Defending champion Stanford Cardinal has just one more hurdle to compete for in his first ever defensive title: the Connecticut Hawkeyes, the team that has won more back-to-back championships in Division I women’s college basketball. Stanford has returned to all but one of his title teams, but he will need his veterans to perform at their best against the Hawkeyes, most notably sophomore phenommen Paige Bueckers.
The Huskies and Cardinals both received overwhelming support from their crowd during Round 8. Connecticut effectively benefited from the home-court at Bridgeport – just a stone’s throw from the Stars – while Stanford played at Spokane, where teammates and two sisters Lexi and Lexi. Hull grew up and made his high school career up to two state championships.
In Minneapolis, Connecticut will likely have a happy-go-lucky section thanks to the bakers who played at Hopkins High School on the outskirts of Minneapolis. The Cardinals have yet to play in the tournament without fans, and what looks to be a tough game, this support could give the Huskies an edge.
Stanford’s 6-foot-4 Cameron Bernick and Connecticut’s 6-foot-5 Olivia Nelson Oviedo are both athletic posters that run well around the basket to score goals and rebounds, block shots, and especially in Nelson O’Dowd’s own team. Looking for a partner. To ease crime quickly.
Both of them are often in the wrong zone, with an average of 2.8 fouls per game. The key for both teams, then, is to be able to keep their best post players in the game and play freely. Both Stanford and Connecticut are capable of applying strong defensive pressure, and both Brink and Nelson-Ododa must be patient as they prepare for the open sight around the basket.
Stanford, which enters the game with the longest active winning streak of any Division I women’s team – 24 consecutive victories – has the advantage of size. Even his guards are tall and can find a shot against the hardest defenders, as discovered in the Round of Texas 8. Because Connecticut is only so skilled, the Cardinals will need to exploit whoever they find unmatched – even 6-foot-1 Haley Jones vs. 5-foot-11 bakers.
If Jones and the Bakers protect each other during Friday’s game, it could make for one of the best pairings in the tournament. Both are exceptionally skilled facilitators and scorers, drawing games on every part of the court.
The Stanford and Connecticut coaches, Tara Van Dreuer and Geno Orima, are the most winning and second-winning coaches in women’s college basketball history. The Huskies own the series with a big margin, but this game offers yet another opportunity to compete with two of the game’s most important coaches on the big stage.