Nashville plays host the Women’s Final Four this Sunday with all games airing on ESPN. Next year’s it will be Tampa hosting the Women’s Final Four and National Championship Game. This time around there is an impressive group that will be in Music City.
No.1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Maryland at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by No. 1 seed Connecticut vs. No. 2 Stanford at 8:30 p.m. The National Championship game will air Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., with all games broadcast on ESPN.
Doris Burke, Kara Lawson and Rebecca Lobo – top analysts on ESPN’s season-long women’s basketball coverage – offered insight and analysis on the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four matchups.
Keys to Semifinal Game 1
“Brenda Frese’s recruitment to and emphasis on winning the rebounding battle is impressive. She is a passionate, energetic coach who has at her disposal one of the nation’s best players in Alyssa Thomas. The All-American is a powerful left-handed driver who is amongst the most versatile in the country. With the dynamic freshman point guard Lexi Brown and the depth Maryland brings to the table, the Terps can wear opponents down in transition and on the glass.
Muffet McGraw has led the Fighting Irish to their fourth straight Final Four and into the strata of a consistent national championship threat – a rare feat in the sport. Jewell Loyd is as dynamic an athlete and as talented and dangerous as a basketball player can be. The Irish need Kayla McBride to be as efficient as she is dangerous and must find a way to make up for the leadership, toughness and productivity of injured Natalie Achonwa.”
Keys to Semifinal Game 2
“Stanford has always run quality offense and disciplined, well-thought out scouting of defenses. Chiney Ogwumike must be accounted for in transition, the half court and certainly on the offensive glass. Mikaela Ruef operates well in tandem with Ogwumike, and Amber Orrange must impose her will as a threat on offense.
Connecticut requires an opponent to play a near perfect defensive game. The Huskies have proved through the first two weekends, and in fact all season, that they can win without shooting it to the best of their abilities. What allows this to occur, is they are consistently one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Huskies are excellent at taking away your strength and making you beat them in another way. Breanna Stewart is the most dangerous chess piece on the board, and when Geno Auriemma has that, it typically leads to a national title.”
Top Players to Watch
“Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas and Notre Dame’s Jewell Lloyd are the standout players in this first matchup.”
Thoughts on No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Maryland
“This is an intriguing matchup because of all talk of Natalie Achonwa and the lack of her presence for Notre Dame on the court this weekend. The loss of her is so fresh, no one is sure how the Irish will respond and how quickly they can make up for the loss of everything she brings. The regular-season meeting was a tale of two halves. Maryland had no answer for Lloyd, and not many teams in country do. She had 31 in that game and 30 against Baylor in the Elite Eight. This is a good matchup for Lloyd individually and she is playing her best basketball right now. The second half of the game, Notre Dame didn’t have an answer for Thomas. She was overwhelming with her power and rebounding, and Achonwa had trouble guarding her.
I don’t feel the tale of two halves will be as dramatic in this game, but those two matchups are issues for both sides. Rebounding is a big issue for Notre Dame with the loss of Achonwa and the size of Maryland, but the Irish have the advantage with Kayla McBride and Lloyd.”
Top Players to Watch
“Chiney Ogwumike is the star for Stanford, and you won’t want to miss her final weekend as a collegiate athlete. Breanna Stewart is the matchup nightmare for UConn opponents.”
Thoughts on the No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 2 Stanford matchup
“Connecticut and Stanford are much different teams than the ones we saw match up back in November. Stanford has settled on a rotation that includes Lili Thompson, a nice slasher and 3-point shooter, who complements Amber Orrange in the backcourt and Bonnie Samuelson, a sharpshooter from three. Ogwumike continues to put up monster numbers even with constant double and triple teams.
UConn has been dominant all season with Stefanie Dolson as the constant inside. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, always a fantastic 3-point shooter, has emerged as a complete player in the tournament. Bria Hartley and Moriah Jefferson remain steady and Stewart shows flashes of brilliance in each game. If UConn is clicking on all cylinders, they won’t be beaten.”