With all eight of the top seeds advancing to the Elite Eight, the potential for narratives was endless going into Sunday’s games. Would Geno Auriemma be denied his 12th consecutive Final Four by Asia Durr and the Cardinals or would it be Nite Nite for Louisville after an incredible season? And that was just for the first game of the day.
The second pitted Triple Double Queen Sabrina Ionescu and the Ducks against the inside dominance of Teaira McCowan and No. 1 seed Mississippi State looking to avoid the ghosts of tournament’s past.
And after 80 minutes of compelling back and fourth action, No. 2 seeds UConn and Oregon are headed to Tampa after incredible games from Katie Lou Samuelson and Ionescu.
Starting with the early game, it was always going to be interesting seeing how UConn dealt with Louisville. Napheesa Collier has been on a rampage since being left off the finalist list for the Naismith trophy, and with Samuelson entered the tournament nursing a back injury that kept her out of the AAC tournament, much of the offensive production was thought to be on Collier’s shoulders if the Huskies wanted to advance.
Apparently nobody told Samuelson.
After all the headlines and talk of her being less than 100%, Samuelson was unconscious in her 32 minutes against the Cardinals, going 7-of-12 from three and torching anyone who made the mistake of giving her too much space. Her 29 points set Twitter alight and showed exactly what can happen when the Huskies are fit and firing.
UConn as a whole could hardly miss from three, shooting 54% on 26 attempts. Freshman Christyn Williams—who has quietly been having a very good tournament—stepped up in a big way as well, going off for 16 points and coming up in the clutch right when her team needed her.
For Durr and the Cardinals, this is a bittersweet way to end their season. Louisville’s constant attempts to cut the deficit down were always matched with a big play by one of UConn’s starters and ultimately that proved to be the difference. As much as we made about Auriemma’s aversion to going to the bench, he still has one of the most devastating starting fives in college basketball. And as good as Sam Fuehring, Arica Carter and Jazmine Jones are, they simply couldn’t match the production of the Huskies.
Now the Huskies face a potential Final Four matchup with the Fighting Irish in Tampa, and after what happened earlier this season in South Bend, expect a wildly entertaining game if Notre Dame can beat Stanford on Monday.
Speaking of wildly entertaining games, can we watch Sabrina Ionescu do her thing every day? She’s truly spellbinding when she’s in a zone, as she was against Mississippi State, and there wasn’t a whole lot the Bulldogs could do to stop her.
If there’s a lasting image of Ionescu from this game, surely it’s her face after hitting a stepback dagger to extend the Ducks lead in the final minute and change of the game.
Ionescu put on a clinic, holding off multiple Mississippi State runs off by herself with smart passing and by drilling shot after shot to keep a hold on Oregon’s slender lead.
But it wasn’t just the Ionescu Show on Sunday. Satou Sabally stepped up in a huge way as well, scoring 22 points and seemingly always being in the right place at the right time to get a bucket. Regardless of whether Iowa or Baylor wins Monday, the Ducks will need production like that from Sabally and Ruthy Hebard—who did an admirable job on McCowan for much of the game—if they are to keep up with the inside presence of either Megan Gustafson or Lauren Cox and Kalani Brown.
You do feel for Vic Schaefer and the Bulldogs who, after two years of heartbreakers in the national title game, were eliminated once again. But Schaefer has truly built something great in Starkville, and after winning the program’s first SEC tournament title this season, expect more good things from the Bulldogs going forward.
With games in Tampa right around the corner, will Monday see the No. 1 seeds prevail or will we get another day of upsets? Either way, this is shaping up to be another outstanding Final Four full of star power after last year’s incredible showing.