Follow the 2016 Women's Final Four with pregame buzz, up-to-the-second-score updates and commentary live from Indianapolis!
No. 1 UConn vs. No. 2 Oregon State | 6:00 p.m. | ESPN | Listen |
NCAA.com's Amy Farnum Patronis on UConn's Final Four success:
It’s been 25 years since Geno Auriemma took Connecticut to the Women’s Final Four for the first time.
Since that first appearance in 1991, the Huskies have made 17 Final Four trips and won an NCAA-record 10 championships.
When UConn meets Oregon State at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 3, the Huskies will be making their ninth consecutive Final Four appearance.
Yet, it never gets old for the Huskies.
“The trick in coming here is to make it feel like it’s the first time all the time,” Auriemma said. “Sometimes, that’s hard to do because everyone expects you to treat it like it’s the same old thing. I think you have to work hard at making sure it’s like the first time.”
Auriemma’s players share his sentiment. They are soaking up the experience, regardless of whether it is their first or fourth time playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“We don’t take any of this stuff for granted, and this could be the last one; we never know,” said sophomore guard Kia Nurse. “It’s fun to be in this environment with your teammates and have a good time, but at the same time we’re as focused as ever.”
It helps that there are always new faces each year — like freshmen Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier — who have never experienced the thrill of Final Four or hoisting a championship trophy above their heads.This is their first one, so this is not old hat and routine for them,” Auriemma said.
The rest of the Huskies never have had trouble creating a sense of “first-time” excitement either.
“Each year, there are different players and we have to work extremely hard during the year,” said senior guard Moriah Jefferson. “It might look easy on TV, but it’s not. We got through a lot and struggle a lot throughout the year, so every time we get here it’s amazing. We don’t take it for granted at all.”
While the hectic schedule of ESPN interviews, press conferences, the Salute Dinner and autograph sessions may be fun — and even grueling at times — the Huskies’ focus always returns to the game.
“We didn’t come to do media or go to a dinner or things like that,” said redshirt junior forward Morgan Tuck. “Every team, no matter how many times they’ve been here are here to play basketball. (The experience) can help because we don’t get caught up in it, but I think all of the teams are here for the games and not just the extra stuff.”
The three other teams in this year’s Women’s Final Four — Oregon State, Syracuse and Washington — are making their first-ever appearances. And to be sure, all three will be looking to emulate how the Final Four veterans have handled themselves over the years.
“I think they have been the blueprint,” said Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck. “I mean, who doesn't want to do what they're doing? We're all striving for that.”
Rueck, who led George Fox University to the Division III title in 2009, has watched UConn women’s basketball for years. He truly appreciates the high bar the Huskies have set.
“I look at them as an example,” Rueck said. “I always have. When I was a Division III coach, I was looking at UConn as an example.”
Washington head coach Mike Neighbors has done the same as he has developed his own program.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to watch UConn practice a couple times and it is absolutely incredible how much (Auriemma) and his staff gets out of that team on a daily basis,” Neighbors said. “Their attention to detail and their focus on ‘what’s important now.’ We brought that back to our team. Our WIN motto – ‘what’s important now’ has been a huge part of trying to win the next thing. I think their culture just oozes hard work.”
Oregon State senior guard Jamie Weisner knows that UConn demands respect for what it has accomplished this year and over the past couple decades.
“It's legendary,” Weisner said. “I would say it's even an honor to play against them. In 20 years, I can tell my kids that I played against that UConn team.”
But she and her teammates are also here to play their game — and win.
“You can't lose the game before you step foot on the court. And we know what we've done to get this far, and we just have to stick to that. We're going to go into it very prepared and fearless.”
No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 7 Washington | 8:30 p.m. | ESPN2 | Listen |
Patronis on Washington's Kelsey Plum:
When you watch Washington women’s basketball, there’s one thing you can count on — Kelsey Plum is going to score.
It’s just a matter of how much. Twenty? Thirty? Forty-five?
In Sunday night’s NCAA Women’s Final Four, it will be up to Syracuse to keep that number low.
That won’t be an easy task against Plum, who is one of the top scorers in the NCAA and most prolific in Pac-12 history.
“She's a great player,” said Syracuse senior guard Brianna Butler. “She has proven herself day in, day out, and in the conference or in NCAA Tournament she’s been doing a phenomenal job carrying her team. But we just have to do what we do and just contain her and try and do the best we can to stop her.”
Plum is Washington’s all-time leading scorer with 2,401 points and ranks third in the nation with 26.2 points per game. She is just 24 points shy of the Pac-12 single-scoring mark and if her scoring average keeps up, it also will be a conference record. She has netted double-figures in every game this season — and in all but two games in her career.
She’s flat-out dangerous.
“She can score in multiple ways,” said Oregon State senior guard Jamie Weisner, who has plays against her in the Pac-12. “Get to the hoop. Shoot the 3. Pull up. She’s always looking to score."
The junior guard from Poway, California, gives most of the credit to her Husky teammates.
“I'm really grateful to play in an offense where spacing is so good and I'm allowed to kind of play — I call it downhill,” Plum said. “It's because of my teammates and how talented they are, the spacing has allowed me to get a lot of good opportunities.”
Syracuse knows they will have to stop Plum to win Sunday night in the meeting between two Women’s Final Four first-timers. Or at least slow her down.
They have already done it once this season. The Orange forced Plum to commit eight turnovers and held her to 19 points when Syracuse beat Washington, 66-62, in December. But can they do it again?
“We took a lot away from that game,” said Syracuse guard Alexis Peterson. “We tried to come out and put pressure on her, not give her anything easy. She’s a great player, so we have to come out and stick to our game plan and keep pressure on her and keep a high hand on every shot and pressure her full court for 40 minutes.”
Peterson will be key in defending Plum, but it she certainly can’t go it alone.
“It takes team defense (to defend Plum),” said Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman. “You have to scheme it to where you're playing her in a team scheme but also understanding that she has shooters on the backside of the zone.”
Oregon State held Plum to a season-low 14 points when the Beavers beat the Huskies, 57-55, on March 5. The first time the two squads played in February this season Plum burned OSU for 30.
“I think for us we always wanted to force her to her right hand and just make it very difficult for her to even catch the ball and then just force her into something she doesn't want to do,” Weisner said.
While Plum’s scoring prowess will be on display against the Orange, it may be her defensive skills that help the Huskies claim victory.
Washington head coach Mike Neighbors commends Plum for her dedication to improving her defense this year.
“It’s a lot of film work,” Neighbors said. “And y’all have seen her. That kid looks like 90 percent of the other kids walking down the mall. She’s not 6-foot anything, she couldn’t run from here to there faster than most people sitting her, she looks like everyone else out there, but she has an incredible desire to win and work at it. She wants to do the work.”
Plum is on track to become only the 11th player in NCAA history to score 3,000 points next year, but she knows that adding those defensive skills will take her and her team farther.
“I've tried to pay a lot more attention to my defense,” Plum said. “In the past, maybe my freshman, sophomore year, I didn't put a lot of effort into it necessarily, because I was so focused on other things, when really I started to grow and realize defense is what matters and that's how you're going to win games.”