David Zalubowski, Associated Press
DENVER — Notre Dame sophomore guard Kayla McBride was a sideline spectator at the Final Four a year ago, watching helplessly from the bench while the Fighting Irish lost to Texas A&M 76-70 in the title game.
She missed the second half of last season with what she called personal issues.
Missing out on the national championship game stoked McBride's competitive fire and she said she rededicated herself over the summer.
She's had a sensational sophomore season, averaging 11.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists while helping lead the Fighting Irish back to the Final Four.
Everybody around her sensed her dogged determination, teammate Skylar Diggins said.
"Absolutely, because she saw that we lost the national championship, so anything could have made a difference in that," Diggins said. "She's like, 'I would have scored seven points, I could have gotten a rebound, I could have guarded somebody.' And she makes such a difference this year."
McBride said she has a deep appreciation for Notre Dame's return trip to the Final Four because she felt she let her teammates down last year and wants to make it up to them by helping them hoist the championship trophy Tuesday night.
First, she'll have to help them beat UConn in the semifinals Saturday night.
"Last year was definitely difficult for me not to be able to contribute to this team. I think this year I came back with a little bit of a vengeance, a little bit of a chip on my shoulder and I just wanted to do anything I possibly could for this team," she said.
And she's doing just that.
"I took it as if I was out there, I could have changed something," McBride said. "I put a lot of that pressure on my shoulders. That's been in the back of my mind every conditioning drill, every running drill, every shot that I have taken, that was one thing that was in the back of my mind: what if I was in the game?' I took it and I used it to fuel my fire. and I came back with a vengeance."
UConn center Stefanie Dolson said the Fighting Irish are an improved team with McBride on the floor.
"Kayla is a great player, she adds a lot to their team," Dolson said. "She has that amazing dribble off the screen pull-up mid-range jumper, so she just adds that and she adds a little toughness to their team. She's a really, really good rebounding defensive guard and they're a lot better with her on the floor, definitely. A lot of times guards are seen as doing one thing, but she can do a lot of different things."
HONORING PAT: After receiving their WBCA All-America awards, a parade of players walked up to Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who was sitting courtside and gave her a hug.
Summitt was there to support Lady Vols' senior Glory Johnson, who was one of the 10 players to receive the award. Johnson was the first to hug her coach. She was followed by Delaware junior Elena Delle Donne, Notre Dame junior Skylar Diggins and Stanford sister Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike.
"I just said hello and she said congratulations," Delle Donne said.
Summitt was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, last August and said she wanted to coach as long as she could. Her last game might have come Monday night with the Lady Vols' 77-58 loss to Baylor in the regional finals.
PHILLY FANATICS: Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw doesn't fit the image of the brash, in-your-face, egg-'em-on coach like, well, UConn coach Geno Auriemma. She does, however, display the thick skin that comes from growing up in Philly, like Auriemma.
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