Unlike the men's side of the NCAA tournament, where chaos often reigns supreme, the women's side has featured far fewer surprises. That's not necessarily a negative, of course, because now the Final Four is highlighted by some intriguing storylines.
Most prominently, fans are now just one round away from potentially seeing two undefeated teams face off for the national championship. Connecticut (38-0) and Notre Dame (36-0) have been on a collision course since the bracket was revealed, and that hasn't changed.
So let's check out the updated bracket heading into the final two rounds of play. The Final Four will be played on Sunday, and the title game will follow on Tuesday. The bracket is followed by a breakdown of the two players who will lead their respective teams to that final matchup.
Women's Final Four Bracket
|CONN/STAN vs. ND/MARY|
|(1) Notre Dame|
Top Players to Watch
Breanna Stewart (Connecticut)
One year ago, Stewart broke onto the national stage in a major way when she was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. And after helping Connecticut capture the championship as a freshman, she's back and looking to make it two in a row.
The reason the New York native is so dominant is her ability to impact the game in virtually every way possible. On offense, she can make plays in the post, knock down outside shots and find open shooters. Defensively, she helps control the glass, blocks shots and is terrific at jumping into passing lanes.
Despite that outstandingly well-rounded game, the thing that impresses head coach Geno Auriemma the most is how Stewart carries herself. Jere Longman of the New York Times passed along comments from the UConn stalwart about his star:
Today, it's about the show, the posturing. With her, it's all just about let's play. She's not going to do anything to draw attention to herself except to try to get a double-double every night. She's from a different era. She's not that kid that wants everybody to stare, to say, there's Breanna Stewart, let's see her entourage, let's see if she has bodyguards, let's see if somebody has to do her hair, let's see if she's got certain nail polish that's only hers.
It's that demeanor that has allowed her to have so much success early in her college career. Basketball comes first, and it's amazing how much a player with that much talent is able to achieve when performance on the court is the top priority.
The win over Texas A&M in the last round is a perfect example of why Connecticut has been so tough to beat since Stewart arrived. She scored just 13 points, but her contribution in other areas paired with the talent around her is a nightmare matchup.
Jewell Loyd (Notre Dame)
Loyd and the Fighting Irish haven't received nearly as much attention throughout the season as their counterparts from Connecticut have. That has likely served as a motivating factor, as they knew reaching the final would probably mean a meeting with the Huskies.
The talented guard has led the charge with a string of great performances. Perhaps the best came in the Elite Eight against Baylor when she poured in 30 points to go along with five rebounds to push Notre Dame past Odyssey Sims and the Lady Bears.
Like Stewart, Loyd has put together a memorable start to her collegiate career. As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, she set the new mark for an Irish player through her first two seasons, a record that had previously been held by Skylar Diggins:
Loyd, Kayla McBride and Lindsay Allen form a trio capable of challenging Connecticut should these two teams meet in the title game. But it all starts with Loyd leading the offensive charge. That's especially true with Natalie Achonwa out due to a knee injury.
Every championship team needs somebody to lean on in key moments. Loyd has proved capable of handling that role throughout the season, and that's unlikely to change in the Final Four, which should lead to the long-awaited meeting with Connecticut.
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