It’s a clash of the titans with one upstart added to the battle. The NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament reaches its climax as the Final Four gets underway tomorrow in Tampa. Two-time NCAA Champion Baylor University takes on the newbies, University of Oregon, in the first semifinal. Defending national champion University of Notre Dame will face 11-time NCAA Champion University of Connecticut in the other semi-final.
Baylor comes into its semi-final as the overall number one seed in the Tournament. So far, the Lady Bears have been dominant. That was evident in the 85–53 win over Iowa in the Elite Eight. We asked Queens College head coach Elizabeth Naumovski to give insight into what we will see.
“How will Oregon deal with the weight of the moment?” said Naumovski. “Oregon’s guard Sabrina Ionescu has shown that she’s not affected by the moment, which is a good thing because they depend on her heavily as a leader with the ball in her hands.”
She continued, “Baylor has been dominant all season long. They’re outplaying their opponents heavily in almost every statistical category. It’s definitely a battle of two styles. Baylor plays a high-low game dependent on two post players. Oregon is more ‘let’s spread the floor and we’re going to try to attack and shoot the three.’ In a game, it’s going to come down to who can exploit the mismatches better.”
Connecticut has embraced the role of the underdog in the NCAA Tournament after receiving the number two seed in its region. An 80–73 win over Louisville earned the Huskies their 12th consecutive Final Four appearance. The game against Notre Dame will be a rematch of last year’s semifinal, which Notre Dame won on a buzzer-beater from Arike Ogunbowale.
Ogunbowale came out flat in the Fighting Irish’s Elite Eight game against Stanford, but when the All-America Second Team honoree got cooking in the second half, Notre Dame prevailed 84–68. Connecticut defeated Notre Dame in a December game in which tempers flared.
Although All-America Third Team guard Jackie Young was Notre Dame’s high scorer against Stanford, Naumovski said Ogunbowale sets the emotional pace. The same can be said for Connecticut senior guard Katie Lou Samuelson, All-America Third Team. The Huskies also have first team honoree, forward Napheesa Collier.
“It’s going to be an emotional game,” said Naumovski. “UConn has played this whole Tournament with something to prove. Whatever team is able to curb their emotions the soonest and stay focused on their team goals and game plan will be the team that executes and I think will ultimately win.”