By: Jeffrey Newholm
I’m back, women’s basketball nut-I mean aficionado-Jeff N., to give our readers at NBS a brief preview of this weekend’s lady’s Final Four, starting with Stanford-South Carolina at 7:30 EDT Friday evening, continuing with Uconn (of course)-Mississippi State around 10:30, and concluding with the championship game Sunday night. I’ll preview both games, and predict (with the disclaimer that my predictions are terrible) the championship game, but in a bit of an unusual way. Instead of going into detail about particular players and match-ups, I’ll make this preview easy for the lady’s novice by just talking about the teams/programs in general.
This is a meeting of a program most likely just about to sunset as a power with the imminent retirement of legendary coach Tara VanDerveer (and greatly increased parity in the PAC-12), and a program just now turning into a power in the SEC. Some time ago I previewed yet another game that the Uconn Huskies supposedly were in danger of losing, only for the game to turn into another rout. Well earlier this year the Huskies did win their 100th in a row against the Gamecocks, but it was a good, clean game-certainly not another snoozer over after the first period. I firmly prefer USC in this one, because I genuinely believe the Gamecocks are doing great work to finally provide parity in the women’s game-I see a burgeoning triple dynasty between South Carolina, Uconn, and Notre Dame. Stanford, on the other hand, has been just barely squeezing past teams all tournament and was very fortunate to escape the Lexinton regional-and the #1 seeded lady Irish-alive. And here’s the thing about Lady Luck-she’s a very fickle God, and does not make for a very good master. I predict the Lady Cardinal has her luck run out in Friday’s early game.
If there ever was a Final Four mismatch, this would be it. Uconn has won 111 (actually one-hundred-eleven, yes) games in a row and has advanced to its 10th straight final four. The Bulldogs are making their first appearance as a program, and in their most recent game against the juggernaut from Storrs managed to lose by 60. Every player from Uconn’s (admittedly a bit shallow) starting rotation has been to the Final Four every year of her career. Every Bulldog will make her debut Friday night. And as if this wasn’t enough, the Huskies run a fast-paced style of play, and can easily sit back and shoot threes if the opposing team drops back into a zone. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are a physical team that tries to grind their opponents into submission. Which, almost certainly, means that Mississippi State suffers the same fate as many an American Conference team before it-they get run off the floor.
Uconn-South Carolina Potential Final
I’ll lead off with the bad news: I think there’s only a small chance the Gamecocks win this game. The Huskies have rounded into almost unbeatable form very quickly this season, and I don’t think Dawn Staley has her team quite to the point where they can beat Uconn in the finals, a game where the Husky program is still faultless at 11-0. But I still think Sunday’s game is worthwhile to tune in for, because I think it’s a tantalizing preview of the game’s future. While the Husky-Vol rivalry is essentially finished, and the Lady Irish have had trouble besting their longtime nemesis since “queen Fourpeat” Breanna Stewart arrived on the scene in 2012, I still believe that the women’s game is in good shape in the long run. What I said back in October about the NBA’s double dynasty is still true today, and could be true going into the 2017-’18 season as well if a major trade isn’t made. I genuinely believe, however, that next year, with the Huskies (finally) going through a transition between power phases, that there will be at least three legitimate contenders to win the title. And while they may go down in defeat, the lady Gamecocks have an important task ahead of them Sunday night: to write the blueprint to show someone else, next March, how to-finally-beat the Huskies. Because at this point they have us writers beat.
You can follow me on Twitter @JeffreyNewholm and our blog @NutsAndBoltsSP.