Don't plan the parade route through Storrs just yet. A trio of UConn's most familiar foes have the talent and the experience to prevent the Huskies from winning yet another championship
LET'S GET the obvious out of the way: If the Huskies play their A game at the Final Four—UConn has advanced to the national semifinals every year since 2008, and you can bet a case of Geno Auriemma's signature Pinot Grigio that the streak will continue—they will cruise to a 10th national title in Tampa. At 32--1 they are the most complete team in women's college basketball, leading the country in offense (89.7 points per game), scoring defense (47.7), field goal percentage (54.2) and field goal percentage defense (an absurdly low 30.1, or 3.2 better than second-place Princeton). They start three of the nation's 10 best players in junior forward Breanna Stewart, senior wing Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and junior point guard Moriah Jefferson. No less than the Kentucky men, Connecticut is the prohibitive favorite. But these three teams have the best mix of talent to be able to topple Connecticut, and not one of them are ready to cede the title just yet. (The brackets, which are on SI.com, were announced after SI went to press.)
• NOTRE DAME (31--2): The Irish have the best template to deny UConn back-to-back-to-back titles. First, no program is more familiar with the Huskies: The two teams have met 14 times over the past five seasons (including UConn's 76--58 win on Dec. 6 in South Bend), and each has won seven times. Second, the Irish can score: They are the second-best shooting team in the country, at 49.8%, and the fourth-highest scoring (81.2 points per game). In addition to spectacular junior guard Jewell Loyd, Notre Dame will have 6'3" forward Brianna Turner, the ACC's freshman of the year, who missed the game against the Huskies because of a separated right shoulder. And finally, the Irish have players with high basketball IQs and a savvy coach in Muffet McGraw. In UConn's lone defeat this season—an 88--86 overtime loss at Stanford on Nov. 17—the Cardinal executed a cunning game plan in which they doubled Stewart each time she touched the ball. "We studied what moves they like to do," says Stanford's Tara VanDerveer, who is also the only coach to have beaten Auriemma since Notre Dame did so 80 games ago. "You need a team that absorbs a scouting report very well."
• SOUTH CAROLINA (30--2): Though the Gamecocks lost 87--62 at UConn on Feb. 9, they held a three-point lead 7½ minutes in before the Huskies took over. Attacking in transition is one way to beat UConn, and South Carolina has the ideal attacking point guard in junior All-America Tiffany Mitchell. A deep frontcourt made up of 6'5" freshman forward A'ja Wilson, 6'4" sophomore center Alaina Coates and 6-foot senior forward Aleighsa Welch can also be counted on for buckets in the half-court.
March 23, 2015
• BAYLOR (30--3): The Bears are balanced: They are fourth in the nation in shooting (48.1%) and ninth in field goal percentage defense (34.7). They have a Hall of Fame coach in Kim Mulkey, the most efficient scorer in the country in 5'11" sophomore forward Nina Davis and a point guard in junior Niya Johnson who leads the nation in assists (8.6 per game)—not to mention a championship pedigree.