For the first time in the history of the women’s tournament, we began with a 68-team field and with the NCAA utilizing the iconic March Madness branding to apply to the women’s side in addition to the men’s side.
March has indeed been mad in terms of the women’s bracket, but despite the emergence of Cinderellas such as Creighton and South Dakota, the Final Four for the women’s tournament feels very chalky.
Three of the four No. 1 seeds will be playing in a few days in Minneapolis in addition to a No. 2 seed in Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies. The three top seeds are Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks, Jeff Walz’s Louisville Cardinals and Tara VanDerveer’s Stanford Cardinal.
Target Center in Minnesota has seen plenty of championship banners raised to its rafters courtesy of its resident Minnesota Lynx. It is only fitting that in this topsy-turvy of women’s basketball seasons that its conclusion will take place in the same building where Cheryl Reeve, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson became household names.
Four teams remain – only one can cut down those hallowed nets.
— GamecockWBB (@GamecockWBB) March 28, 2022
The Gamecocks had been seeking to get back to this point since last year’s Final Four when South Carolina suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Stanford.
Save for a couple of hiccups against SEC opponents (Missouri and Kentucky), redemption has been the order of the season for the Gamecocks. Staley has converted South Carolina into a national women’s hoops power and WNBA factory. With talent such as Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, Destanni Henderson, Brea Beal, Laeticia Amihere and Victoria Saxton sporting garnet and red, the chances are as good as ever that another national championship trophy could be making a beeline for Columbia.
— Louisville WBB (@UofLWBB) March 29, 2022
For all of the success that the Louisville women’s basketball program has encountered under Jeff Walz, the Cardinals have yet to climb to the absolute top of the NCAA Division I women’s hoops mountain with a national championship.
This season’s Louisville rendition hopes to change that. Hailey Van Lith is putting herself in rarefied air among the Cardinals program alongside greats such as Angel McCoughtry and Asia Durr. Add in what Kianna Smith is able to do as a scorer and ball distributor and what Emily Engstler is able to accomplish as a scorer and rebounder and Walz may very well have the team that can finally get it done for Louisville.
This group. This moment.
— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) March 29, 2022
There are plenty of teams that had roller coaster seasons in 2021-22. It only occurs that Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies received more attention for its than most teams in Division I women’s hoops.
Paige Bueckers is sure to have an extra lift in this tournament given she will be returning to the state where she became a household name in the first place in Minnesota. Azzi Fudd. Evina Westbrook. Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Aaliyah Edwards. Christyn Williams. The Huskies have always had the talent to cut down the nets in recent seasons, but the women’s hoops landscape clearly no longer fears Auriemma’s UConn bunch as what may have been the case previously. Will this season’s Final Four change that?
— Stanford Women’s Basketball (@StanfordWBB) March 29, 2022
It is a smart bet to assume that the champions from the previous season will at least make a return appearance to the Final Four to defend its crown. As of today, Tara VanDerveer’s Cardinal claim that throne, but three teams are looking to do a New York Liberty and Own the Crown for themselves.
The Cardinal, as do the Cardinals, has a Hailey of its own – more like a Haley in Haley Jones, who led Stanford to the promised land last season and is now being looked at as a lottery pick in the 2023 WNBA draft (third overall to the Atlanta Dream per our friends at Lines.com). Add in the three-point shooting of Lexie Hull and Hannah Jump plus how Cameron Brink gets the job done on both offense and defense and an encore performance could be on the schedule in the Twin Cities.