NCAA women’s tournament: UConn is the team to beat again
STATE OF THE NO. 1
Let’s be blunt: No one in this region has any chance of beating UConn. The Huskies are too deep, possess too much firepower and have not lost in 69 games, the third-longest streak in team and NCAA women’s Division I history. For much of the season, UConn played primarily through three players: player of the year Breanna Stewart, All-America point guard Moriah Jefferson and forward Morgan Tuck. But a fourth scorer has emerged over the last few weeks in freshman Katie Lou Samuelson, who scored 46 points in the American Atlantic tournament and hit 17 of her 28 shots from the floor. At 6'4" with a beautiful outside stroke, Samuelson is starting to fulfill her promise as the nation’s top incoming recruit. If UConn’s offense isn’t flowing, the defense never takes a night off. The Huskies are fourth nationally in defensive field goal percentage—teams are shooting just 33% from the field against them—and they lead the nation in scoring defense at 47.9 points per game. Pencil them in for Indy.
No. 6 South Florida or No. 3 UCLA over Texas (2)
Texas is due to get picked off before the regional final—the Longhorns could use another scorer and another year of seasoning—and South Florida and UCLA have the roster composition to win that game.
The Bulls open with a very tough Colorado State (31–1) team, and could also face a very underrated UCLA squad, but they’ve really competed well this year against quality teams, including a three-point loss to Baylor in November. Senior guard Courtney Williams is one of the nation’s most prolific scorers (22.1 points per game) and the Bulls will be helped by the return of three-point specialist Kitija Laksa, a 6-foot freshman forward from Latvia, who missed the final two weeks with an ankle sprain. Coach Jose Fernandez has built a nice program in Tampa and this could be the year his team sees the Elite Eight.
PLAYER TO WATCH
All eyes will understandably be on UConn senior forward Stewart, the reigning player of the year and the three-time most outstanding player of the Final Four, but let’s give some love to teammate Jefferson, the brilliant 5'7" senior point guard who is shooting 55.1% from the field (pretty high for a guard). The point guard ranks ninth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.74) and is arguably the best on-ball defender among all college players. Like Stewart, Jefferson has the opportunity to win four consecutive national titles. She’s had a brilliant college career.