There are now just four teams battling to reach the final of the 2021 NCAA women’s basketball tournament. GiveMeSport Women looks at three talking points ahead of the Final Four round.
Dawn Staley vs former coach Tara VanDerveer
After Stanford’s win over Louisville, they will face Dawn Staley’s South Carolina. The Gamecocks comfortably beat the Texas Longhorns for a place in the final four. They played outstanding defence throughout the game, especially in the fourth quarter, keeping the Longhorns scoreless. Stanford and South Carolina is an exciting match up – both teams will be desperate to book a place in the final.
Staley was a member of VanDerveer's gold medal winning US Olympic team in 1996. She will now go up against her former coach, but this isn’t the first time – Staley faced a VanDerveer-led Cardinal team in a national semi-final.
In 1992, Staley’s senior season at Virginia ended in a 66-65 loss to Stanford. There is mutual admiration between the two. VanDerveer has said she “loved coaching Dawn” and Staley revealed she “would give Tara my last for just instilling in me some of the things that I utilise today.”
VanDerveer claimed that minimising turnovers and relying on rebounding are the two keys to defeating South Carolina. With a rebound margin of 14.8 per game, the Gamecocks are third in the nation.
South Carolina will look to Aliyah Boston to lead the team. The All-American sophomore forward averages a double-double for her team. Stanford`s Zia Cooke will play an influential part in the match. The five-foot-nine guard tops the Gamecocks in points scored.
Stanford are trying to make it to the finals for the fifth time. The Cardinal won the title in 1990 and 1992, then fell to Tennessee in 2008 and Connecticut in 2010. Stanford will hope they don’t put in a performance like the first half against Louisville – VanDerveer said she “didn’t recognise the people in the jerseys in the first half.”
Staley has 503 career coaching victories, coming just 620 short of VanDerveer's women's record of 1,123. Staley’s inexperience compared to VanDerveer could play in Stanford’s favour as this will no doubt be a physical and tactical game between the two sides.
Arizona to play toughest opponents yet
Arizona beat Indiana for their place in the final four for the first time in competition history. They will now come up against the powerhouse UConn, who controversially beat current champions, Baylor.
They are led by legendary head coach Geno Auriemma, who took over the program in 1985, guiding UConn to a 1,119-143 record with 21 Final Fours and 11 NCAA Championships.
Arizona are a strong defensive unit, but they can fail to find balance on the attacking side of the ball. The Wildcats will look for Aari McDonald, who secured the school’s first trip to the Final Four with a season-high 33 points against Indiana. The Pac-12 player of the year and co-defensive player of the year will be heavily relied on to score points and to keep the Wildcats in the game. She can not secure the win on her own, however. The team will need to look for other players to step up and take the pressure off McDonald.
Despite their need to focus on attack, Arizona will have to continue to keep up defensively against a team like UConn, as slowing down the Huskies will be challenging.
The Wildcats will have a big challenge ahead of them. They will have to try to mark phenomenal talent, Paige Bueckers, out of the game. She averages 20.1 points, 5.9 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game, helping the Huskies to a 28-1 record. She finished the Elite Eight matchup with 28 points. This was arguably her best game of the tournament so far and therefore will assuredly have a large target on her back in the Huskies matchup against Arizona.
Arizona outrage following promotional video exclusion
Arizona were offended as they were left out of the promotion video for the final four, particularly because it was their first appearance at this stage of the tournament. NCAA posted a promotional video on Twitter on Thursday which included clips of South Carolina, Stanford, and UConn. No one from Arizona was included in the video, however.
A lot of fans took to social media to show their disgust at being excluded by the NCAA. Among the outraged was Arizona senior guard, Aari McDonald, who "rewatched it a couple of times". "It was frustrating. I definitely took it as a sign of disrespect," she said. Arizona coach Adia Barnes also added, “Stuff like that shouldn't happen."
The NCAA have since deleted the video from Twitter and have apologised to the school. The Wildcats are already the lowest-seeded team remaining, and have been doubted throughout their journey in the competition. They will likely use this as added motivation to try and secure a place in the finals.News Now - Sport News