For the first time since 1989, all four top seeds reached the NCAA women’s Final Four.
This year’s field of Baylor, Stanford, Connecticut and Notre Dame is arguably the strongest in history, with all four programs motivated by unfinished business from last season and out to add yet another crown to their crowded trophy cases.
“All four of us, I think, pretty much we’re the top four teams in the country all year long. I’m not sure if anybody ever fell to fifth,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Yet Baylor, behind 6-foot-8 star Brittney Griner and a loaded lineup, is a prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night.
To become the first team in NCAA history to win 40 games in a season, the Bears will have to get past Stanford, led by superstar sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike, on Sunday and then either UConn or Notre Dame in the title game.
“Whoever wins this tournament this coming weekend will have earned it, because they’ll have beaten two of the best teams in college basketball in quite some time,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
Only one other time, 23 years ago, did all four No. 1 seeds reach the Final Four.
“I’m kind of glad in a sense because it tells you that women’s basketball is growing,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said
Tennessee recruit Bashaara Graves made a game-winning free throw with less than a second left and the East beat the West, 79-78, in the McDonald’s All-American high school game in Chicago.
Katie Collier, a senior at Seattle Christian and a University of Washington recruit, made two free throws with 16.4 seconds remaining to tie the game for the West.
Baylor’s Griner, Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins, Elena Delle Donne of Delaware and Julie Wojta of Wisconsin Green Bay are the finalists for the John R. Wooden Award for the top women’s player. … Toni Young scored a season-high 27 points and Oklahoma State (21-12) advanced to the finals of the Women’s NIT for the first time by beating 26-9 San Diego, 73-57, in Stillwater, Okla. OSU coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna were killed in a plane crash in November. … Sophomore Kirby Burkholder had 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals as James Madison (29-7) beat Syracuse, 74-71, in the other WNIT semifinal in Harrisonburg, Va. Junior center Kayla Alexander had 29 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks for the Orange (22-15). … Illinois introduced Matt Bollant as its new coach. He comes from Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he won almost 90 percent of his games in five seasons and coached the Phoenix to the NCAA tournament in four consecutive seasons.