From upsets and buzzer-beaters to the emotional moments of victory, the NCAA women’s basketball tournament has continued to deliver fire matchups and electric storylines. Tonight, the stage is set for what should be a historic Final Four showdown in San Antonio.
No.1 seed Stanford will take on No.1 seed South Carolina at 6 p.m. ET, followed by No.1 seed Uconn against No.3 seed Arizona at 9:30 p.m ET.
THE FINAL FOUR ARE SET:
➡️ UConn vs. Arizona
➡️ South Carolina vs. Stanford
Is it Friday yet? pic.twitter.com/2zH0pCv6RL
— WSLAM (@wslam) March 31, 2021
This years Final Four will be led by legendary coaches, many of which are continuing to make history. The UConn Huskies are led by head coach Geno Auriemma, who has led the program to a total of 20 Final Four appearances and 11 National Championships. The Stanford Cardinals, coached by Tara VanDerveer, will be making their 14th Final Four appearance, and if successful, have the chance to win the program’s third National Championship title, the first since 1992.
For the first time, the Final Four will have two Black head coaches, South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and Arizona’s Adia Barnes. This will the Gamecocks’ third Final Four appearance in the past six tournaments, while the Wildcats will be making their first-ever Final Four appearance. Staley and Barnes are also the only former WNBA players to lead a women’s team to the Final Four.
There have been many that paved the way for them, including C. Vivian Stringer—who has led three teams to the Final Four: Cheyney in 1982, Iowa in 1993, and Rutgers in both 2000 and 2007. Carolyn Peck led Purdue to the ‘chip in 1999, making her the first Black woman to win an NCAA championship. Pokey Chatman then led LSU to the Final Four in 2005 and 2006.
“There’s so many Black coaches out there that don’t get opportunities,” Staley said, per ESPN. “Because when ADs don’t see it, they don’t see it. And they’re gonna see it on the biggest stage Friday night.”
“Our history here in women’s basketball is filled with so many Black bodies, for this to be happening in 2021, to me, is long overdue,” she added. “We’re proud, we’re happy. I know my phone is probably full of text messages of Black coaches all across the country just congratulating us on doing it, on being present, being in the moment, being able to take our programs to this place.”
Four legendary programs, full of star power, will faceoff tonight with one goal in mind: the NCAA Championship. To get you ready for it all, here’s a rundown of how each program has performed throughout the tournament:
Coming off both an SEC regular season and tournament title, South Carolina is with no question playing some of their best basketball. Head coach Dawn Staley is leading the Gamecocks to their third Final Four appearance in the past six tournaments.
Staley has established a prominent program at South Carolina and without a doubt have become an elite powerhouse. In the Elite 8 against No.6 seed Texas, South Carolina held Texas to only 34 points, including zero points in the 4th quarter.
— GamecockWBB (@GamecockWBB) March 31, 2021
South Carolina is fueled by 6’5″ junior center Aliyah Boston, who is efficient on both sides of the floor. Coming off winning MVP honors during the SEC Tournament, Boston can finish around the rim and is a game-changer on defense with her ability to block shots and rebound.
The Gamecocks also rely on their quicks guards to set the tempo. Junior Destanni Henderson and sophomore Zia Cooke can both score at a high and consistent level.
Out of the Pac-12, the No.1 seed Stanford is making their 14th Final Four appearance and if successful, have the chance to win the program’s third National Championship title—the first since 1992.
During the Elite 8, Stanford stepped up when it mattered. After trailing by 14 points in the third quarter against Louisville, Stanford made a major comeback and outscored Louisville 52-25 in the second half.
Guard Lexi Hull, who scored a team-high 21 points and 9 rebounds, along with Kiana Williams, who poured in 14 points and dished out 5 assists, both led the charge for Stanford in the comeback victory. Haley Jones also contributed offensively and finished with 10 points.
The Cardinals also are equipped with forwards who can deliver on both ends of the floor, such as versatile big Ashten Prechtel, high-flying forward Fran Belibi, and shot-blocker Cameron Brinks.
The Cardinals have a challenge ahead of them against the Gamecocks, who will surely bring their offensive firepower.
University of Connecticut
Geno Auriemma and the Huskies are no strangers to being one of the last four teams standing. They are currently embarking on their 13th consecutive appearance in the Final Four.
As they look to win their first title since 2016, the Huskies are led by freshman sensation Paige Bueckers—who has been making headlines all season long with her fascinating playmaking ability.
Bueckers has been a star from the moment she stepped foot on campus. She’s caught the eyes of basketball fans around the country, and her numbers prove the hype: Bueckers is averaging 20.1 points, 5.9 assists, and 4.8 rebounds.
On Wednesday, the star guard became the first freshman to win AP National Player of the Year.
Paige Bueckers is the 2021 AP National Player of the Year.
She is the first freshman to ever win the award. pic.twitter.com/HGPcJjmsML
— WSLAM (@wslam) March 31, 2021
Bueckers, along with Christyn Williams and Evina Westbrook, shined against No.5 seed Iowa in the Sweet 16 and brought that fire into the Elite 8. All three players stuffed up the stat sheet, helping will the team into the Elite 8 for a highly anticipated matchup against the No.2 seed Baylor.
The UConn-Baylor matchup didn’t disappoint, either. The Huskies went on an electric 19-0 run in the fourth quarter, led by Bueckers—who scored ten of those points. They ended up defeating the Bears, 69-67, and Bueckers finished with 28 points.
Paige Bueckers in TAKEOVER MODE.
— WSLAM (@wslam) March 30, 2021
In what has been deemed one of the most dramatic games of the tournament thus far—thanks in part to a controversial no-foul call that caused even LeBron James to weigh in—the Huskies were clutch and stepped up when the moment mattered most.
This stacked roster has a chance to carry the torch and write their name in UConn’s history books. The last time the Huskies competed in the Final Four was in 2019 when they lost to Notre Dame.
You could say this Arizona team is the outlier among the other teams, but make no mistake—they’re just as much of a powerhouse as their opponents.
Pac-12 Player of the Year and senior guard Aari McDonald has been outstanding on both ends of the court throughout the tournament. She dropped an impressive 64 combined points in wins over Texas A&M and Indiana.
Aari is just LIKE THAT. pic.twitter.com/y6dDAo6nCt
— WSLAM (@wslam) March 30, 2021
The matchup between McDonald and Bueckers is sure to be a must-see. When asked about the matchup, McDonald—who was named the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac 12—says she is looking forward to the opportunity:
“I’m very excited for this matchup,” McDonald says, per SB Nation. “I think I’ve called this since we got here and I’ve been telling my teammates we match up well with them. But she’s a talented player. I’ll give her that. But I’m gonna make it hard for her to score and I’m really excited to defend her.”
The Wildcats are only moments away from playing in their first-ever Final Four—and if they can manage to defeat the Huskies, they will continue to make history as their look to lift up the Championship trophy for the first time.
Let the madness begin.
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