The NCAA women’s basketball tournament Final Four is set to take place this weekend at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, and all four No. 1 seeds still alive.
This is just the third time in the history of the women’s tournament that all four No. 1 seeds won their region, according to Bleacher Report’s R. Cory Smith. Notre Dame (Oklahoma City Regional), Maryland (Spokane), and Connecticut (Albany) are all making the trip to the Final Four for at least the fifth time in their program’s history while South Carolina (Greensboro) is making its inaugural appearance.
UConn, which is attempting to win its 10th national championship, is in the Final Four for the eighth straight time and 16th ever. Notre Dame is in its seventh Final Four and has one NCAA championship while Maryland is making its fifth Final Fourth and third under head coach Brenda Frese.
South Carolina, making its first Final Four appearance in program history, will battle Notre Dame in Game One with the tip set for Sunday at 7 p.m. (ET). UConn and Maryland will square off at around 9 p.m. (ET). Both games will be televised on ESPN and the WatchESPN app.
“I think this is one of the best tournaments that we’ve had in terms of parity,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw. “I feel like there were so many great games throughout the tournament. There were upsets. There were great games that the No. 1 seeds advanced, but we all had games where maybe three of us had games where we were in a really good game in a really good battle.”
The following will look at each of the Final Four teams.
UConn (36-1) has won 35 straight and reached the Final Four with a 91-70 victory over the Dayton Flyers. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who set a new NCAA three-point mark with seven three-pointers, finished with a game-high 27 points while Albany Regional Most Outstanding Player Breanna Stewart added 23 points, 16 rebounds, and four block shots. Morgan Tuck contributed 23 points to go along with eight caroms.
UConn trailed Dayton 44-43 at halftime but opened the second half on a 15-3 run to take control of the game.
Stewart leads the way for the Huskies with 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds to go along with 96 blocked shots. Mosqueda-Lewis, who is shooting 50.0 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 15.2 points a game, is 18 points shy of tying Kerry Bascom (2,177) for fourth on the school’s all-time scoring list according to the UConn athletic website. Tuck (14.2 ppg), Moriah Jefferson (12.3 ppg, 4.9 apg), and Kia Nurse (10.4 ppg) also average double figures.
Connecticut is averaging 90.2 points and shooting 54.3 percent from the field as well as 40.9 percent from beyond the arc this season. The Huskies have reached the 100-point plateau four times this season. Defensively, UConn has limited opponents to 48.2 points a contest and just over 30 percent shooting from the field.
Connecticut has already defeated Notre Dame (76-58) and South Carolina (87-62) this year.
Key player: Kiah Stokes. The six-foot-three senior center is a huge presence inside for the Huskies, averaging 4.5 points and 6.7 rebounds while also blocking 145 shots in just 18.5 minutes a contest.
Difference maker: Stewart.
The 2014-15 season has been a record-breaking season for Maryland (34-2), according to Todd Carton of the Testudo Times. The Terrapins are currently on a school-record 28 game winning streak and have not lost since suffering back-to-back setbacks to Washington State (70-64) and Notre Dame (92-72) on November 29 and December 2.
Maryland has won each of its four tournament by double digits, which includes a 58-48 victory over Tennessee in the Elite Eight. The Terrapins, who were held to a season-low 22 first points, limited the Lady Vols to 18. 2 percent from the three-point line (4-of-18) and 32.4 percent shooting from the field overall. Maryland had four players in double figures.
The Terrapins are led by sophomore guards Lexie Brown, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and redshirt senior Laurin Mincy. Those three form “One of the best back courts in the nation,” according to Frese.
Mincy leads the Terps with 13. 8 points a game to go along with 4.1 rebounds. Brown, who had 10 of the Terrapins’ final 14 points against Tennessee, averages 13.3 points a game and 4.6 assists while Walker-Kimbrough averages 13.5 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 51.6 percent from the floor. Walker-Kimbrough was selected as the MOP of the Spokane Regional.
