NCAA women’s tournament: Notre Dame eyes sixth straight Final Four
STATE OF THE NO. 1 SEED
Always a bridesmaid, and rarely a bride, Notre Dame is likely sick of all the commentary on how the Irish don’t quite stack up to UConn. But that argument overshadows the dominance of Muffet McGraw’s program: The Irish are 104–5 in their last three seasons (but 0–4 against UConn), and seeking their sixth consecutive trip to the Final Four. And because of offense, the Irish will likely get there.
Notre Dame is one of the best shooting teams in the country, hitting 49.2% of its field-goal attempts (ranking No. 3 in the nation) and 40.6% from beyond the arc (No. 2). It’s led by 6'3" sophomore forward Brianna Turner (14.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 59.6% FG), the ACC player of the year.
But Turner is just one of many pieces the Irish use for a balanced scoring attack. Senior point guard Lindsay Allen (8.9 PPG, 5.7 APG) runs the show and is able drive and finish, feed it to Turner inside or kick it out to senior Madison Cable, who drains 47.6% of her long-distance attempts, third best in the country. Freshmen guards Marina Mabrey (10.6 PPG) and Arike Ogunbowale (11.7 PPG) are dependable contributors, too.
No. 10 Penn over No. 7 Washington
The Quakers (24–4) have two double double machines in Sydney Stipanovich (12.7 PPG, 10 RPG) and Michelle Nwokedi (14.2 PPG, 9.6 RPG), and have lost just once since February. The Huskies (22–10) have one of the best one-on-one players in the game in junior guard Kelsey Plum (26.2 PPG), but what they don’t have are subs: In UW’s win over Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, four Huskies played the full 40 minutes and one player chipped in 36 minutes. Because of injury issues, UW rarely goes to its bench. That can catch up with you in the postseason.
The Wildcats (23–7) should send the selection committee a thank you because playing at home is so nice. Kentucky loves to press and speed opponents up with its frenetic pace, which is why the Wildcats turn other teams over an average of 18 times a game. Their defense is tough in the half-court, too, where they hold teams to 37.7% from the field, and 30.3% from three. And they’ve got four players who score eight points or more, led by junior guard Makayla Epps (16.5 PPG). Don’t be surprised if they get to the Elite Eight and try to ride a home crowd advantage into the Final Four.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Erica “Bird” McCall, Stanford. She’s not quite an Ogwumike sister, but the junior forward does plenty for the Cardinal. The 6'3" McCall (14.3 PPG, 9.3 PPG) is strong and tough inside and doesn’t shy away from contact. She’s also, surprisingly, pretty good from long-distance, shooting 42.9% from three. Shots beyond the arc are few and far between for McCall, but if she gets hot inside and out, Stanford will be tough to stop.