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NCAA Women's Basketball Bracket 2021: Predicting Championship Game

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistApril 2, 2021

UConn guard Paige Bueckers (5) celebrates a score with teammate Aaliyah Edwards against Baylor during the first half of a college basketball game in the Elite Eight round of the women's NCAA tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Monday, March 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

The first women's Final Four for freshman sensation Paige Bueckers begins against a program making its first foray into this stage of the NCAA tournament. 

Bueckers and the UConn Huskies will attempt to get back to the national championship game for the first time since 2016 against the Arizona Wildcats. 

Arizona and the Stanford Cardinal extended the Pac-12's tremendous postseason in college basketball by making up half of the women's Final Four. 

Stanford relied on its scoring depth to advance to Friday's national semifinals, and it will need the same well-rounded approach to get past the South Carolina Gamecocks. 

South Carolina has shut down the offenses of its four NCAA tournament foes, and if it imposes its defensive will on the Cardinal, it will earn the opportunity to play for its second title in five years. 

         

Women's Final Four Schedule

Friday, April 2

No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 1 South Carolina (6 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 1 UConn vs. No. 3 Arizona (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

       

National Championship Prediction

UConn vs. South Carolina

UConn enters its showdown with Arizona as the better team, but it will face a difficult task in defending Aari McDonald. 

Arizona's senior guard will get a chance to slow down Bueckers, who has lived up to an immense amount of hype in her first season at UConn.

According to ESPN.com's Charlie Creme, Bueckers is aiming to be the sixth man or woman to lead a national champion in scoring as a freshman. Jahlil Okafor was the last player to achieve that feat in 2015 for Duke. Chamique Holdsclaw was the last woman to do that in 1996 for Tennessee. 

Bueckers has 46 points in the last two games, including a 28-point outburst against the Baylor Bears that secured UConn's spot in the Final Four. 

The star freshman already won one head-to-head showdown with a top guard in the country, as she led UConn past Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Sweet 16. Bueckers had 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists compared to Clark's 21 points, five assists and three rebounds. 

McDonald will be a more explosive threat to the UConn defense, as she is coming off back-to-back 30-point performances. 

If UConn contains the 5'6" guard during some stretches, it should pull away with the win since Arizona's supporting cast has not filled up the scoring column. McDonald had one teammate reach double figures in the victories over the Texas A&M Aggies and Indiana Hoosiers. 

UConn had Bueckers, Christyn Williams and Evina Westbrook score over 10 points against Baylor, and if its scoring depth is on display again on Friday, it should get past the Wildcats. 

Stanford's calling card over the last four games has been its deep offense. It has produced over 70 points in all four NCAA tournament games and had four players reach double digits in its last two games. 

The Cardinal's offensive mettle will be tested by a South Carolina defense that has held all of its foes to 65 points or fewer and conceded under 55 points to three of them. The Gamecocks were so effective on defense in the Elite Eight that they held the Texas Longhorns without a fourth-quarter point. 

Dawn Staley's team is following a similar blueprint to when it took the 2017 title. During that run, the Gamecocks did not allow an opponent over 70 points and held Stanford to 53 points in the Final Four. 

If Stanford forces South Carolina into a high-scoring affair, the Gamecocks are equipped to match that production. They had five players score over 10 points against Texas and a quintet with nine points or more in the Sweet 16 win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. 

If South Carolina prevails through its defense, it likely will get a shot at shutting down Bueckers with a title on the line. 

UConn is looking for its first title since 2016, and it is trying to remain the only women's program to win a championship in San Antonio. The Huskies cut down the nets in 2002 and 2010 inside the Alamodome.

        

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from NCAA.com.

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