Two teams punched their tickets to the 2016 NCAA women’s Final Four on Monday. Here are three thoughts from the East and West regional championships:
1. Seniors shine for UConn
The Huskies, now winners of 73 straight games, knocked off No. 2 Texas, 86–65, and advanced to their ninth straight Final Four thanks to the play of senior stars Morgan Tuck, Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson. The All-America trio, who posted 22, 21 and 11 points, respectively, dominated in front of their hometown crowd at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. Monday marked their final collegiate appearances in the state of Connecticut.
“Walking off this court, the fans here have done so much for us,” said Stewart, who posted her third straight double double on Monday after pulling down 13 rebounds against the Longhorns. “And to be able to play our regional game here in Connecticut, where we’re really fortunate that they’re able to come and see us play one last time because our fans are like no other.”
Tuck, Stewart and Jefferson not only have the opportunity to leave UConn as the winningest senior class in program history if they win the national title and achieve 151 career victories, but also have the chance to become the only class with four national titles.
The veterans’ quest toward those marks continues Sunday against Oregon State in the national semifinal in Indianapolis.
2. Pac-12 owns half of Final Four
With No. 2 Oregon State’s 60–57 upset of No. 1 Baylor on Monday, the Pac-12 Conference has two teams in the Final Four for the first time in history. The Beavers, the Pac-12 champions, join No. 7 Washington, which finished fifth in the conference standings, as each program makes its first Final Four appearance in program history.
Pac-12 Player of the Year Jamie Weisner helped the Beavers to victory Monday night, as she registered 16 points and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the regional.
Should the two teams meet in the national title game on Tuesday, Oregon State holds the advantage over Washington, as the Beavers defeated the Huskies twice earlier this season.
3. Texas proves its worth
The controversy coming into Monday’s games surrounded UConn’s dominance over the rest of the field in women’s college basketball. With the Huskies averaging nearly 99 points per game through three NCAA tournament contests and defeating No. 5 Mississippi State by 60 on Saturday in the regional semifinals, the critics came out in full force to discredit the quality of the women’s game.
But Texas answered the critics by turning in a gutsy performance against the Huskies in the regional final. The Longhorns, who fell to UConn 105–54 last year in the Sweet 16, hung with the three-time defending NCAA champion, trailing by just five after one quarter and forcing coach Geno Auriemma to keep his starters in the game until the final two minutes.
“That’s exactly what you need at this time in the tournament,” Auriemma said following his team’s win on Monday. “You don’t want to be going to the Final Four thinking that games are easy. And in spite of the score today, this was by no means easy at all.”
Texas utilized tenacious offensive showings by sophomore Ariel Atkins and freshman Lashann Higgs, who posted 19 points apiece, to put pressure on UConn on both ends of the court.
“It’s a significantly different looking team and different locker room than it was last year, when we played our last game,” Texas coach Karen Aston said Monday. “I think it’s a team that understands they have moved to a different competitive level.”