Connecticut meets Stanford in the Final Four’s second game of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in Nashville, TN Sunday. The Cardinal advanced last night with a 74-65 win over North Carolina while Connecticut played their way in with a 69-54 victory defeat of Texas A&M Monday night.
UConn enters the game with a record of 38-0 on the season and a winning streak off 44 games dating back to last season when they won their eighth NCAA national title. They are the no. 1 ranked team in NCAA Tournament and this will be their fifteenth Final Four and seventh consecutive time they have come this far in the tourney.
Stanford, who finished the season 29-3 and winner of the Pac 12 Conference, was paced by Chine Ogwumike who led all players with 20 points and ten rebounds Tuesday night. The 6’3 All-American power forward also chipped in an assist, one steal and two blocks. Her teammate, senior forward Mikaela Ruef added 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists in what Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer called “by far her best game ever putting on a Stanford uniform.”
VanDerveer will need similar performances again Sunday against if they are to defeat the UCONN women. Head coach Geno Aurieamma’s team has the best team in the country again and another worthy candidate to the dynasty Auriemma has created.
Texas A&M had little chance coming in to the game but hit six consecutive shots to open the second half and pulled within 40-37 after being down 11 points at the half. That was as close as they would get however as UCONN responded with their own rally, crushing any hope the Aggies had with ten unanswered points. The Huskies never looked back after that. All five Husky starters score in double-figures, including junior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis who put up 17 points and seven rebounds and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Lincoln Region after the game. In addition, senior center Stefanie Dolson contributed 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks, a career high. It was also Dolson’s one-hundred-fifty consecutive start, tying an NCAA record.
After the game, per the tradition of the UCONN women under Auriemma, they did not cut down the nets. That is reserved for NCAA titles only, a not so subtle reminder for the Stanford and the rest of the field left in the NCAA Tournament that their mission is not complete yet.
Certainly The Cardinal is not intimidated by such tactics but it is hard not to take notice. It will be even harder to beat Auriemma’s deep and talented squad. Especially right now. Connecticut is playing their best basketball of the year as no team has come within 11 points of them all season long. They are big, athletic and boast a more depth than any team in the NCAA Tournament field.
Connecticut is a big hurdle for Stanford to climb but an unavoidable one in winning the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Unfortunately for The Cardinal the hurdle will be too big to climb next Sunday night. Connecticut posts another easy victory, 68-58.
Commentary by Mick Varner