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Women’s Final Four 2022 – First look at the four teams heading to Minneapolis

The 2022 Women’s Final Four is set. Three No. 1 seeds head to Minneapolis. And after a double-overtime thriller in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the second-seeded UConn Huskies will join the South Carolina Gamecocks, Stanford Cardinal and Louisville Cardinals in the national semifinals.

The Huskies, who knocked out the top-seeded NC State Wolfpack on Monday, clinched their ticket to a 14th straight Final Four. while defending national champion Stanford picked up a victory over the Texas Longhorns on Monday as well, Louisville pulled away from the Michigan Wolverines to make their first Final Four since 2018.

Each team brings a lot of talent and intriguing stories to the table. South Carolina is making its fourth appearance in seven years. As the top-ranked team in the wire-to-wire AP, the Gamecocks were favorites to lift the trophy for much of the season. Louisville is the 1 seed who comes off as a brave underdog. Stanford dominated the tournament and brings enormous depth. UConn is the team that has historically entered the playoffs as a favorite, but this season was a different story.

Who will lift the trophy is anyone’s guess, but the matchups look exquisite.

The Final Four peaks Friday, with South Carolina taking on Louisville (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) and Stanford taking on UConn (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Louisville Cardinals

2021-22 review: 29-4
Final Four appearances: 4
Championships: 0

If a team can possibly tell an underdog story from a No. 1 seed, the Cardinals certainly have. They used the ‘nobody talks about us’ narrative as motivation for the first two weeks of the tournament. should not stop.

With UConn making it to its 14th consecutive Final Four, Stanford as defending champions and South Carolina as season favorites, much of the attention heading into the Final Four is likely to go away. headlining Friday night.

If they do, the defense will be the driving force, as they have all season. On Monday, Michigan looked powerless at times against Louisville’s defense in the Wichita Regional Finals. The Wolverines repeatedly watched a diminishing shot clock and scored just one point in the game’s final 6:40.

Louisville has allowed more than 70 runs only twice all season. And that’s why coach Jeff Walz preached that if his offense can get to 70, he’s giving his team a chance. Considering the Cardinals have only scored that many points once in the tournament, that makes their run even more impressive. But Louisville will need someone other than Hailey Van Lith to provide a consistent offense. Van Lith, who struggled in the first half of the season, is now a star. She became the first Louisville player to score at least 20 points in four straight NCAA Tournament games with her 22 in the Elite Eight. Chelsie Hall and Kianna Smith both hit double digits against Wolverines, which particularly helped in the first half. If Emily Engstler, who quarterbacks the defense and does just about everything else (16 rebounds, six steals, four assists but only five points against Michigan), can find her shot, getting to 70 becomes a reality again.

However, the task becomes even more difficult with the best defense in the country in South Carolina. If the underdog role has worked so far, Louisville should take advantage of it again. South Carolina will be favored and attract more attention. Charlie Cream

Following: vs. South Carolina (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

South Carolina Gamecocks
2021-22 review: 33-2
Final Four appearances: 4
Championships: 1 (2017)

South Carolina is back in the Final Four, the school’s second straight appearance and fourth under coach Dawn Staley. semi-finals. Throughout this year’s tournament, questions surrounding South Carolina have focused on the team’s offense. The Gamecocks are averaging 69.3 points in their four March Madness games, 1.6 shy of their season average. South Carolina’s regular-season average of 70.8 points 58th in Division I, and since 2000, no national champion has ranked outside the top 25 in scoring, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

If South Carolina wants to reverse this trend, it will be on the strength of its defense. In the second round, the Gamecocks scored just 49 points, but they limited Miami to 33. And South Carolina can be just as devastating on the boards. Against Creighton in the Elite Eight, South Carolina landed 20 more boards than the Bluejays, and that translated to 15 second-chance points to Creighton’s four.

Ultimately, however, National Player of the Year Aliyah Boston’s play will dictate South Carolina’s prospects. When Boston gets hard-hitting touches, it changes the game for South Carolina offensively, and it has a huge impact defensively, too. That’s why she’s the only player on the shortlist for both National Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. will likely make the difference to the Gamecocks’ championship prospects.

