NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The women's basketball Final Four features
Hall of Fame coaches, star players, fabulous freshmen and of course for
the first time ever -- two undefeated teams.
Welcome to Music City, UConn, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Maryland.
The Huskies have been on season-long quest to repeat and win a record
ninth national championship. While such a talented lineup returning, it
wasn't a huge surprise UConn would have a chance to go unbeaten. The
Irish's undefeated season was more unexpected. Especially with the loss
of guard Skylar Diggins to graduation.
Still, the two teams are on course for an unprecedented national
championship showdown, if they can get by Stanford and Maryland.
There will be a certain familiarity in the two national semifinal
games as both are early season rematches, though the coaches say none
of the teams are the same.
Probably the biggest change is in Notre Dame's lineup; senior
forward Natalie Achonwa suffered a torn ACL in the regional final
victory over Baylor.
The Irish will have had a few days to adjust to the loss of their
leader when they face Maryland on Sunday night. The two teams met in
January and the Irish were comfortably in charge of that game before the
Terps rallied from a 22-point first-half deficit before losing by four.
"That may have been the turning point of the season for (Maryland
freshman) Lexie Brown," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think she's
really come into her own since that game."
UConn had a little easier time with Stanford back in November, cruising to a 19-point win.
Connecticut was victorious despite losing Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
early in the second half to an elbow injury and star sophomore Breanna
Stewart in foul trouble.
Here are five things to look for in the Final Four:
STAR POWER: There is no shortage of star players in the Final Four.
Four of the five first-team All-Americans are still playing. Maryland's
Alyssa Thomas has raised her game in the NCAA tournament while
Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike has carried the Cardinal. UConn's Breanna
Stewart had a record tournament as a freshman last season and has helped
the Huskies win 44-straight games. Notre Dame may have the best
backcourt in the country with Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride. Both will
be depended on to overcome the loss of Achonwa.
CHAMPIONSHIP COACHES: Some of the best coaches in the women's game
will be roaming the sideline. Each of the four have won national
championships with Auriemma leading the way with eight. Auriemma and
Stanford's Tara VanDerveer are Hall of Famers and all four have been
previously honored as AP Coach of the Year.
BACK AGAIN: Reaching the Final Four seems to have become an annual
rite for UConn, Notre Dame and Stanford. The Huskies have been to the
national semifinals seven straight years while the Irish have made four
straight. Stanford had a run of five in a row snapped last season by
Georgia, but the Cardinal are back again for the sixth time in seven
years. Maryland is the newcomer, reaching the Final Four for the first
time since 2006 -- the year they won the national title.
FRESHMEN FOCUS: Lexie Brown has had an impressive tournament. The
Maryland freshman scored 20 points, including hitting nine of 10 free
throws, to get the Terps to the Final Four. She earned All-Regional
honors. Notre Dame first-year player Taya Reimer has also played well,
and will likely get more opportunities with Achonwa sidelined.
Stanford's Lili Thompson is the team's third-leading scorer and is
building a reputation as a fierce defender. She shut down Penn State's
Maggie Lucas in the regional semifinals, then went toe-to-toe with
Diamond DeShields of North Carolina in the regional final.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING: If UConn or Notre Dame does win the title it
will mark the second time ever that all three NCAA divisions had teams
post undefeated records in the same season. Bentley won the Division II
title this season and FDU-Florham was the DIII champ. In 1995,
Connecticut, North Dakota State and Capital were all unbeaten.