Keys for Maryland pulling the upset?: Limiting turnovers and shooting the well from beyond the three-point line, according to Carton.
Difference maker: Sophomore center Briona Jones. While guard play is key for the Terps, they will need some production from Jones to offset the Huskies frontcourt trio of Stewart, Stokes, and Tuck.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame (35-2)earned its fifth straight trip to the Final Four with a 77-68 victory over the Baylor Lady Bears in the regional finals. Sophomore Lindsay Allen led the way with 23 points, seven assists, and five rebounds. She was named the MOP of the regional.
Michaela Mabrey contributed 14 points while star junior guard Jewell Loyd added 13 points and seven caroms against Baylor.
The young Irish have won 21 straight games. Notre Dame starts two sophomores (Taya Reimer, Allen) and a freshmen (Briana Turner) along with Loyd and Mabrey. Freshmen Kathryn Westbeld and Mychal Johnson are two of the Irish’s top three reserves.
Notre Dame ranks in the top 15 in eight NCAA statistical categories, according to the school’s athletic website. The Irish rank fifth in the nation in scoring (80.9 ppg), second in field goal percentage (49.8) and fifth in three-point percentage (38.5).
Loyd, who is a candidate for National Player of the Year, leads the way for the Irish with 19.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. Turner (13.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Allen (10.8 ppg, 5.3 apg), and Reimer (10.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) all shoot over 50 percent from the field.
Key player: Turner. South Carolina has three players at least six-foot-four. Turner has been terrific all season especially in big games and she will need to produce against the Gamecocks for the Irish to advance. Turner is shooting a NCAA-best 65.6 percent from the floor and has blocked 85 shots.
Player that needs to step up: In addition to Turner holding her own, the Irish needs Allen to continue her superb play. However, the most important player in the game for the Irish maybe Mabrey.
The junior guard, who, according to Lou Somogyi of BlueandGold.com, has found her shooting stroke. Mabrey finished with 19 points in the Irish’s second round game and dumped in 14 points in the first half against Baylor. She is shooting just 38.2 percent from the field for the season but has made a team-high 71 three-pointers and is shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The South Carolina Gamecocks (34-2) advanced to the Final Four with a 80-74 victory over Florida State. Junior guard Tiffany Mitchell led the way with 21 points for the Gamecocks, who received 40 points from their bench. Sophomore center Alaina Coates tallied 14 points and freshman center A’ja Wilson added 10
The Gamecocks, who are on a seven-game winning streak, have won at least 25 games four consecutive seasons. The Gamecocks rank No. 16 in the nation with 76.2 points per game and No. 4 in field goal percentage at.485. South Carolina is shooting an astounding 56.3 percent from the field during the tournament.
The Gamecocks also are tough on the defensive end. South Carolina allows 53.6 points for the game and limits opponents to just 34.7 percent from the field.
Mitchell, who is a candidate for National Player of the Year, leads the squad with 19.0 points to go along with 5.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds. Wilson is second on the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.5). Coates, the MOP of the regional, averages 11.1 points and 7.9 rebounds a contest. Coates is shooting 69.0 percent from the field for the tournament.
Keys to the game: Taking advantage of their distinct frontcourt advantage. The Gamecocks, who out-rebound their opponents by over 10 rebounds a game, have three rotational players at least 6-foot-4 — Wilson, Coates, and Elem Ibiam. Those three combine for 26.1 points and 18.2 rebounds a game.
“I don’t think we match up very well,” said McGraw of South Carolina’s length. “They are so strong in the post and their depth … they don’t have to worry about foul trouble because they have so many people on the bench. They can really go out and pressure as long as they’re in the game.”
Difference maker: The Bench. The Gamecocks use a nine-player rotation and their bench accounts for 48.7 percent of the team’s points (37.1 ppg). According to the school’s website, the Gamecock’s reserves have tied or out-scored its starting counterparts 21 times, including all four NCAA Tournament games.
[photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]