Sometimes the ability to win games in any form is what makes a champion. And South Carolina – the No. 1 wire-to-wire AP team this season – has proven it can win almost any way necessary. — Katie Barnes

Following: vs. Louisville (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Cardinal of Stanford
2021-22 review: 32-3
Final Four appearances: 15
Championships: 3 (1990, 1992, 2021)

Cameron Brink isn’t the reason Stanford won the national championship last year. It could be this year. Brink changes who the Cardinal is from game to game, even quarter to quarter.

A good defensive team becomes great. Cross-training becomes impossible to match. That’s why coach Tara VanDerveer manages Brink and his foul propensity with kid gloves. The coach needs his second 6-foot-4 down at the most important time.

Sunday’s Spokane Regional Final had a lot going for it, and Brink was involved in most of it. After fighting his way to a halftime lead – Brink was on the bench for most of the second quarter with two fouls – the Cardinal broke to start the third, led by Brink. His quick five points prompted Stanford to regain command. A few minutes later, when Texas’ dribbling became too much for the Cardinal defense to handle, VanDerveer went to a rarely used area and invited the Longhorns to throw the ball into the post. She wanted Lauren Ebo and Aaliyah Moore of the Longhorns to go one-on-one with Brink. They could not. Three Brink blocks later and Texas had to switch to a different plan. Brink single-handedly forced the Longhorns to a new one She scored her 10 points in the third and blocked three of her six shots as Stanford took a five-point lead in the final 10 minutes.

Brink is Stanford’s leading scorer and rebounder and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, but she’s mostly the X-factor of all X-factors. On most nights, she’s not even the Cardinal’s best player. , but rather this secret sauce that VanDerveer uses to prepare the meal. just right and pray that trouble doesn’t spoil. According to Her Hoops stats, Brink is third in the nation in win share per 40 minutes. The fact that Brink is 23rd in win share overall wins underscores how important it is for her to be on the court.

Anna Wilson and Lexie Hull can be more defensively aggressive when Brink is behind them, and defense is really what turned an early season disappointment into a 23-game winning streak. Brink gives Haley Jones an equally unique player – a point guard who averaged 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists and was last season’s most outstanding player in the Final Four – the perfect landing spot for her remarkable passing skills.

VanDerveer usually handles Brink’s foul issues or potential with flying colors. In the end, there’s not much a coach can do. It’s up to Brink to stay on the field. If she does, Brink will be the toughest one-on-one. clash – with the exception of Boston in South Carolina – at either end of the field in Minneapolis, and Stanford will be in prime position for a second consecutive championship. Cream

Following: vs. UConn (Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

UConn Huskies
2021-22 review: 29-5
Final Four appearances: twenty one
Championships: 11 (1995, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)

UConn clinched their ticket to a 14th straight Final Four with a thrilling double-overtime win over NC State 91-87. If there’s one word that describes the Huskies’ season, it’s resilience. Facing a combination of injuries and illnesses affecting many of its key players, this UConn squad is a far cry from those that have walked the Big East without playing a tight game. The question is whether that resilience will be enough to take the Huskies to their first league game since 2016.

Leading the Huskies is second-year guard Paige Bueckers. After missing 19 games with a broken tibial plateau and torn meniscus, Bueckers returned to form against NC State with 27 points. She is the engine of UConn. But the Huskies also saw key contributions from freshman Azzi Fudd and senior Christyn Williams. While their offense mostly clicked against the Wolfpack, there were places where the Huskies went back to “Paige watching,” this which encloses them.

UConn will also likely be without a baseman moving forward as Dorka Juhasz left the Elite Eight game in the second quarter with a wrist injury. Her recovery schedule is unknown, but if she is unavailable for the Final Four, UConn will miss a key contender who helps the Huskies stretch the ground in a way that Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa don’t. Juhasz’s absence will no doubt make things harder for UConn, but the Huskies have fought through tough situations all season.

Unlike last season, when the Huskies were favored to advance to the championship game, UConn is a bit of an underdog this year. It’s an unusual feeling in a familiar place for this program. — Barnes

Following: vs. Stanford (Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

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