the ncaa women’s final four will take place this weekend at the target center in downtown minneapolis with four of the best teams in the country. The No. 1 team to make it to the tournament, the South Carolina Gamecocks, looked him up on the court when they beat the Louisville Cardinals 72-59 in the first of two semifinals. The second was also good as the No.2 seed Uconn Huskies, led by Hopkins native Paige Bueckers, defeated No.1 seed and defending champion Stanford Cardinal 63-58 to advance to their 12th ncaa championship game.
south carolina came out strong from the opening shot as they used excellent shooting and rebounding, plus a cool early shooting performance from louisville to jump out to an 11-2 lead. louisville would start a slow comeback and cut the gamecock’s lead to seven: 17-10 late in the first quarter.
Whatever made louisville sick early in the game, it was quickly resolved in the second. After a quick basket from South Carolina, Louisville would go on a 12-0 run to take the lead with a 22-19 lead thanks to Emily Engstler’s six points on the streak. it was a racing game as the Gamecocks went on a 9-0 run to retake an 8-point lead before the Cardinals once again cut the lead to just two with 1:43 left in the half. South Carolina would score the last four points of the quarter and take a 34-28 lead at the half.
The third room is where the gamecocks walked away. Aliyah Boston took control for USC helping stretch Gamecock to 15 points before Louisville cut it to six late in the quarter. But Boston would not refuse, scoring a bucket and adding the foul with 4 seconds remaining to put the lead back to nine and give Louisville’s Engstler their fourth foul.
The fourth quarter went back and forth until Engstler fouled out with 4:56 left in the game. The Cardinals just didn’t have a consistent threat after that and South Carolina pulled away to win comfortably by 13 points 72-59. boston, named ncaa player of the year earlier this week, showed it when she nearly went 20-20 by scoring 23 points and recording 18 rebounds. Gamecock’s starting five were all in double figures with Brea Beal next in line with 12 points.
engstler led the way for louisville with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Olivia Cochran and Kianna Smith each added 14 in the loss. Hailey Van Kith, who had scored 20 or more points in every NCAA Cardinals game thus far, finished with 9 points on just 4-of-11 shooting.
south carolina will play for its second ncaa championship in school history after winning in 2017.
in the second semifinal between uconn and stanford it was a slow defensive affair to begin with. in the media timeout midway through the quarter, the Huskies held just a 4-2 lead over the Cardinal. Teams would gradually shoot better as the quarter progressed, but it was still lackluster with the Huskies shooting just 33% for the quarter and Stanford 25%. Neither team hit a 3-pointer in the opening stanza, but behind four points from Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd each, the Huskies led 12-9 after the first ten minutes.
The second quarter started like the first, but the offense finally came. Uconn started the game 0-4 from beyond the arc, but Evina Westbrook came alive hitting three in a row to take Uconn’s lead to six at one point. Stanford continued to hit the ball inside to Cameron Brink, who got a pair of Huskies into foul trouble while scoring 8 points. The Cardinal eventually scored his first three of the game on a shot by Hannah Jump with about 2 minutes remaining in the fourth amid a 7-0 run that pushed the Cardinal back into the lead. uconn regained the lead on a late basket by nika muhl, but missed her free throw that would have extended the lead to two. instead, the Huskies headed to the locker room with a 27-26 halftime lead. westbrook led all scorers with 9 points while bueckers added 8 for uconn. stanford was led by brink with 8 of her own along with 8 from hailey jones.
The third trimester was similar to the first. both teams couldn’t buy a bucket for the first five minutes, and then the game opened up once again. Stanford scored 20 points in the paint in the first half, but the Huskies successfully kept them out of the paint on their first 12 shots in the third quarter. Brink finally made a layup and seemed to regain the Cardinal’s lead. but the huskies returned. They scored five straight points, including a big three from Christin Williams, and after one last rim layup, the Huskies led 39-37 after three quarters.
the last 10 minutes would be tense. uconn went up 5 after a three-point play by olivia nelson-ododa at 42-37 just under a minute into the period. After exchanging baskets, Brink was called for an illegal screen on Bueckers and then again for a defensive foul on the block, giving her four fouls with 7:35 left. Nelson-Ododa made both free throws to give Uconn their biggest lead of the game at 47-39. Cardinal defense was intense and forced multiple Huskies turnovers, including three by Bueckers at 1:35. but they couldn’t buy a basket at the other end. Bueckers retaliated with a steal and layup once again putting the Huskies up 8 with 5;39 left. she sat out at the next whistle and seemed to be favoring her surgically repaired leg that cost her most of the season,
a pull-up by hannah jump cut the lead to five again with 3:35 remaining in the fourth and bueckers was back in the game. He definitely wasn’t 100% and after a two-jump collision, he took a while to get up and ready for action. His jump shot as the shot clock expired missed, but after a great offensive rebound from Aaliyah Edwards, he was fouled and made both free throws to extend the lead to 8 once again. Stanford cut the lead to six on a layup from Jones, and then Uconn committed his 17th turnover of the game by receiving the ball. Jones then hit a pair of free throws to make it 52-48 with 1:15 left.
both teams were in the double bonus after that with the cardinal foul immediately to try to extend the game. A couple of Huskies free throws and then a charge on Jones put all the momentum back in the Huskies’ drive. Stanford got a quick steal and a 3-pointer, but the Huskies broke the cardinal pressure of an easy layup and made nearly all of their free throws down the stretch.
once again the cardinal did not give up. an ashton prechtel three cut the lead to 4 with 34 seconds remaining, and then uconn, instead of slowing the ball down, pushed for what should have been an easy layup, but blasted it out of bounds for his 19th volume game business with 27.1 seconds remaining. . Jones hit a jumper with 23 seconds remaining to cut the lead to two, the smallest since the third quarter. Fudd would be fouled and make a pair of free throws to push the lead to four with 22.5 left. Once again, Stanford hit back with a layup on the rim with 18.4 left to cut the lead to two and called a timeout to set up the pressure on him. Stanford struggled to foul a burly player after bounds and seven precious seconds ticked off the clock. Williams would make both free throws and again increase the lead to four with 11 seconds remaining. Prechtel missed a desperate 3-pointer on his possession out of timeout and after one more free throw from Edwards, the game was frozen. uconn would win 63-58 and return to the ncaa championship game once again and guarantee that a cardinal repeat would not be in the cards. the huskies went 17-19 from the sidelines in the fourth quarter to freeze the game.
stanford shot a measly 35% for the game, including just 4-for-23 from three and 8-for-13 from the free throw line. Bueckers would lead the Huskies with 14 points and Westbrook would add 12 more. stanford was led by jones who had 20.
uconn will play his 12th championship game on Sunday and has a perfect 11-0 record in previous ones. his most recent title came in 2016. his first title in his incredible career came in 1995, right here in the middle of destiny.
There should be a great atmosphere on Sunday night with two great teams facing off for an ncaa championship.