majors of the starters before the game last night. I wish they had announced their GPAs too. Notre Dame's starting five majors in anthropology, business, management-entrepreneurship, and has a pair of graduate students. On the other bench, I heard a lot of something called "Health, Human Performance & Recreation"...whatever that is.
There are no controversies on this team. No egos. No attempt to circumvent the spirit of college athletics.
Just first class kids, mentors, students and athletes, who happen to be the 2nd best college basketball team in the country when you put them on a basketball court. How can you view that as anything but a complete success?