March basketball has faded away as calendars turn to April, and the best of the best convene in Tampa to close out the 2015 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Making up the Final Four this year are Connecticut, Notre Dame, South Carolina, and Maryland. That’s no April Fools’ joke: All four No. 1 seeds comprise this year’s Final Four, only the third time the occurrence has happened since the Tournament began in 1982. Maryland, the champions of the Spokane region, enjoyed success throughout the regular season and the Big Ten Tournament, and are trying to keep that alive through the Final Four.
For the Terrapins, making it to a second consecutive Final Four required help from everyone.
“It’s taken a total team effort for us to be able to get to this point,” head coach Brenda Frese said Wednesday during a teleconference. “[I] couldn’t be more proud of what this team has accomplished to date,” she said.
It’s hard to say the Terps drew the short end of the stick when every team in the Final Four was dominant throughout the regular season, but UConn, which currently holds a 36-1 record, will be unlike anything the Terps have faced this season. The Huskies defeated Dayton 91-70 on Monday by shooting almost 50% from the field, and getting a double-double from forward Breanna Stewart (23 points, 16 rebounds).
In their region, Maryland topped Tennessee in an Elite Eight game that Frese described as containing “a half-court, physical, defensive style of play.” In order to compete with the Huskies, the Terps will need to continue with this stifling defense, but they will also have to get back to the fast-break offense they know and love. Frese, who won a National Championships with the Terps in 2006, drew comparisons between the offensive approaches of the two programs.
“Both Maryland and UConn really like to get out and like to push the tempo,” she said. “You’ve got to be able to try to make your own runs and try to get stops on the defensive end.”
Before Maryland-UConn, Tampa will be the host of Greensboro region-champion South Carolina and Oklahoma City region-champion Notre Dame. This one will feature Jewell Loyd (Notre Dame) and Tiffany Mitchell (South Carolina), both of whom made the 2015 AP All-America Team (Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart also made the list).
Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen will look to continue her recent streak of abundant offensive success; she led the Irish in scoring in their last two games, wins over Baylor and Stanford.
On the other side, the South Carolina Gamecocks will try to soak in their first-ever Final Four, while keeping an eye on the National Championship. Coming off of their last performances, the Irish have the edge in the three-point shooting category, but depending on which key players step up, this game could belong to either team.
With such a saturated pool of talent, this tournament could be claimed by anyone. And despite UConn’s nine National Championships, Maryland hopes to fit right in with the defending champs.
“We hope that people are able to see, on a national scale now, our consistency factor,” Frese said.
“What this team has been able to accomplish this season, going undefeated in conference, winning the Big Ten Tournament, and now making it to back-to-back Final Fours…I would think there would be a consistency factor that continues to show up.”
Notre Dame and South Carolina will square off at 6:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPN, and Maryland and Connecticut will follow them at 9:00 p.m.