For the third time in seven seasons, all four No. 1 seeds have reached the Women’s Final Four. But are all No. 1 seeds equal?
We already know they’re not, but here are four more questions that will be answered in Columbus.
1. Will UConn pass UCLA?
On April 3, 1995, the UCLA men’s basketball team added an 11th national championship to its record total. Just one day before, women’s basketball crowned a first-time champion, Connecticut.
Twenty-three years later, the Huskies are overwhelming favorites to eclipse the Bruins by winning a 12th NCAA title.
Maybe it’s silly to compare the two schools’ accomplishments, but there’s no question that UConn enters every season the overwhelming favorite, just like the John Wooden’s UCLA men’s teams in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Huskies haven’t disappointed, advancing to 11 straight Final Fours (one more than UCLA) and passing the Tennessee women’s once-unreachable total of 18 overall.
It’s never really a Women’s Final Four weekend until someone goads UConn coach Geno Auriemma into responding to critics who believe such dominance is bad for the women’s game.
“God rest his soul, I’m glad coach Wooden never had to go through the nonsense he’d have to go through today if he was doing what he did,” Auriemma said Thursday. “Everybody just left him alone and said, yeah, ‘He’s the greatest coach of all time and that’s the greatest program of all time,’ and they left it at that.”
2. Will UConn get another crack at Mississippi State?
All the UConn titles may blur together, but one of last year’s Final Four games stands out for one of the great games ever. That would be Mississippi State’s 66-64 overtime upset of the Huskies. It snapped a record 141-game winning streak and a string of four consecutive national titles (which leaves at least one UCLA men’s record safe for now).
Watching UConn play this tourney — and particularly in dismantling last year’s champion South Carolina in the Albany Regional final — it seems like the Huskies are on a mission for revenge.
“The Mississippi State game for me ended when the buzzer went off, and I never gave it another minute’s thought,” Auriemma said.
Auriemma said he hasn’t “seen one shred of evidence that, ‘Wow, they’re carrying this around them,’ ” but senior guard Kia Nurse said, “That’s something that is not easily forgotten, something that you shouldn’t forget and you can use to a certain extent in the right way.”
Mississippi State hasn’t lost to anyone except South Carolina since.
3. Would a Notre Dame upset be even more shocking than Mississippi State’s win last year?
For a time during UConn’s most recent decade of dominance, no school could thwart the Huskies like Notre Dame. The Irish beat the Huskies in the 2011 and 2012 Final Fours and then beat UConn twice in nine days in March 2013.
UConn has lost twice in the five-plus years since. Included in the 194-2 surge are three comfortable victories against Notre Dame in the Irish’s past three Final Four trips.
Friday marks another chapter in what once was the fiercest rivalry in the sport.
“It always, of course, will be a rivalry just because they’re the best team in the country right now,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “But I think it’s not that intensity that we had when we were in the Big East because you’re constantly watching in your conference.”
The Irish also came back to stun UConn en route to their lone national title in 2001. But given all the injuries Notre Dame has overcome this season just to reach Columbus, a win Friday against UConn might be the Irish’s most satisfying yet.
4. Can Louisville break through?
This marks the Cardinals’ first time as a No. 1 seed, but Louisville is no stranger to the Final Four. The Cardinals have lost a pair of championship games to UConn in 2009 and ’13, and their upset of Brittney Griner and Baylor may have helped the Huskies to that 2013 title.
Louisville finally caught Notre Dame for ACC supremacy this year, and conference player of the year Asia Durr makes the Cardinals a formidable obstacle to a UConn-MSU rematch.
“Our teams are so similar,” MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. “I mean, really, I think we both could flip flop and coach each other’s group.”
Though many might consider themselves fortunate to be in the opposite half of the bracket as the Huskies, Louisville coach Jeff Walz isn’t among them.
“How many national championship games have they lost? You know the answer? Zero,” Walz said. “When they lose is in the semis. So you want to play them in the semis because [Auriemma] can’t coach that game very well.”
He was joking about the last part, but UConn is 11-0 in title games and 11-7 in the semis. Maybe Notre Dame has the best chance.
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