The games have been played and we’re down to four. Baylor, UConn, Stanford, Notre Dame. This is the second time in history and first time since 1989 all four # seeds have made it to the Final Four.
How did these teams get here?
Stanford – 35-1
Stanford ran through the Pac-12 undefeated, winning both the regular season and tournament titles. Their lone loss of the season was to Connecticut in November. In the tournament, Stanford won easily over Hampton and West Virginia. The Cardinal pulled away from a good South Carolina team in their Sweet Sixteen matchup. Duke had no chance against their speed in the Elite Eight pairing.
Connecticut – 33-4
Connecticut has been and up and down team all season despite their record. The Huskies won the Big East Tournament over Notre Dame after losing to they twice during the regular season. They also lost to Baylor by five and St. John’s shocked them with a buzzer beating one point win. In the tournament, UConn has looked like the team they were expected to be at the beginning of the season. They beat Prairie View A&M and held Kansas State to a record low of 26 points in their first two games. Penn State couldn’t get their offense going against the Huskies stifling defense in their Sweet Sixteen matchup. Kentucky kept the game close in the first half but UConn pulled away in the second half of their Elite Eight game.
Notre Dame – 34-3
Notre Dame ran through the Big East only hitting one bump against West Virginia in a surprising loss late in the season. Early in the season Notre Dame loss big to Baylor in the preseason WNIT final, 94-81. Their only other loss came to UConn in the Big East Tournament final. In the tournament, the Fighting Irish beat Liberty and California easily in the first two rounds. Notre Dame dismantled St. Bonaventure in the Sweet Sixteen holding them to 35 points and only 13 in the first half. Maryland could not defensively keep up with the Irish and were held to 49 points.
Baylor – 38-0
Baylor has been on a roll all season going undefeated into the NCAA tournament. They easily won the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles. This season they only had a few close games against nationally ranked competition. They won by five over UConn in December and by seven over Texas A&M in February. They also had a close call against Texas Tech, winning by five in February as well. In the tournament, the Lady Bears have handily beaten their opponents including UCSB and Florida in the first two rounds. Georgia Tech and Tennessee both put up valiant efforts but they were no match for Baylor.
Preview of the games
Stanford vs. Baylor
Simply put, Baylor has to keep playing like they have to win this game. Everyone has contributed to the team’s wins, not just Brittney Griner. They are the most well rounded team left in the tournament. Odyssey Sims has to make sure to not force the ball into Griner because Stanford has speed all over the court.
Stanford has to play a quicker pace than they are used to and work more on fast breaks to avoid having to go inside against Griner. The play of the Ogwumike sister, Nnemkadi and Chiney, will be key for the Cardinal. They will also have to get other players involved because Baylor will key in on both of them.
Overall I think this will be a good game but I don’t see Baylor losing. Too many weapons and they have looked exceptional in every game I have seen them in this season.
Connecticut vs. Notre Dame
This will be their fourth meeting of the season and it will be a good one. UConn got the best of Notre Dame in their last meeting in the Big East Championship. For UConn to win this game, they have to get a lot from their center Stefanie Dolson. She has to play well on both ends of the court, especially defense where she will be guarding fifth-year senior Devereaux Peters. Bria Hartley and Tiffany Hayes will also have to have big games to make a difference.
Notre Dame has to get Natalie Novosel involved in the game. She has hit 24 of 28 free throws in the tournament. Many of her attempts came from driving to the basket and taking the contact. The play of Skylar Diggins will be huge in this game as well. The better she plays, the better the team plays.
This game is a toss up to me. I think Notre Dame has the experience on their side to win. They also want to get back to the title game to make up for losing last year to Texas A&M. I think that motivation, along with playing a constant rival, will give them the advantage.
We'll see how my picks turn out later tonight. The games can be seen on ESPN starting with UConn vs. ND at 6:30 and Stanford vs Baylor at 8:30 pm. The games are also available via live stream on ESPN3.