By Ashleigh Sargent and Mariah Philips
What does it mean for a #5 seed team like Louisville to be in the Final Four? That favorite Baylor was out early?
Women’s college basketball fans seldom get to watch a regional seed lower than #3 make it to the Final Four. Sure, on the men’s side it’s fun, but not unheard of for teams like Florida Gulf Coast and Harvard, to have surprising success. The women’s side has been more – well – predictable. But that’s changing. It speaks to a deeper pool of talent, to the end of an era in which the same few teams were the only real national contenders.
It may not be exactly a wide-open field, but who saw either California or Louisville coming? Not many. That can only be a good thing for women’s college hoops.
That said, here are our predictions for the two Sunday match-ups.
#5 Louisville v. #2 Cal Berkeley
First of all, a team that beat defending champion Baylor demands immediate respect. Louisville is a major contender, and given their momentum, we expect them to have yet another upset against the Bears of Cal. Led by senior Shoni Schimmel, the team is incredibly invested in their own system with unrivalled team chemistry. However, Cal is a team who has recently come out of the woodwork and is riding the tails of an impressive win-streak. Led by senior Layshia Clarendon, a Wade Watch Trophy finalist who is averaging 22.5 points this tournament, Cal will not go down without a fight against the Cardinals.
Key Players Louisville: Shoni Schimmel, Sara Hammond, Monique Reid
Key Players Cal: Layshia Clarendon, Gennifer Brandon, Brittany Boyd
#1 UConn v. #1 Notre Dame
UConn and Notre Dame have already faced off three times this year, each one resulting in a win for the Fighting Irish. History suggests that Notre Dame will take this game, but beating a strong team like UConn four times in a row is a herculean feat. If all of UConn’s key players meet their potential, they are too strong to be silenced a fourth time. The Huskies will look to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stefanie Dolson, and Bria Hartley to lead the way to victory. This does not mean the Fighting Irish senior Skylar Diggins will give up her shot at a championship title for her last year at Notre Dame. We expect this to be a close match-up, the winner of which we also predict to win the tournament as a whole.
Key Players UConn: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Breanna Stewart
Key Players Notre Dame: Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride, Natalie Achonwa
Our pick to win it all: UConn’s experience combined with their desire to avenge their losses to Notre Dame make UConn our choice to win the national championship. If UConn can overcome the fighting Irish, neither Louisville or Cal will be able to outmatch the Huskies.