2018 Women’s Final Four: UConn, Notre Dame, Louisville, Mississippi State

Photo Credit: WBNS-TV 10 (CBS) Columbus

Upsets were bountiful in both Division I basketball tournaments this year. But while it may have been the season of the Cinderella on the men’s ledger with Loyola Chicago as one of the last teams standing, chalk reigned supreme on the women’s side with the clock striking midnight for any potential bracket-busters.

At this year’s Women’s Final Four in Columbus, it will be the four number one seeds battling it out for the national championship – the Huskies, the Fighting Irish, the Cardinals, and the Bulldogs. Two of these teams, of course, made the Final Four last year with the Bulldogs snapping a 100-plus game Huskies winning streak thanks to Morgan William’s buzzer-beater.

There is potential UConn and Mississippi State could meet in the championship game with Geno Auriemma and his team with a shot at revenge – and redemption.

Must we also mention who predicted this outcome?

Photo Credit: AP/Frank Franklin III

The Huskies got to the tournament via a 140-52 thrashing of St. Francis that included a 26-point performance off the bench by Azura Stevens, then a 71-46 defeat of Quinnipiac, a 72-59 win over Duke, and a 94-65 throttling of defending tournament champions South Carolina.

The Huskies’ win over the Gamecocks was a stark indication of the directions both teams have taken since last year when Dawn Staley’s South Carolina team lost three top players in the first round to the WNBA.

It looked crystal clear which direction this game would go in when UConn outscored South Carolina 30-12 after one quarter of play. Five players for the Huskies put up double-digit point performances including Gabby Williams with 23, Crystal Dangerfield with 21, Katie Lou Samuelson with 17, Napheesa Collier at 16, and Kia Nurse at 11.

A’ja Wilson scored 27 points in what was the last time she will don the garnet and black prior to donning somewhat similar colors in the WNBA as she is projected to be the first overall pick in next month’s Draft to the Las Vegas Aces.

Photo Credit: AP/Young Kwak

The Huskies’ opponent in the semifinals of the tournament will be Notre Dame, whose road to the Final Four appeared to be slightly more of a challenge than that of UConn.

The Fighting Irish opened the tourney with a 99-81 victory over CSUN, then followed that up with a 98-72 victory against Villanova in the second round. In the Sweet 16, they got through an upset bid when only defeating Texas A&M 90-84 before a 94-84 win over Sabrina Ionescu and Oregon.

A huge difference in this one was the third quarter when Notre Dame’s defense held Oregon to only nine points while the Fighting Irish managed to tally 21 in that same exact timeframe.
A 20-point outing via Kathryn Westbeld and 19 more out of Arike Ogunbowale will definitely help a team’s cause as well. So will 13 rebounds courtesy of Jackie Young.

As for Ionescu, she led her team with 26 points and Ruthy Hebard would add 17.

Photo Credit: Denny Medley/USA Today Sports

Mississippi State became a late darling of the tournament last year in Dallas-Fort Worth with the upset over UConn and after the season they had coming out of the SEC, they were a heavy favorite to return back to that same point.

The Bulldogs’ trek to Columbus began in similar one-over-16 fashion (save for the Ramblers on the men’s side) via a 95-50 ousting of Nicholls State. In the second round, the Bulldogs topped Oklahoma State by a final score of 71-56, then dispatched the North Carolina State Wolfpack 71-56 in the Sweet 16.

The victory that punched Mississippi State’s ticket to the Final Four was its Elite Eight win over UCLA, which ended in an 89-73 decision. Two players for the Bulldogs finished with 20-point outings as Victoria Vivians put up 24 and Teaira McCowan contributed 23 to the Bulldogs’ cause. Morgan William scored 17.

The Bruins were sent home from the tournament despite a 23-point, eight-rebound effort courtesy of Jordin Canada and 16 points from Japreece Dean. Monique Billings, a projected first-round draft pick, scored 12.

Photo Credit: James Crisp/AP

Louisville has been a team plenty of women’s basketball aficionados have had their eyes on all year thanks to the unbelievable play of Asia Durr. Her production and leadership alone confirmed to everyone that the Cardinals would be a tough out for any opponent this season.

This was proven to fruition once again in the tournament as it was throughout the regular season. They began the season with a 74-42 win over Boise State in the first round. Louisville’s smallest margin of victory actually came via the second round and their 90-72 victory against Marquette. Their Sweet 16 triumph over Stanford also ended in rout fashion – an 89-56 decision.

What earned the Cardinals their trip to nearby Columbus was its 76-43 win over Oregon State in the Elite Eight. It was anchored by four Louisville players scoring in double-digits – including Durr with 18 and Myisha Hines-Allen who had 16.

Just as is the case with a home purchase, sometimes a tournament can be all about, location, location, location. Location favors the Cardinals this year as Louisville is a shorter distance from Columbus than either South Bend, Storrs, or Starksville, but it is likely that UConn will bring a healthy contingent of fans, alums, and boosters with them to Columbus.

Marie Gulich scored 14 and Taya Corosdale contributed 11 to lead Oregon State.

The four participants in this year’s Final Four have now been determined. Both semifinal matchups – UConn vs. Notre Dame as well as Louisville-Mississippi State will take place on Friday at Nationwide Arena. The championship game is scheduled for Sunday.

The hype is already building in Ohio’s state capital in anticipation of the arrival of the four teams. That hype included the unveiling of the Women’s Final Four court where on Sunday a 2017-18 national champion shall be crowned.

And for those once again wondering – yeah, women’s sports helps a city’s economy (hint, hint). One prediction as told to WCMH-TV NBC 4 Columbus believes the Women’s Final Four will bring “at least a couple million dollars” to the local economy.

By: Akiem Bailum (@AkiemBailum on Twitter, Instagram)

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