TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb faced three of the four women’s Final Four participants this season. Here, she breaks down the matchups of the NCAA Tournament semifinal games for The Associated Press:
This might be the most competitive Final Four we’ve had in many years with no clear-cut favorite heading into it. Unlike year’s past, any of these four teams could be cutting down the nets on Sunday and it wouldn’t be a total surprise.
From a fan’s perspective, I’m really excited for this game because it features two amazing teams with uniquely contrasting styles. What we’re looking at is the force and power of Baylor’s inside game against Oregon’s juggernaut of an offense. The question is: How will each of them guard one another?. Oregon has the ability to spread the floor and run the pick-and-roll so beautifully, led by Sabrina Ionsecu, who is a surgeon on the floor. I anticipate that the Ducks will try to move Baylor’s bigs around in the pick-and-roll, and challenge then to have to match up with all five players on the floor.
The question everyone has had to deal with is: How do you guard Baylor’s inside game? There’s no easy answer. Our game plan was to try to make their guards beat us. I’m sure others have had the same idea. And throughout this tournament they’ve done just that! Chloe Jackson, Juicy Landrum and Didi Richards have elevated their scoring, making Baylor really strong national championship contenders.
What is Oregon going to do? They had a great game plan against Mississippi State with the sagging defense on Big T, and I’m sure they’ll make it tough on Baylor.
My guess is Baylor hasn’t seen an offense as good as Oregon’s all year. Stanford runs the Princeton offense, and their ability to spread you out and make the bigs run around gave Baylor some problems. Oregon runs different stuff, but their offense is literally a symphony with great guard play orchestrating it.
I’ve been really impressed with Baylor’s ability to do things other people can’t do defensively. Because of their depth and size inside, they could play Kristine (Anigwe) more straight up than anyone in the country: This allowed their guards to pressure the heck out of everybody else. Against Oregon, the question will be whether they can effectively guard the pick-and-roll, allowing them stay home on Oregon’s shooters. Easier said than done! I’m excited to see what Kim (Mulkey’s) game plan is.
She’s been there before and won a national championship, whereas it’s Oregon’s first time on the grandest stage. There’s a lot going on at the Final Four with the pomp and circumstance surrounding the event. It can be distracting, but honestly once you step on the court it really is 94 feet and just basketball and the coaches will have their teams well prepared.
When you have a singularly focused competitor like Sabrina, despite the inexperience on that stage, I just don’t think she will let her team be anything other than what they are capable of being.
Well, there certainly is no shortage of story lines to go with in talking about this matchup. This should be a really fun and dramatic game. Geno Auriemma said the other day that if you’re Connecticut you know you’re going to have to run through Notre Dame to win a national championship, and if you’re Notre Dame you know you’re going to have to go through Connecticut.
It’s the two heavyweights of the sport going at it. I think they both have so many heavyweight players who can do so many things, but it may come down to the impact of the kids not named (Napheesa) Collier, Arike (Ogunbowale) and Jackie Young. It might be the “supporting people,” so to speak, that make the difference — and they both have amazing supporting casts of All-American type players.
It was Christyn Williams who was the key the first time they played. She and Megan Walker are the ones opposing coaches say you have to try to make beat you — you can’t let the other “Big 3” dominate. The crazy thing is, they were both No. 1 in their class coming out of high school — everyone wants “role” players like that!
Things are a little different for UConn this year and it doesn’t get talked about much. What I mean is, two years ago when they lost to Mississippi State, I think Geno would have expected them to lose a game or two at some point that season. It was the season after Stewie — he didn’t think they were going to go undefeated, and yet they did until the Final Four. Same thing last year, they were unbeaten and didn’t face many deficits until they played Notre Dame in the national semifinals.
This year’s team may not be his best in the last three years, yet this team may actually have a better chance to win these two games explicitly because they’ve already lost this year. They have more of a mental edge than they have had the last three years: They’ve lost games, they aren’t afraid of losing, they’ve stepped up in close games, and they seem to have a chip on their shoulder.
Notre Dame, on paper, has the most experience and talent. All five of their players on the court are game-changers and they are absolutely loaded. They are well coached on top of that by Muffet McGraw. It’s a good combination. On paper, they may have to be the favorite with the experience they have. They have an incredible collection of talent and clearly Arike (Ogunbowale) is not afraid to take and make the big shot.
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