Four Reasons to tune in to the NCAA Women's Final Four
UConn-Baylor, Stanford-Oklahoma promise to be exciting Final Four matchups
Brittney Griner and Baylor will attempt to halt UConn's historic winning streak
Oklahoma will need to muster up all its grit when facing Stanford's frontline
Connecticut and Stanford breezed through the season without much of a challenge, their dominance carrying the Huskies and Cardinal to the Final Four once again. Each will face a team that has had to scrap and claw its way to San Antonio. The road hasn't been easy for Baylor or Oklahoma. Regardless of the path they took, both matchups are worth watching. Here are four reasons to check out the Final Four action in San Antonio.
1. UConn continues its record-setting pace. The Huskies have won 76 consecutive games and need just two more for their second consecutive championship. This team hasn't lost a game since falling to Stanford in the 2008 national semifinals.
It's hard to believe, but the Huskies are going for their fourth perfect season. Each one seems more extraordinary than the last. UConn is taking opponents down by a ridiculous average of 36 points a game. Their 40-point win over Florida State was the biggest margin ever in a regional final.
Maya Moore, the reigning national player of the year, has seemed to turn things up a notch during the postseason, averaging 21.8 points and 6.8 rebounds through the tournament. It doesn't hurt that Tina Charles is having her finest season, either.
Together, the pair put up 42 points and 22 rebounds in the regional final. The Huskies are seriously hindering second-chance options, grabbing more defensive rebounds than their opponents on both ends of the floor. Of course, they're outperforming everyone in pretty much every aspect.
2. How can you not want to see Baylor's freshman phenom go against the best team in the country? Brittney Griner was well known for her ability to dunk in high school. These days, she's dominating on defense. Griner has set two records in her first NCAA tournament. She blocked 14 shots, the most ever in a tournament game, during a second-round win against Georgetown and heading into the Final Four, she's already swatted a tournament record 35 shots. She came within one of a triple-double in Baylor's regional final win against Duke.
While she may not be knocking down dunks, Griner is producing on the offensive end, too. She's averaging 16.8 points in the tournament. But the Huskies have an equally talented forward in Tina Charles, who is having the best season of her career and will match up against Griner.
3. You have to admire the job Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale has done this season. Her team is one of the biggest surprises. Yes, the Sooners were at the Final Four a year ago, but that was with All-America center Courtney Paris and sister Ashley in the frontcourt. When they moved on to the WNBA, they took about one-third of the Sooners' scoring and half their rebounding with them. Things looked even more difficult for the Sooners when sharp-shooter Whitney Hand went down with a torn ACL five games into the season.
Coale pulled her team together, though. With four starters scoring in double digits, OU has become a more balanced team. Amanda Thompson and Abi Olajuwon can battle with the best in the paint, and Nyeshia Stevenson and Danielle Robinson provide scoring on the perimeter.
Perhaps their biggest show of improvement was the 77-72 regional semifinals win over Notre Dame, whom they lost to earlier in the season in their first game without Hand. Even more impressive was the composure the Sooners maintained in rallying from a 17-4 deficit to beat Kentucky and advance to the Final Four.
"My kids, they just win," Coale said after Tuesday's game against Kentucky. "Grit, intestinal fortitude, never doubt."
4. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better frontline in the country than Stanford, though. The Cardinal's inside game includes two Pac-10 players of the year. Nnemkadi Ogwumike took the honor this season, following fellow teammate and 2009 winner, Jayne Appel. This year, both are finalists for the Wade Trophy award. Along with Kayla Pedersen, they make quite an imposing group. They are efficient from the floor, do a good job of getting to the foul line and pass the ball extremely well.
Cardinal guard play has been equally notable during the tournament. Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and Jeanette Pohlen haven't given defenses many chances to pack the lane. They're hitting 56 percent from three-point range and are contributing 20 points a game. They've dished out about twice as many assists as turnovers during the run to the national semifinals.
It was Pohlen who came through with the biggest play of the Cardinal's season on Monday. Pohlen took an inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor to hit the game-winning layup at the buzzer to hold off an Xavier upset and send Stanford to its third straight Final Four.
"With Stanford, their team has so much ability on the frontline that the guards are often overlooked," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "They can stretch your defense out and that makes the frontline even better."
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