An exciting, upset-filled women’s basketball season is nearing its end.
The tournament this year has seen a Buffalo team that has brought a new definition to the term cool, toppling top-10 teams and making an Elite Eight run.
It has brought forth a freshman phenom in Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter, who’s shown that she can hang with the veterans, making game-winners and scoring big throughout the tournament. The WBCA Freshman of the Year averaged 31.3 points in the Aggies’ Sweet 16 run, the most by a freshman in tournament history.
But despite those performances, the record books have been cracked open again to record the remaining teams: Mississippi State, Louisville, Notre Dame and UConn — all No. 1 seeds — have made it to Columbus, Ohio, to try and extend their tournament runs and claim a national title. 2018 marks only the fourth time the Women’s Final Four has been comprised of all top-seeded teams; the last time was in 2015.
Here’s a look ahead to Friday’s highly anticipated matchups:
Mississippi State vs. Louisville, March 30, 7 p.m. ESPN2
All hopes for a rematch of last year’s title game were vacated in UConn’s 29-point win over defending champion South Carolina.
This will be the Cardinals’ first Final Four appearance since 2013 and third in program history — all under head coach Jeff Walz. The 2009 and 2013 Final Four teams advanced all the way to the championship game to face — and lose to — the Connecticut Huskies both times. Walz is used to having teams with star power; his 2009 team included standout Angel McCoughtry.
Unlike the other teams in the Final Four, Mississippi State is the only team that has not played its opponent this season but it is also the only team that was in last season’s championship game. The Bulldogs have an all-star cast supporting McCowan returning from last year’s team in Morgan William, who spoiled UConn’s title hopes and a 111-win streak last year with a game-winning shot and Victoria Vivians, who has expanded her play in the post and out, becoming a go-to player for her team after moving to the forward position. All were part of the Bulldogs’ perfect SEC record, running through a tough conference schedule including a win over reigning champion South Carolina in early February.
Notre Dame vs. UConn, March 30, 9:30 p.m. ESPN2
UConn returns to its 11th-straight Final Four facing Notre Dame after being knocked out by Mississippi State last year. The Irish are looking for a title after an injury-plagued season during their sixth Final Four in eight seasons under AP Coach of the Year Muffet McGraw.
The Huskies have been adamant about having moved on from the sting of their loss last season, but they will definitely be looking to avoid a repeat of a semifinals downfall against Notre Dame, which has a regular season co-championship shared with Louisville. UConn has a roster full of All-Americans including Gabby Williams, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, the latter who is a strong candidate for the Naismith Player of the Year Award.
Williams has been an all-out threat for UConn this season, drawing comparison to former Husky Maya Moore in her style of play. The senior has been a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor this season and in the tournament, averaging 15 points and 5.5 assists per game since the first round, as well as 1.25 blocks and steals for the tournament.
UConn may assert their dominance early but Notre Dame won’t go quietly, as the tough Irish are used to battling for their wins, escaping close ones in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight against Texas A&M and Oregon and battling back to the top of the ACC despite four injured players including guard Lili Thompson early in the season. With all of the injuries, the Irish has turned to junior Arike Ogunbowale for some of the ball-handling responsibilities and has proven her versatility in scoring against the league's toughest defenses.