Breaking down women's Final Four
Two No. 1s (UConn, Stanford) and two No. 2s (ND, Texas A&M) face off in Indy
Maya Moore continues to make her case as the greatest women's player ever
We could be headed for a rematch of last year's title game: UConn vs. Stanford
Conventional wisdom went 2-for-4 in the women's NCAA tournament. The story of this year's tournament was supposed to be that any of the No. 1 seeds could win a title, but only two of the top seeds -- the same two that made it to the championship game last year, UConn and Stanford -- are going to get the chance. Both Baylor and Tennessee stumbled in their respective regional finals.
Consequently, the Final Four is robbed of two compelling storylines: the emergence of groundbreaking center Brittney Griner; and a testy and entertaining matchup between Tennessee's Pat Summitt and UConn's Geno Auriemma.
Summitt and Auriemma haven't faced each other since Summitt canceled the season series over her view of the way UConn recruited Maya Moore (who will be making her fourth consecutive Final Four appearance with Auriemma). Summitt might want to rethink her position: It's possible that the early test UConn would provide could toughen her team up for a late season run. (The Lady Vols will miss the Final Four for the third straight year.)
What else have we found out up to this point? That upperclassmen are better than freshmen. An early storyline on the emergence of freshmen point guards has fallen by the wayside: Tennessee's Meighan Simmons, Baylor's Odyssey Sims and UConn's Bria Hartley had their struggles. Meanwhile Stanford senior Jeanette Pohlen, Texas A&M junior Sydney Carter and UConn reserve senior Lorin Dixon shined.
And, beware UConn: It's hard to beat a team four times. Texas A&M finally upended Baylor when it really counted. Notre Dame -- which hasn't beaten the Huskies in six years -- has the chance to take down UConn on Saturday for the first time in four tries this season.
How it got here: After surviving a scare in the Round of 16 against Georgetown in the Philadelphia Regional, the Huskies reestablished themselves as the alpha dogs of women's basketball with a 75-40 beatdown of Duke. With the victory, UConn heads to its fourth straight Final Four and has a chance to win its third straight championship. If that happens, Auriemma will tie Summitt atop women's basketball with eight titles.
Standout: Guess who? Maya Moore piled up 28 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals against Duke; that's after she scored 10 of the Huskies' final 13 points in the rally against Georgetown. The performance has fueled the ongoing discussion as to whether Moore is the greatest player in the history of women's basketball. Moore has never missed a Final Four and if she wins a third title, she will match former Huskie Diana Taurasi.
Notable: UConn faces a familiar opponent in the semifinal game. The Huskies have a 28-4 record against Notre Dame, adding three more victories to that total earlier this season. The last time the Irish beat UConn was in January 2005.
Quotable: "One thing is the absolute truth: There's only one team right now that knows how to win a national championship. There's only a couple kids in America that are playing next weekend that know how to win a national championship, and I'm fortunate enough to have them on my team. So when things have to get done, they know how to get them done. That doesn't mean they're going to get it done, but they know how to handle those situations."
-- UConn coach Auriemma
How it got here: The Fighting Irish stunned Tennessee in the Dayton Regional final, 73-59, beating the Lady Vols for the first time in school history. The victory gives Notre Dame its third ever Final Four berth and a chance to play for a title in its home state, Indiana. The reward for beating Tennessee: yet another game with Big East rival UConn. The Huskies have swept the previous three meetings against Notre Dame -- including in the conference tournament final -- but the one game on Indiana soil was close; UConn won by a slim three points.
Standout: While Tennessee coach Summitt seethed over her team's ineffectiveness, ND sophomore point guard Skylar Diggins soared, scoring a game-high 24 points and four assists. Summitt said, "She was the best guard on the court. She energizes that team and she was a real force."
Notable: When Notre Dame was recruiting South Bend high school star Diggins, a large part of the pitch was that, as a sophomore, she would be able to lead the Irish to an Indiana-based Final Four. Diggins is used to playing for a title in her home state: she made it to the Indiana state championship game all four years in high school.
Quotable: "We went into the locker room after the game and the first thing the team said was, '1 and 20! 1 and 20!' "
-- Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on her team's first-ever win over Tennessee
How it got here: The Cardinal had a difficult draw in the Spokane Regional. After barely surviving a Sweet 16 fight with North Carolina, Stanford took on hometown darling Gonzaga. But the Cardinal contained Bulldogs star guard Courtney Vandersloot -- using a 2-3 zone to limit her to just four second-half points -- and cruised to a 83-60 victory. Tara VanDerveer, who was named the Division I Coach of the Year this week by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, urged her team to make history, and it did: This is the first time the Cardinal will have reached four consecutive Final Fours. VanDerveer's team reached three consecutive Final Fours from 1995 to 1997 and has been to ten overall.
Standout: The Ogwumike sisters. Against Gonzaga, junior Nnemkadi poured in 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and little sis Chiney had 18 points and 15 rebounds. Exuberant Chiney is experiencing her first postseason run, and was so enthusiastic against Gonzaga her older teammates had to ask her to rein it in.
Notable: Like UConn's Moore, Stanford seniors Kayla Pedersen and Pohlen have made it to the Final Four every year. Unlike Moore, they've never won a title, losing in the championship game to Tennessee in 2008 and to UConn last season.
Quotable: "It's a pretty big job to block out not just one of them but two of them."
-- Vandersloot on the Ogwumike sisters
How it got here: In the upset of the tournament thus far, the No. 2-seeded Aggies stunned top-ranked Baylor and Griner in the Dallas Regional, winning 58-46. By finally beating Baylor in the team's fourth meeting of the season, Texas A&M earned its first ever trip to the Final Four and thwarted conventional wisdom that Griner (now 0-for-2 in attempts to reach the final weekend) is an unstoppable force. The Aggies will face Stanford, a team it has only played once in its history (losing in 1982).
Standout: The all-Sydney backcourt. With standout post player Danielle Adams in early foul trouble and held to just six points, the guards took over. Sydney Carter scored 22 points for Texas A&M and Sydney Colson added 12 points, overwhelming Baylor's inexperienced guards. (Baylor turned the ball over 20 times.)
Notable: Baylor coach Kim Mulkey wasn't thrilled when she saw her Big 12 rival in her bracket, noting "Nobody likes to play anybody four times -- it's no fun." Texas A&M coach Gary Blair embraced the challenge, telling his team it was going to need to learn to beat Baylor to get a shot at a championship. Though Texas A&M has never been to the Final Four, Blair has: His 1998 Arkansas team came out of West Regional as the No. 9 seed, after top seed Stanford was upset by No. 16 seed Harvard.
Quotable: "When we go to the Final Four, what we're going to have to do is put our cell phones away and quit saying hello and goodbye to all our family and well-wishers and how many tickets do you have? We've got to go and prepare to win. We're not going on a sightseeing trip. We're not going to go look at all the statues and all that stuff. We're going to win a national championship. We're honored to get to the Final Four, but it will not be worth it if we do not win it."
-- Texas A&M coach Blair
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