NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament 2015: Final Four Scores, Championship Preview

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2015

Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd (32) shoots against South Carolina guard Tina Roy (23) during the second half of the NCAA Women's Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game, Sunday, April 5, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

We knew coming into Sunday night the men's and the women's championship games would have at least one thing in common: They'd feature two No. 1 seeds.  

The advancement of all four No. 1 seeds to the Final Four on the women's side clinched as much following Wisconsin and Duke moving on Saturday. As for which teams would get a chance to cut down the nets in Tampa, that's another question entirely. 

Notre Dame and South Carolina played in the evening's first game, a battle between two disparate resumes. The Irish are a three-time tournament runner-up since 2011. The Gamecocks have never played in a national championship game. Given Notre Dame's five straight Final Four runs, there was little question who had the historical weight at its back.

While Maryland is no slouch, there was also little question who historically reigns supreme between the Terps and Connecticut. Geno Auriemma's squad has made the Final Four in eight straight seasons and is looking for its second three-peat in program history. By comparison, Maryland's impressive back-to-back Final Four run looks piddly.

With that in mind, let's take a look at Sunday night's action and see how it all played out.

Notre Dame 66, South Carolina 65

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 05:  Madison Cable #22 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish shoots against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half during the NCAA Women's Final Four Semifinal at Amalie Arena on April 5, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blan
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Madison Cable hit a jumper with 18 second remaining, sending Notre Dame to its second straight national championship game with a 66-65 win over South Carolina.

Cable, who had missed all three of her shots prior to the last-minute shot, was in the right place at the right time when Jewell Loyd's attempt to take the lead clanged off of the rim. She gathered the ball and got a clean look at the basket, knocking down the clutch shot to give the Irish a chance at their second national title.

South Carolina's attempt at a comeback of its own failed when Tiffany Mitchell missed a three-pointer with two seconds remaining. The Gamecocks were 2-of-12 from beyond the arc overall in a game that saw the two sides knock down just three shots from distance.

Cable's shot helped Notre Dame from having to answer questions about nearly blowing a double-digit lead down the stretch. Ahead 64-52 with 7:51 remaining following a Kathryn Westbeld jumper, the Irish did not score again until Cable came through in the clutch. South Carolina scored 13 straight points amid turnovers and poorly timed shot attempts from the Irish, who looked at their wit's end at certain points.

Loyd scored a game-high 22 points while Brianna Turner (17 points) and Taya Reimer (16 points) were each in double figures. The only reason Cable was even in the game was due to foul trouble, with Lindsay Allen and Turner each getting whistled for their fifth down the stretch. Even Loyd, who has been up and down during the tourney run, was a bit of a mess on both ends when South Carolina was mounting its comeback.

"We didn't rebound, missed a bunch of shots," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said, per The Associated Press (via The New York Times). "Just a great basketball game. We went to Jewell. She had to do everything. Everyone contributed."

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

South Carolina's effort was led by A'ja Wilson, who scored 20 points off of the bench. Alaina Coates (12 points, nine rebounds), Mitchell (11 points) and Aleighsa Welch (10 points, 14 rebounds) were also in double figures and turned in all-around fine games. The Gamecocks did not get much, however, from Asia Dozier or Elem Ibiam, who were each scoreless and on the bench for good parts of the second half.

“Sometimes the best five players don’t have the type of chemistry you need to be successful, so we made a change to go back to a lineup that was more comfortable,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said, per Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune.  “We thought it would be a great opportunity for Asia and Alaina to see the game a little bit."

Notre Dame will move on to play the winner of the night's second game. The Irish have lost to UConn in each of the last two Final Fours, so to say there is unfinished business would be an understatement.

Connecticut 81, Maryland 58

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 05:  Morgan Tuck #3 of the Connecticut Huskies drives against Brionna Jones #42 of the Maryland Terrapins in the first half during the NCAA Women's Final Four Semifinal at Amalie Arena on April 5, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike
Mike Carlson/Getty Images

To no one's surprise, the Huskies steamrolled Maryland to clinch a spot in the national championship game.

Coach Geno Auriemma's UConn squad is going for a national championship three-peat after yet another rout. Forward Breanna Stewart devastated the Terrapins with 25 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and four blocks in a brilliant all-around game.

Morgan Tuck added 24 points and nine boards for the victorious Huskies on Sunday, while guard Moriah Jefferson scored 14 and dished out five assists. UConn shot an outstanding 53.7 percent from the floor, compared to Maryland's 40.7 percent clip.

Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden made an appropriate comparison to describe the dynasty Auriemma has created at Connecticut:

In terms of what the national title contest might bring, ESPN Stats & Info suggests the Huskies will have the prohibitive advantage:

Although the Fighting Irish can't be discounted, since they've had a strong recent history in the women's tournament themselves, they lost by 21 points to UConn in last year's finale.

When the two sides met in South Bend in December, nothing looked too out of place when the Huskies emerged with a 76-58 triumph. That's an average margin of almost 20 points in the past two contests.

Both teams look different than they did a season ago, but if anything, the Huskies are better and have an improved version of Stewart leading the charge. They have smashed almost everyone in their path, and that should result in a double-digit win over Notre Dame on Tuesday when the action tips off at 8:30 ET on ESPN.

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.


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