Unlike the men's NCAA tournament, the women's bracket has featured mostly top-five seeds advancing. Two No. 1 seeds still remain while the other two teams are a No. 2 and 4 seed.
Both Connecticut and Notre Dame come into the Final Four undefeated, but the Irish come in with much more questions than the Huskies.
As for the other two teams in the national semifinals, both No. 2 Stanford and No. 4 Maryland have reached the title game in recent years. The Terrapins won it all in 2006, and the Cardinal made it to the finals in 2008 and 2010 but finished as the runner-up both times.
With a chance for any of the last remaining teams to claim the title after dominant seasons, this year's Final Four has plenty of intrigue. Before the women tip off on Sunday night, here's a look at the full schedule and predictions for the final contests of the season.
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|April 6||No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Maryland||6:30 p.m.||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|April 6||No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 2 Stanford||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|April 8||TBA vs. TBA||TBA||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
Women's NCAA Predictions
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Maryland
So we meet again.
While Notre Dame has been one of the best programs in women's college basketball for several years, the Irish made the switch to the dominant ACC this season.
So, the Irish would take a step back, right? Wrong. Muffet McGraw navigated her team through arguably the toughest conference in the country unscathed and enters the Final Four undefeated.
McGraw's reward? Another matchup with fiery head coach Brenda Frese and the Terrapins for a chance to play for the national championship.
Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com shares why this matchup is so significant for the two programs:
Maryland-Notre Dame game was Jan. 27, and Irish had 22-point lead but then had to scramble for win. Loyd 31 pts for ND, Thomas 29 for Md.— Mechelle Voepel (@MechelleV) April 2, 2014
In their regular-season ACC meeting, Maryland WBB gave Notre Dame its closest game this year, losing 87-83 at College Park, Md.— Mechelle Voepel (@MechelleV) April 2, 2014
Going up against an opponent that they nearly lost to during the regular season will be even more difficult for McGraw and the Irish as they'll have to do so without Natalie Achonwa.
Our thoughts are with Natalie Achonwa and @ndwbb... Senior forward out for the Women's Final Four with torn ACL.— NCAA Women's BKB (@NCAAWomensBKB) April 1, 2014
The senior captain was enjoying her best season with the program, averaging 14.9 points, a .611 field-goal percentage and 7.7 rebounds before suffering a torn ACL against Baylor in the Elite Eight, according to the Irish's official website.
While she was a huge scoring threat throughout the season, Achonwa's presence will also be missed on the defensive end. Alyssa Thomas, a two-time All-American forward, leads the Terps in points (19.1 per game), rebounds (11.0), assists (4.2) and steals (1.5) this season and was named the ACC Player of the Year for the third time in 2014.
Thomas also finished with 33 points and 13 rebounds against No. 1 Tennessee in the Elite Eight and will look to dominate against a depleted Irish team without Achonwa.
Despite the fact that her team will be without one of its best players on the court, McGraw remained optimistic on her latest tweet:
Out of adversity comes opportunity.— Muffet McGraw (@MuffetMcGraw) April 2, 2014
After the regular-season matchup came down to the wire, expect this one to be extremely similar. But with Achonwa off the court and Thomas being able to flourish without one of Notre Dame's best defenders on the floor, the Terrapins will end the Irish's undefeated season.
Predicted Winner: Maryland
No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 2 Stanford
So we meet again, part deux.
Two of the top teams in the country year in and year out, UConn and Stanford regularly face off and are also mainstays in the Final Four. Back in 2010, the Cardinal were denied a national championship by the Huskies and have been working to get back ever since.
How commonplace has seeing these two programs meet in the Final Four become? ESPN Stats and Info provides the answer for that question:
Stanford to the Women's Final Four for the 6th time in the last 7 seasons (only UConn has more appearances in that span, 7)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 2, 2014
As for the competition on the court between the two, this one could come down to a battle in the paint. With both Chiney Ogwumike of Stanford and Breanna Stewart of UConn looking to put their stamp on the game, whichever player comes out on top could lead her team to a win.
Which team will win the National Championship?
While she may be one of the most dominant post players in the women's game, Ogwumike spoke about the effect her teammates have in getting the Cardinal to the Final Four, per Fox News (via The Associated Press):
"I have the utmost faith in my teammates," Ogwumike said. "We've had so many people who just wanted to keep this year going. Sometimes people say you can't win only on heart, but tonight I think we did."
On the other side, the praise for Stewart all season has been hot and heavy. Just a sophomore in 2013-14, the unanimous All-American forward was touted as the "Kevin Durant of the women's game" by Emma Carmichael of Sports Illustrated.
Carmichael explains why Stewart is so unique and shares a quote from Geno Auriemma about UConn's special post player:
Stewart, a 19-year-old sophomore, already has a national championship and a Final Four Most Outstanding Player award. She's 6' 4" with a 7' 1" wingspan, and as Scarlet Knights coach C. Vivian Stringer conceded after the game, "she's just scratching the surface" of her potential. What makes Stewart special isn't difficult to quantify -- she has averaged 19.7 points this season and scored 1,000 in just 63 games, the second fastest to reach that mark in school history.
But there's something else: Stewart is a new prototype for women's hoops. 'I don't know that there's been anybody 6' 4" that can do what she does,' Huskies coach Geno Auriemma says of his second-year star. 'She's the first Durantesque player in the women's game.'
While both Stewart and Ogwumike will battle for position in the paint, another star in Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis could be the difference. With two scoring threats inside for the Huskies, Auriemma will once again have a chance at perfection in the national championship game.
Predicted Winner: Connecticut
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