Women’s Final Four – How’d We Get Here?
We’re one week away from crowning a champion, and another Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are in the books. Some familiar faces and some fresh faces will be making their way to Tampa this week, but before that happens, let’s take a look at what we learned from the second weekend of tournament action:
Connecticut is still Connecticut
For the first time since 2006, UConn was not awarded a No. 1 seed. This season’s Huskies played more tight games than previous teams, and while you can’t find many negatives with a 31-2 season with a conference regular season and tournament title, this didn’t feel like the same dominant Connecticut team we’ve seen for decades.
And it didn’t matter. Connecticut is right back where it always is. The program is in the Final Four for the 12th straight year and exacted revenge on Louisville for delivering it one of its two regular season losses back in January. The last time the Huskies weren’t in the Final Four, George W. Bush was president, the iPhone was yet to be released for a few more months and the final Harry Potter book hadn’t been published.
Forward Napheesa Collier was the hero in the Sweet 16, with 25 points, 10 rebounds and a ridiculous 11-of-15 mark from the floor. Then in the Elite Eight versus the Cardinals, it was guard Katie Lou Samuelson who turned it on, posting 29 points and drilling seven triples, often in vital possessions for Connecticut. Other Huskies had good performances in both games, but the team got big-time showings from their two stars when they needed it, a great sign for their shot at winning their first national title since 2016.
Sabrina Ionescu is ridiculous
Let me first say, Ionescu is far from the only serious weapon in this team. The coaching is fantastic and forwards Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard provide one of the best frontcourts in the country. The Ducks are where they are for many reasons, with Ionescu being only a part of it.
But wow, she is special, and it was on full display in the Elite Eight. She scored a game-high 31 points, adding in eight assists and seven rebounds from the guard position. She’s been doing it all year, solidifying herself as one of the best players in the country. But it’s one thing to do it during the regular season and another to show up in a big way in the Elite Eight when your program i s vying for its first-ever Final Four bid.
This isn’t uncharted territory for her. Ionescu had solid games in Oregon’s Elite Eight losses in 2017 and 2018, but this was her best one yet, and I’m sure it’s her favorite of the three appearances, too.
Women’s basketball is still top heavy
This has been one of the more wild seasons in recent memory, and there was hope for some chaos at the top. There were upsets, like No. 11 seed Missouri State getting to the Sweet 16 and only one No. 3 seed getting out of the first weekend. But the Elite Eight consisted exclusively of top two seeds, Connecticut is yet again in the Final Four and we have a real shot at a repeat champion.
That’s not to say this hasn’t been an enjoyable tournament. Upsets are not required for a great March. Also, one program is making its first trip to the largest stage in the sport, and like last year, the Final Four feels pretty wide open.
It’s encouraging to see Final Fours like last season’s and the rise of programs like Oregon, Iowa, South Dakota State and others to reach the heights they have this year. There’s still a long way to go for more parity in the game, but it seems to be moving in the right direction.
There are some serious titans in this Final Four
Oregon is making its first Final Four appearance, but Connecticut, Baylor and Notre Dame are three of the most established programs in the game, and Geno Auriemma, Kim Mulkey and Muffet McGraw are three of the biggest names in the sport. We’ve discussed Connecticut’s ridiculous run, but Baylor and Notre Dame aren’t too shabby, either.
The Bears are in their first Final Four since 2012 when they won the national championship, but the program has been to the Elite Eight almost every year since and are in their fourth Final Four since 2005. Notre Dame won its second national title last season and are in its second-straight Final Four and seventh national semifinal since 2011.
The Ducks are the newcomer to the party, but the three other entrants are familiar with this stage. The storylines write themselves. Get ready.