The NCAA women’s tournament ends this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, with the four No. 1 seeds vying for the national title.
Connecticut (Albany Region) is in its Division I-record 11th straight Final Four (19th total) and will be trying for its 12th national title, while Notre Dame (Spokane Region) is looking for its second national title and fifth appearance in the championship game since 2011. Mississippi State (Kansas City Region) and Louisville (Lexington Region) both will be trying for the first national titles in their respective program histories.
The two national semifinals will be played on Friday and the national championship will be played on Sunday at 6 p.m.
Connecticut (36-0) vs. Notre Dame (33-3), 9 p.m.
Notre Dame is a resilient team, overcoming four ACL injuries to players to earn a trip to the Final Four. The Irish trailed at halftime against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 and trailed again at halftime against Oregon in the Elite Eight, but rallied to win both games. Connecticut dominated South Carolina, the defending national champion, in Monday night’s Elite Eight (94-65) and hasn’t truly been tested in the tournament. The Huskies beat the Irish in early December, rallying for an 80-71 win.
All-American guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson (17.5 points per game, 88 three-pointers) is Connecticut’s leading scorer. Forward Gabby Williams, another All-American, has athleticism that is off the charts. All-American forward Napheesa Collier (15.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game) is playing very well.
All-American Arike Ogunbowale (20.7 ppg) is Notre Dame’s leading scorer. Marina Mabrey has become Notre Dame’s on-court leader and is averaging 14.8 points (81 three-pointers), while Nebraska transfer Jessica Shepard is averaging 15.6 points and 8.1 rebounds.
Connecticut’s Collier and Azura Stevens vs. Notre Dame’s Shepard, Kathryn Wesbeld and Kristina Nelson: When the teams met in December, Collier and Stevens combined for 32 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks. The Irish got 20 points, 13 rebounds and one block from Shepard, Wesbeld and Nelson. Stevens scored 10 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter as Connecticut outscored Notre Dame 26-9 to win the game.
The Huskies and the Irish have met six times in the Final Four, with Connecticut winning twice in the national title game and once in the national semifinals, and Notre Dame winning three times in the national semifinals.
Louisville (36-2) vs. Mississippi State (36-1), 7 p.m.
Louisville and Mississippi State both are on rolls. The Cardinals have won their four tournament games by 32, 18, 27 and 33 points. The Bulldogs have won their four tournament games by 45, 15, 14 and 16 points. Mississippi State can rely on the experience from last year’s tournament run to the national championship game. Louisville’s strategy will be to run, run and run some more in an attempt to wear down 6-7 All-American center Teaira McCowan and the Bulldogs.
Louisville All-American Asia Durr is the Cardinals’ leading scorer at 18.7 points per game. Myisha Hines-Allen, another All-American, is averaging 14.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Sam Fuehring, a 6-3 center, has played well this season, averaging 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
All-American Victoria Vivians is Mississippi State’s leading scorer at 19.6 points per game. McCowan is averaging 18.1 points and 13.6 rebounds. Morgan William is one of the best point guards in the country and leads the Bulldogs in assists.
Louisville’s Fuehring vs. Mississippi State’s McCowan: McCowan has had some huge games in the tournament. She scored 24 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Sweet 16 win over North Carolina State and followed that with 23 points and 21 rebounds in the Elite Eight win over UCLA . Fuehring is a good defensive player, and will need to keep McCowan off the offensive boards. Fuehring’s perimeter shooting ability could lure McCowan away from the basket.
Mississippi State pulled off one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history in last year’s Final Four by beating Connecticut in overtime and snapping the Huskies’ 111-game winning streak. Louisville is playing in its third Final Four, all since 2009.