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NCAA women's Final Four preview

Connecticut's Breanna Stewart, left, celebrates with teammates after

Connecticut's Breanna Stewart, left, celebrates with teammates after their win over Dayton in an Elite Eight game in the NCAA women's basketball tournament on Monday, March 30, 2015, in Albany. Credit: AP / Tim Roske

The NCAA women's Final Four is set for Sunday in Tampa with three familiar schools, one new school, and a big question.

Can No. 1 Connecticut be beaten?

The two-time defending champion Huskies have won their four tournament games this year by an average of 41 points. The Huskies have arguably the best player in the country in junior forward Breanna Stewart and unquestionably the best coach in Geno Auriemma.

Maryland gets the first shot to take down UConn in Sunday's second national semifinal. If the Huskies win, Notre Dame or South Carolina will be waiting in Tuesday night's national championship game.

Notre Dame (35-2) vs. South Carolina (34-2), 6:30 p.m., ESPN

Notre Dame star Jewell Loyd struggled offensively in the Sweet 16 win over Stanford and Elite Eight win over Baylor. But other players have stepped up, particularly fellow guard Lindsay Allen. Notre Dame has the edge in experience, with many of the core players back from last year's team that lost to UConn in the national title game. South Carolina will be making its first appearance in the Final Four. The Gamecocks will lean heavily on star Tiffany Mitchell, who is averaging 15 points per game in the tournament. Mitchell, however, is going to need help to beat the Irish.

Connecticut (36-1) vs. Maryland (34-2), 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Here's the problem with UConn: which player do you try to stop? Five players average double figures in points, led by Stewart's 17.6. The Huskies can seemingly flip a switch and blow a team out. For example, UConn led Texas 26-19 with 9:13 remaining in the first half of the Sweet 16 game and finished the half on a 26-5 run. UConn won the game 105-51. In Monday's Elite Eight, UConn trailed Dayton 44-43 at halftime and dominated the second half, winning 91-70. Maryland has won 28 straight and all four of its tournament games by double digits. But the Terps will need to score points to stay with UConn. Maryland beat Duke 65-55 in the Sweet 16 and beat Tennessee 58-48 in the Elite Eight. The Terps have had four different players lead them in scoring in the tournament.

Final Four fast facts

- For the third time in the history of the tournament, the four semifinalists are No. 1 seeds. It also happened in 2012 and 1982.

- UConn will be playing in its eighth straight Final Four. The Huskies have won nine national titles under Geno Auriemma.

- Notre Dame will be playing in its fifth consecutive Final Four under coach Muffet McGraw. Notre Dame has lost in the national title game three of the past four years. The Irish won a national title under McGraw in 2001.

- Maryland is playing in its second straight Final Four and fifth overall, including three under coach Brenda Frese. Maryland won a national title under Frese in 2006.

- This is South Carolina's first trip to the Final Four, but coach Dawn Staley has plenty of experience. As a player, Staley led Virginia to three Final Fours (1990-92).

Meet the stars

Breanna Stewart, Connecticut: Stewart has been on a roll. She scored 31 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and had seven assists in the win over Texas. Stewart followed that with 23 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocks against Dayton. Maryland must keep Stewart from having a huge game.

Jewell Loyd, Notre Dame: The junior guard hasn't shot the ball well in her last two games. She shot 5 for 18 for the field and finished with 13 points against Baylor. Loyd, however, is undoubtedly Notre Dame's most important player and will need her to play a big role against South Carolina.

Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina: The junior guard was huge in the 80-74 win over Florida State in the Elite Eight, finishing with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and two blocks - all team highs. South Carolina will need that type of performance against the Irish.

Lexie Brown, Maryland: The Terps don't have a star player, but the sophomore guard could be an impact player against UConn. Brown scored 13 of her 15 points and hit three 3-pointers in the second half of the Elite Eight win over Tennessee. Brown's matchup against UConn's Moriah Jefferson will be a key one.


Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Connecticut: Mosqueda-Lewis, a senior forward, gives UConn another scoring threat to go with Stewart. She scored 27 points, including seven 3-pointers, in the win over Dayton. Mosqueda-Lewis now has the NCAA record with 395 career 3-pointers.

Lindsay Allen, Notre Dame: With Loyd struggling in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, the sophomore guard stepped up with two huge games. Allen scored a career-high 28 points in the Sweet 16 win against Stanford and had 23 points 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals in the Elite Eight win over Baylor.

Alaina Coates, South Carolina: The sophomore center was selected as the most outstanding player for the Greensboro Regional. She scored 14 points (6 for 6 shooting from the field) in the Elite Eight win over Florida State and had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the Sweet 16 win over North Carolina.

Laurin Mincy, Maryland: Mincy has played very well for the Terps in the tournament, scoring in double figures in all four games. She scored 27 points against Princeton in the second round. Maryland will need that type of performance against UConn to advance to the national title game.

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