- A year after being stunned in the women's Final Four, UConn takes on Notre Dame looking to avoid another upset. Meanwhile, Mississippi State faces Louisville aiming for a return to the title game.
The women's Final Four is set, and for the fourth time in tournament history, it features four No. 1 seeds—led, of course, by undefeated UConn. We break down both matchups below, which tip off on Friday, March 30.
*All stats from HerHoopStats.com
Louisville vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan may be the most dominant player in women’s college basketball. The 6’7” center can win any one-on-one matchup in the post, but does most of her damage on the glass. She averaged 13.6 rebounds per game in the regular season and had a ridiculous 21 boards in the Bulldogs’ 16-point victory over UCLA in the Elite Eight. She currently stands one rebound shy of cracking the NCAA’s all time top 10. Even more amazingly, McCowan comes down with 22% of her teammates misses, the second highest offensive rebounding rate in the country. And yet teammate Victoria Vivian—who controls the team’s offense as the ball finds itself frequently in her hands—rarely misses. The senior guard is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with 19.6 points per game and the two create a potent 1–2 combo.
Mississippi State will have the experience advantage in this matchup, as it made it all the way to the championship game last year before falling short versus South Carolina. Every player in the Bulldogs' starting lineup shoots over 40% from the field—with McCowan leading the way at 61.1%, surrounded by shooters to kick out to if doubled in the paint—while as a team they turn the ball over on only 13% of plays, the second-best rate in the country. Mississippi State will hope that it can ride the fourth-most efficient offense in college basketball (117 points per 100 positions) all the way to the national championship game.
Louisville’s Asia Durr is the most exciting player left in the tournament. The 5’10” guard has said that she idolized Allen Iverson growing up and it shows in her game with crossovers, step backs and a fearless attacking attitude despite her diminutive frame. A first-team All America and a finalist for the Naismith Award, Durr led the Cardinals to the program’s first ever No. 1 seed in the tournament. Durr commands Louisville’s fast pace offense, as the Cardinals try to wear opponents down by running off missed baskets, pushing the fast break, rapidly swinging the ball around the perimeter and always trying to get into the lane.
The team rarely settles for a three-point attempt when an easier shot is available. Led by Durr and forward Myisha Hines-Allen—a third team All-America and the team’s only senior—Louisville dominated the Lexington Regional, shocking Oregon State in the Elite Elight matchup with a stifling defense that led to a 33-point win. Hines-Allen contributed 17 points in the win (Durr had 24) and is the third player in program history to have 2,000 points in her career. It is the Cardinals' third trip to the Final Four in program history (first since 2013) and they hope to ride their frenetic pace and, at times, suffocating defense to a title berth.
Connecticut vs. Notre Dame, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2
UConn is, again, the best team in college basketball. The majority of its roster from last season’s shocking Final Four loss to Mississippi State returned, and it has only gotten better. The Huskies are the No. 1 team in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, shooting efficiency, opponent shooting efficiency, foul rate and margin of victory per possession. Both senior Gabby Williams and junior Katie Lou Samuelson are finalists for the Naismith Award. After their 111-game winning streak (and four straight national title win streak) was snapped last year, the Huskies have been on a mission to get back to the top of the mountain. They are hoping to earn the program its 12th national title and seventh undefeated season (all other schools in the NCAA have combined for three undefeated seasons).
Even with a narrow 13-point victory over Duke in the Sweet 16, UConn has bested opponents by an average of 38.8 points in the tournament, including a dominating 29-point win over South Carolina in the Elite Eight. Throughout the tournament, Samuelson has controlled all aspects of the team’s offensive game—her 69% shooting percentage inside the three-point arc was the best rate in college basketball during the season—and Williams has again again displayed that she is the most complete, two-way player in the sport. It is the Huskies 11th straight year in which they advanced to the Final Four, and they will be the favorite the rest of the way through their tournament run.
Notre Dame lost four players to ACL tears this season, and yet here they are again, back in the Final Four for the sixth time in the past eight seasons. The Fighting Irish are led by junior Arike Ogunbowale, a first team All-America this season. Ogunbowale averaged 20.7 points per game during the regular season, and even though her usage rate was in the top 10% of the nation—28% of Notre Dame plays ended with a Ogunbowale field-goal attempt, free-throw attempt or turnover—the guard also ranked 22nd in turnover rate, losing the ball on only 7% of her plays.
With Ogunbowale leading the way, the Fighting Irish offense ranked fifth in efficiency, scoring 115 points per 100 possessions, and the offense has been firing on all cylinders in the tournament. Notre Dame has averaged 92.8 points per game in its four tournament contests, out-dueling a red hot Oregon squad in the Elite Eight. There is some history between the two teams as Notre Dame has met UConn 47 times in the two school’s history, with the Irish’s last win coming in 2013 and last tournament victory over the Huskies coming in the 2012 Final Four. With its injury history this season, Notre Dame’s bench is thin—only its five starters played more than 12 minutes in the win over the Ducks—and the Irish will be forced to depend even more on their starting unit if they wish to topple mighty UConn.