For top-seeded Duke, No. 5 Denver, No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 7 Maryland, Saturday’s semifinal round of the NCAA tournament at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore takes center stage in terms of preparation and focus. But for two of those teams, Monday’s title game is nearly as imposing.
Championship weekend presents the two programs that advance to the tournament final with the unique dilemma of going all-out in Saturday’s semifinals, recovering physically on Sunday, and finding enough in the fuel tank to play in Monday’s final.
“The last time we went to the championship game [in 2010], it was 90-something degrees on both days, and that saps anybody,” Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan recalled. “I don’t care what kind of shape you’re in. It’s tough to play 120 minutes of lacrosse in less than 48 hours in that kind of heat. But that aside, I think it’s just the mental challenge of getting back up and getting back to being disciplined when you’re a little bit fatigued and all that. I’d like to think our guys over the course of this year have shown some great mental toughness and hopefully that will stand us well if we’re fortunate to have that problem.”
Three of the four semifinalists participated in a two-game span over three days this season. Duke did it twice – once in February and once in March. Denver and Notre Dame each did it once, while Maryland was denied its lone chance when it fell to the Fighting Irish, 6-5, in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals on April 25.
Blue Devils coach John Danowski said scheduling a pair of two-game stretches over three days was no accident.
“We always say that the Friday night game is the semifinal and the Sunday game is the championship game,” he said. “So regardless of what happens in the ACC tournament if we don’t advance, we have something that we have as a point of reference. So we use that weekend as, ‘Hey, now that it’s this time of year, we’ve done this before. We’ve played two games in three days.’ Not that we’re looking ahead to Monday because nobody is. That’s foolish. But that is why we schedule those games in that format.”
Pioneers coach Bill Tierney said the experience of participating in two games in three days is invaluable for the players.
“All of that is in preparation for the inevitability if you’re fortunate enough to make it to Monday, you’ve got to have that turnaround experience,” he said. “I think some of us at times have had really hard practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and if the kids can handle that, they can handle this weekend. I think it’s more of the emotion of how big this weekend is that make Saturday and Monday more complex than normal.”
But before the coaches can even begin approaching Monday, winning on Saturday is paramount. Or as Corrigan said, “There is no Monday. There’s just Saturday.”