ND Women’s Basketball
Final Four: Breaking Down Each Team
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, April 3, 2014
Oklahoma State point guard Tiffany Bias scored 17 points on the Irish in the Sweet 16. Odyssey Sims racked up 33 for Baylor in the Elite Eight. The stars may shine against the Irish, but so far it has been the triple-threat from Kayla McBride, Natalie Achonwa and Jewell Loyd that has won out in the end. The loss of Achonwa is devastating, but as we learned when McBride sat out most of the first half against Baylor with two fouls, the Irish can survive when one of their three top scorers is out of commission.
But the fate of this team does not rest on McBride and Loyd alone. Irish coach Muffet McGraw has called Ariel Braker the team’s “unsung hero,” and the senior forward came up big against Baylor, scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds and four steals. Freshman guard Lindsay Allen has remained remarkably controlled and poised even when opponents targeted her for her inexperience. And when sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey gets hot, she can quickly bury the opponent from beyond the arc.
It’s hard to handle an opponent’s star player; it’s harder still to shut down multiple threats. A big night from Loyd or McBride would be great for the Irish, but Notre Dame’s best chance for a second national championship depends largely on the production of Notre Dame’s superior role players.
Since No. 11 Maryland fell to No. 12 North Carolina in the first round of the ACC championships, the Terrapins have gone on to claim four straight victories in the NCAA tournament to advance to the Final Four. To reach the semifinal round, Maryland upset No. 3 Tennessee, 73-62, in the Sweet 16 on Sunday and surprised No. 4 Louisville, 76-73, in the Elite Eight on Tuesday at the Cardinals’ home court.
This season, Maryland (28-6, 12-4 ACC) is eighth in the NCAA in scoring, averaging 82.4 points per game, while the team is fourth in the NCAA with an average scoring margin of 20.5 points per game. Despite the prolific offense, the Terps struggle from behind the arc, shooting just 36.2 percent from 3-point range. Rather, Maryland wins the battle down low and with strong passing, as the Terps are third in the NCAA in rebounding margin (11.5 rebounds per game) and fifth in the NCAA in assists (18.9 assists per game).
Senior forward Alyssa Thomas has paced Maryland so far this season, leading the team with averages of 19.1 points per game, 11.0 rebounds per game and 4.2 assists per game. In her four-year career with Maryland, the senior has collected 62 double-doubles and six triple-doubles. After Thomas, the Terps do not have a player scoring in the double-digits.
The Associated Press named Thomas a first-team All-American on Tuesday, after she earned the same recognition as a sophomore and second-team honors as a junior. Additionally, the forward was recognized as a USBWA All-American for the third straight year, while also claiming her third consecutive ACC Player of the Year award. Thomas is only the second player in ACC history to earn the honor three times.
This will be Maryland’s 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance and the 10th under Terps coach Brenda Frese. In her 12 years leading Maryland, Frese has led the team to the Sweet 16 five times, the Elite Eight four times and now two Final Fours. Frese also won the NCAA Championship with Maryland in 2006.
The nation’s other undefeated team landed in the Final Four for the seventh straight year after beating Texas A&M, 69-54, on Monday.
The Huskies (38-0, 18-0 AAC) head to Nashville to play Stanford on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. for a berth in the championship game.
In the victory over the Aggies (27-9, 13-3 SEC), junior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led the way for Connecticut with 17 points and earned honors as the most outstanding player in the Lincoln region. Mosqueda-Lewis, a 42-percent three-point shooter, averages 13.1 points per game, third-best for the Huskies on the season.
Sophomore forward Breanna Stewart (19.4 points per game) and senior guard Bria Hartley (13.1 points per game) are the No. 1 and No. 2 scorers for Connecticut this year. Senior center Stefanie Dolson and sophomore guard Moriah Jefferson round out a well-balanced top five, which includes two guards, two forwards and one center.
As a team, the Huskies average 82.3 points per game and allow only 47.3 to opponents for a plus-35 scoring margin.
Connecticut also benefits from the experience of head coach Geno Auriemma, who has been at the helm of the Huskies program for 28 years. Auriemma has taken a team to the Final Four in 14 of those seasons.
No. 6 Stanford returns to the Final Four for the sixth time in the past seven years, seeking its first title since 1992.
The Cardinal (33-3, 17-1 Pac 12) advanced to Nashville by successfully defending their home court and staving off upset-minded Penn State and North Carolina, who were seeded 14th and 12th, respectively.
Standing in their way is top-ranked Connecticut, who the Cardinal have already played earlier this season, on the road Nov. 11. In Storrs, Conn., the Cardinal fell 76-57 to the Huskies and responded by winning their next 21 games in a row. Among those wins, Stanford upset then-No. 3 Tennessee at home and defeated conference foe and then-No. 17 Colorado on the road.
The Cardinal are led by senior forward Chiney Ogwumike, a two-time All-American and a national player of the year candidate. In the regional final, Ogwumike scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and was aided by her fellow senior forward Mikaela Ruef, who tallied 17 points and earned regional MVP honors after putting up 11 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals during the Cardinal’s 82-57 win over Penn State in the Sweet 16.
At the helm of the Stanford program, coach Tara VanDerveer has been inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and guides a program that ranks eighth in scoring margin and field-goal percentage and 12th in field-goal percentage defense.
Stanford and Connecticut have played each other on the final weekend of the season before, in 2010. In the national championship game that year, the Huskies defeated the Cardinal, 53-47.