No. 1 seeds and undefeated power houses Notre Dame and Connecticut remain on a collision course for an epic national championship game. Before anyone gets ahead of themselves, however, we have the semifinals to address.
Which team will win the championship?
The women's Final Four gets underway from Nashville, Tennessee with Notre Dame facing No. 4 Maryland and Connecticut facing No. 2 Stanford. The winners will then advance to battle for the championship on April 8.
Have a look at the schedule and then I'll offer up in-depth predictions for the semifinals.
|Date||Matchup||Predicted Winner||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|April 6||No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Maryland||Maryland||6:30 p.m.||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|April 6||No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 2 Stanford||UConn||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|April 8||TBA vs. TBA||UConn||TBA||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
Source: NCAA.com and VegasInsider.com
Women's NCAA Predictions
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Maryland
This is going to be a great game. Maryland rolls into this matchup flush with confidence. In the Elite Eight, this team went into Louisville and took down the Cardinals, 76-73. It took a second-half comeback to pull out the win.
Alyssa Thomas has been fantastic all season, and she dropped 22 on Louisville to lead her team to Nashville. On top of this, the Terrapins will draw confidence from the fact they handed Notre Dame its closest game of the season.
On Jan. 27, Notre Dame beat Maryland, 87-83. The Irish led that game by as many as 22, but the Terrapins battled back for a narrow loss.
Sure, the Terrapins won't enjoy home court as they did in the first meeting, but their opponent will not be at full strength, either.
As SportsCenter notes, Notre Dame will have to deal with the absence of forward Natalie Achonwa:
Notre Dame star F Natalie Achonwa will miss women's Final Four with torn ACL in left knee. She averages 20.5 PPG. (via @SBTribune)— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 1, 2014
Achonwa had seven points and three rebounds in the meeting against Maryland, and for the season she is averaging 14.9 points, a .611 field-goal percentage and 7.7 rebounds.
In this game, the Irish will miss her as much on defense as on offense. In their first meeting, forward Thomas had 29 points, five rebounds and three assists, and that was with Achonwa in Notre Dame's frontcourt to help stop her.
Thomas has been huge all season. For the season, she leads her team in points (19.1 per game), rebounds (11.0), assists (4.2) and steals (1.5).
She's been dominant enough for former WNBA player Sydney Colson to offer up this assessment:
Maryland's Alyssa Thomas is a woman amongst toddlers.— Sydney J Colson (@sydthewhizkid) April 2, 2014
Thomas will be huge once again, and it will lead her team to a surprising berth in the championship game.
Prediction: Maryland 87, Notre Dame 83
No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 2 Stanford
Stanford and Connecticut have combined to make 13 of the past seven Final Fours. The Cardinal are the slackers who missed a season.
These two met early in the season. On Nov. 11, UConn hosted Stanford and cruised to a 76-57 win. Bria Hartley paced the Huskies with 20 points in that game. Although the guard Hartley led the way that time, it is in the frontcourt where the best battle will take place.
Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike and Connecticut's Breanna Stewart are two of the best frontcourt players in the nation, and they both have plenty of talent alongside them.
When Stanford beat North Carolina 74-65 to advance to the Final Four, Stanford forwards Mikaela Ruef and Bonnie Samuelson combined to score 30 points and grab 13 rebounds.
In a quote provided by The Associated Press on Fox News, Ogwumike was quick to credit her teammates for the effort: "I have the utmost faith in my teammates. 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."
Of course, the Huskies also have options in the frontcourt. Star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis has had a great season and led the Huskies with 17 points in their Elite Eight victory over Texas A&M.
Despite Stanford's talented frontcourt, there is no doubt Stanford is fighting an uphill battle. Connecticut has been unbeatable. They haven't had one opponent come within single digits of them.
Connecticut is just too talented and is playing too well for Stanford to take it out of this tournament.
Prediction: Connecticut 77, Stanford 64