Women’s Final Four Preview

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Tonight, the capital city of Ohio will play host to the 2018 Women’s Final Four.

All four 1-seeds will be competing in this year’s Final Four as Louisville will take on Mississippi State while UConn will face Notre Dame.

Before the games tip-off tonight at Nationwide Arena, let’s take an in-depth look at all four teams in this year’s Final Four.

 

Mississippi State

The Mississippi State Bulldogs have steamrolled their way to the 2018 Final Four.  With the second-best overall record in the country at 36-1, the Bulldogs look poised to head back to the national title game for the second straight season.

A couple players who have paved the way for MSU this season are senior guard Victoria Vivians and junior center Teaira McCowan.

Vivians was named a first-team All-American this season as she led Mississippi State in scoring with 19.8 PPG on 48.5% shooting.  Vivians has been lights out from three-point range this season, knocking down 41% of her shots from behind the arc.  She also brings more to the team than just scoring as she’s averaging 6.1 RPG and 2 APG.

McCowan had a stellar season herself as she averaged a double-double with a massive 18.1 PPG and 13.6 RPG.  She dominated the glass this season as she grabbed 502 rebounds, giving her the title of second-most rebounds in a single season in SEC history.

The Bulldogs have a lot to play for in this year’s Final Four as they came just short of winning it all last season. After their stunning buzzer-beating overtime upset of UConn in the Final Four last year, Mississippi State fell short to South Carolina, 67-55, in the national championship game.

It was then-junior, now-senior guard Morgan William who nailed the buzzer-beater floater in overtime to beat UConn in the 2017 Final Four to end the Huskies’ historic 111-game winning streak.

I think all fans of women’s hoops remember that shot last year very well.

“Last year’s experience was great,” said Williams.  “UConn, of course, and just to get back here, it’s a blessing. It’s hard to get back here two times in a row. So I’m glad we came back and made it back. We worked hard for this.”

It was a bitter ending for the Bulldogs as it felt like they had all the momentum in the world heading into that 2017 national title game only to come up short to the Gamecocks.  After all, it was the first time in school history that they had even made it past the Sweet Sixteen.

Victoria Vivians spoke about how hard it was to get back to this point.

“It’s always difficult to get back here because you’ve got to go through the NCAA Tournament,” said Vivians.  “All of the teams in the tournament are great, so it’s tough every night. I feel like it was difficult this year, but we made it.”

MSU will be looking for retribution this weekend as they are back in the Final Four to finish what they started and win that coveted first national championship in program history.

 

Louisville

The Louisville Cardinals are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2013, where they finished their season as the national runner-up after losing to (guess who) UConn in the 2013 National Championship game.

The Cardinals are riding a 36-2 record into this weekend’s matchups and are appearing in the Final Four for just the third time in school history.

Louisville is led by junior guard Asia Durr.  A first-team All-American, Durr leads the Cardinals with 18.7 PPG and is one of the best three-point shooters in the country, averaging 41.8% from long distance.

Durr says despite the stakes, Louisville is approaching this weekend just like any other game.

“It’s been the same thing that we’ve been doing from day one, from the first game,” said Durr.  “So, yeah, it’s the Final Four. We truly appreciate it. But I mean, if you just think about it, it’s just another game. That’s what we’re all trying to think about. We’re just trying to have fun. We’re all in, but this is just another game for us.”

The Cardinals also have another star in the form of senior forward Myisha Hines-Allen.  The senior forward is nearly averaging a double-double this season with 14.1 PPG and 9.7 RPG.

Hines-Allen is a double-double machine, posting 45 of them over the course of her four-year career, 16 of them coming in this season alone.  Her versatility will certainly pose major problems for Mississippi State and possibly UConn/Notre Dame in the championship game.

There’s no question Hines-Allen is fired up and ready to go for the 2018 Final Four.

“We’ve earned the right to be here, so we’re going to fight and try our hardest.”

Louisville will be looking to win their first national title in program history this weekend but first, they’ll have to get past reigning national runner-up Mississippi State before facing either UConn or Notre Dame in the championship game on Easter Sunday.

 

Notre Dame

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish come into the 2018 Women’s Final Four with the lowest record of all four teams competing as they come to Columbus with a 33-3 overall record, as if that’s underwhelming.

The Fighting Irish are under the leadership of this year’s AP Coach Of The Year, Muffett McGraw, who was announced as the winner of the award here at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Thursday evening.  It is her fourth time winning the award in her tenure as Notre Dame head coach.

The Irish are led on the court by junior guard Arike Ogunbowale, who led the ACC in scoring this season with 20.7 PPG and was named a consensus second-team All-American.

Notre Dame is making their 8th Final Four appearance in school history this weekend, which is fifth on the all-time list of most Women’s Final Four appearances in NCAA history.

However, the Irish will have a tall order to fill this weekend if they wish to hoist the national championship trophy on Sunday night as they are 0-3 vs. the teams in the Final Four this season (two losses to Louisville, one loss to UConn).

Notre Dame has had plenty of recent history in the Final Four, finishing as national runner-up in four of the past seven seasons.  They’ll need some “luck of the Irish” Friday night against the goliath of UConn if they are to have any hope of winning their first national championship since 2001 as the Huskies have won four of the last five national titles.

 

UConn

It wouldn’t be a preview for the Women’s Final Four if we didn’t include the women from UConn, who are playing in their 11th straight Final Four.

The Huskies will be looking for their 11th national championship in the past two decades and their 12th title in program history.

Upon is riding a perfect 36-0 record into their Final Four matchup against Notre Dame.

The Huskies played the Fighting Irish earlier this season on December 3rd when they came back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Irish, 80-71.

The must-watch player for the Huskies has to be junior guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson. A first-team All-American for the 2017-18 season, Samuelson is leading the Huskies in scoring with 17.5 PPG on an incredible 53.1% shooting while also averaging 4.5 RPG.

UConn has beaten two of the other three teams in Final Four (Louisville, Notre Dame) already this season. They did not face Mississippi State this season, but UConn’s last defeat came at the hands of the Bulldogs in last year’s Final Four when the Huskies lost on an overtime buzzer-beater, 66-64.

In case you somehow missed the highlight of Morgan William’s shot in the 2017 Final Four in the MSU preview above, here it is again.

“I think that’s something that is not easily forgotten,” said senior guard Kia Nurse. “It’s something that you shouldn’t forget and you can use to a certain extent in the right way. But I think at the same time, as we step on the court this time around and we go out, we’re focused on what we need to do to execute and be successful offensively and defensively against the Fighting Irish.”

The Huskies will try to breeze past Notre Dame in the Final Four for the possibility of revenge against Mississippi State in the championship game on Sunday night.

 

The games will take place Saturday starting at 7:00pm ET when Louisville will take on Mississippi State followed by UConn vs. Notre Dame at 9:30pm ET. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN2 with the championship game being broadcast on ESPN this Sunday night at 6:00pm ET.