There are a handful of teams good enough to reach the Women’s Final Four and we’re seeing them in Tampa with a chance to cut down the nets on Sunday. Somehow the Connecticut Huskies were a No. 2 seed in their region and that just pissed them off. The Huskies, reached the Final Four for the 12th straight time are arguably the class of the women’s game, but they haven’t won a National Championship since 2016, so they have that motivation as well.
Baylor knocked off UConn in a clash of titans during the regular season and the Lady Bears have won 27 in a row since their only loss of the year to Stanford back in the middle of December. Baylor will face Oregon, which is making its first national semifinal appearance, in the opening matchup. Notre Dame looks to defend its title, but will have a difficult task ahead in UConn. The Huskies have reached the Final Four 20 times, the Irish have been here nine times, Baylor four and Oregon is the new kid on the block.
Women’s Final Four Schedule - Friday, April 5, 2019, Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL
No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 1 Baylor, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
No. 2 UConn vs. No. 1 Notre Dame, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Baylor Lady Bears (35-1)
The Lady Bears are a throwback to old school basketball and they are the No. 1 overall seed and the favorite to win the title because they are just that good. Loaded with talent in the paint, Baylor is probably the most balanced team among the four participants. With 6-foot-7 Kalani Brown and 6-4 Lauren Cox, Baylor is the third-best shooting team in the country at 50.3 percent. And they are the leaders in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make just 31.4 percent of their attempts.
Brown and Cox do a bulk of the work from down low and they’ve been nearly unstoppable all season. With those two owning the block, the Lady Bears haven’t had to use their perimeter game much. In fact, they attempt just 8.4 three-pointers an outing, which is less than some individuals. That doesn’t mean Baylor’s outside game is non-existent. Juicy Landrum, Chloe Jackson and DiDi Richards complement the bigs and the Lady Bears win their games by an average of over 27 points.
UConn Huskies (35-2)
Win 35 of 37 games and some call it a down year. That’s how high the Huskies have set the bar for their program. Clearing that bar also means a National Championship and that’s something UConn has failed to achieve bowing out in the national semifinals in overtime in the last two years. They went into the Final Four those years as the overwhelming favorite, but that’s not the case this season. And we’ve seen close games involving the Huskies, another abnormality.
But seriously, two losses with one of them being to Baylor, still makes the Huskies a threat. And they boast two of the top players in the country in Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier, who were members of the 2016 title team, but played a small role as freshmen. This is their last chance to get their own championship and they’ll play like it.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (34-3)
The defending champs will have to work for a repeat and the Irish must overcome a UConn team that handed them a convincing 89-71 loss early in the year in South Bend. There is no arguing the talent level is championship caliber and Arike Ogunbowale is comfortable on the big stage. She stole it last year with her overtime buzzer-beater to beat the Huskies in the semifinal and another in the title game against Mississippi State to give the Irish the title.
Along with Jackie Young, the two guards can create offense and hit big shots, putting a lot of pressure on opposing defenses. Ogunbowale’s big second half got the Irish past Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 and Young sparked a big second half against Stanford in the next round. It’s easy to forget about Jessica Shepard with the other two stealing the spotlight, but the Irish wouldn’t be here without her.
Oregon Ducks (33-4)
Thanks to one of the most accomplished players in the game, the Oregon Ducks are making their first Final Four appearance, though they’ve been at the doorstep a few times. Sabrina Ionescu is synonymous with Oregon basketball, but it takes more than one great player to reach this level. The Ducks possess four players averaging over 12 points per game, topped by Ionescu’s 19.9. They also shoot 50.5 percent as a team and average 85.4 points a night.
It’ll take all that and more to move to the final. The Ducks lack an interior presence and they struggled against bigger teams. Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA, three of the more physical teams in the Pac-12, gave the Ducks problems, but they were able to overcome Mississippi State’s advantage with an electric offense. Ionescu will have to play lights out for Oregon to advance.
Women’s Final Four Picks: Baylor and UConn
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