Quietly, while the masses were consumed by an epic Notre Dame – Kentucky matchup on the men’s side of the NCAA Tournament, the women were doing their thing. And here they are, making their fifth consecutive trip to the Final Four. On Sunday, April 5, in Tampa, Fla., the Notre Dame women’s basketball team will make their Final Four appearance, facing No. 1 seed South Carolina. Who are the players to watch? What are the key factors to secure an Irish win and a trip to the championship game? Here’s what you need to know.
First, a few stats:
- Notre Dame and South Carolina both have two losses.
- The Fighting Irish and Gamecocks both lost to Connecticut.
- Both teams dropped a conference road game (at Miami, in the case of Notre Dame).
- Notre Dame has 35 wins, South Carolina 34.
- Both teams went 15-1 in conference play.
- Both teams won their conference regular season championship and conference tournament.
- Both teams own wins this year over Florida State, North Carolina and Duke.
- Both teams feature their conference’s Player of the Year — Tiffany Mitchell for South Carolina, and Jewell Loyd for Notre Dame, and both of these players are juniors.
- Both teams ALSO had their league’s Freshman of the Year — A’ja Wilson for USC and Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner.
South Carolina (34-2) is making its first Final Four appearance in the history of their women’s program. They advance to the Final Four after an 80-74 comeback win over Florida State on Sunday afternoon. Junior guard Tiffany Mitchell led South Carolina with 21 points, tying her best game of the season, along with six rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Mitchell also had seven straight points in the second half which put the Gamecocks ahead for good. After finding senior forward Aleighsa Welch in the paint for a lay up, Mitchell drove to the basket for a lay up, drained a 3 from the corner and sunk a pair of free throws in the final run to clinch the Final Four berth. Sophomore center Alaina Coates had 14 points as well as collecting Regional Most Outstanding Player honors.
The Gamecocks were out-rebounded for just the third time this season (33-28), but closed the gap in the second half by out-rebounding the Seminoles 18-15. Every Gamecock that touched the floor scored. The Gamecocks also shot 61.2 percent from the field, assisting on 14 of 30 field goals.
Here’s South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley, on what the statement the win over Florida State means to the program. “This game is always a tough hurdle because it’s coming down to the wire and you’re paying against some of the country’s best opponents. It puts South Carolina on the map. The regular season that we had, the success we’ve had in our conference – when you hurdle over being a regional champion and going to the Final Four, it puts your name in history.”
The Notre Dame women, led by Jewell Loyd and Lindsay Allen, defeated top-seeded Baylor on Sunday by a score of 77-68 to advance to their fifth consecutive trip to the Final Four.
Junior guard Jewell Loyd had an off night on Sunday night, struggling with her shot, but sophomore guard Lindsay Allen stepped right in to help secure the Irish win. Allen scored 23 points against Baylor continuing her hot streak following a career-high 28 points in the regional semifinal win over Stanford on Friday. She was also selected the Most Outstanding Player in the regional. Rounding out the top Irish scorers, Michaela Mabrey scored 14 points, Jewell Loyd added 13 points along with seven rebounds and four assists, and Brianna Turner had 12 points along with 10 rebounds and two assists.
Notre Dame’s field goal percentage against Baylor was 47.6%, and the lady Irish sunk 50% of their free throws. The stand out number of the game looks very similar to the men’s successful three-point game, shooting 71.4% of their three-point shots.
South Carolina has had an excellent season this year and seem to have a hot streak going, but the Irish women have looked very impressive this year as well. The lady Irish are very similar to the men’s team in that they have multiple players who contribute to scoring and when one person is off their game inevitably someone seamlessly steps in and steps up their game.
Jewell Loyd on Lindsay Allen having her back: “Well, she’s like my twin, really, and she’s unstoppable. I think people have really underestimated her, and for us she’s been awesome all year, it’s been awesome to see how talented she is. She’s great, and she’s my big sis. I’m older, she’s my big sis. I look up to her on the court and off the court. She’s very humble. She’s the MVP.”
Muffet McGraw’s thoughts on the win over Baylor: “That was amazing. I think that was one of the best games in terms of our persistence, our relentless approach. We got down early and we just never quit, and we kept coming back, kept coming at them, did what we had to do. I thought Lindsay Allen was just the best point guard in the country today, just an amazing game, tournament MVP. What a great job by this young team that we thought maybe was a year away, and now here we are back in our fifth straight Final Four.”
Lindsay Allen on two back-to-back outstanding games: “Today was — this weekend was just a really great weekend. Our posts set really good screens for us in both games and the guards got really great free-throw line jumpers in both games, so this was a really good shooting weekend overall.”
I am very excited to see how the two guards, Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd and South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell match up against each other on Sunday. Loyd has struggled as of late so it will be interesting to see if during this week she can regain her focus and come out of the block with all cylinders firing. If Mitchell and Loyd cancel each other out, the Gamecocks have an advantage inside in Alaina Coates, who has a year and an inch (6-foot-4 to 6-foot-3) over Notre Dame’s Turner inside. Notre Dame’s three-point game will also be critical to defeating the Gamecocks. The Irish need to come out strong and make a statement early with their three-point game.
Overall, it’s as even a matchup in nearly every category. Coach McGraw does a great job at preparing her players and I am confident that this game will not be any different. So, what say you? Does Notre Dame have what it takes to defeat South Carolina and move on to the Championship Game?
Cheers & GO IRISH!!