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Final Four features rivals, newcomers

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POSTED April 3, 2013 1:21 a.m.

Get ready for Connecticut vs. Notre Dame round four.

For the third straight season the two Big East rivals will meet in the Final Four. Throw in plucky Louisville and the Big East will be taking over the Big Easy this weekend.

The Cardinals, who pulled off the biggest upset in the tournament knocking off Brittney Griner and Baylor before taking out Tennessee, will face Final Four newcomer California on Sunday in the first game in New Orleans.

It’s the first time since 2006 that a conference has three teams in the Final Four, and the last year the Big East will compete with its current lineup. Notre Dame is headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. Louisville will join the Irish in 2014, and UConn is slated to remain in the soon-to-be-renamed Big East.

Skylar Diggins and her Fighting Irish will play Connecticut in the second game. The All-America guard didn’t want to focus on the pending matchup with their rival instead wanting to soak in a third straight trip to the Final Four.

“We’re enjoying the moment right now,” Diggins said. “We’ll talk about that later.”

The Irish (35-1) have owned this rivalry lately winning seven of the last eight meetings, including both of the national semifinal matchups. The two teams played three thrilling games this year with Notre Dame coming out on top of all of them. The victories have been by one point, two points and in overtime.

No team has ever dominated Geno Auriemma’s Huskies like that since UConn won its first national championship in 1995.

The road to an eighth title got a bit easier for UConn, Notre Dame and Cal when Griner and the defending national champions were knocked off by the Cardinals. It’s the first time that the overwhelming favorite to win the national championship didn’t reach the Final Four since Tennessee lost to Duke in the 1999 regional final.

Louisville joined the school’s men’s team in the Final Four marking the 10th time that a school had both teams in the Final Four. Only Connecticut has won both titles in the same season doing that in 2004 — the last time the women’s national semifinals was in New Orleans.

The Cardinals (28-8) are only the second No. 5 seed to reach the national semifinals, joining Southwest Missouri State, which did it in 2001 behind star guard Jackie Stiles, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history.

“We ruined the entire party,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “We’re the ugly ducklings that ruined the party. No one gave us a chance and we shocked everybody.”

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