With a decisive 94-65 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks Monday night, the UConn women’s basketball team advanced to its 11th consecutive Final Four. The Huskies take on long-time rivals Notre Dame in the national semifinal Friday and, should they emerge victorious, will take on the winner of Mississippi State versus Louisville. The biggest question remaining is whether or not UConn can return to its perch atop women’s basketball and win its 12th national championship. Associate Sports Editor Chris Hanna and Staff Writer Mariana Dominguez debate just that in this week’s edition of Point/Counterpoint.
Chris Hanna: To me, there is no question the UConn Huskies will come out on top and cut the nets in Columbus, Ohio come Sunday night. The big win over South Carolina showed the Huskies are back at their best and there’s no better time for that than right now with just two games left to play in the season.
Crystal Dangerfield and Gabby Williams are especially hitting their stride, and when those two players are on, UConn is near unstoppable. Add in 3-point snipers and all-around athletes Katie Lou Samuelson and Kia Nurse, and opposing teams have too much to worry about regarding who they’ll key on defensively. And that doesn’t even account for the post presence of Napheesa Collier and Azurá Stevens, who wreak havoc with great efficiency in the paint on both ends of the floor. With all those pieces clicking and someone like Megan Walker providing a second spark off the bench, I just don’t see a situation where the Huskies lose this weekend.
Mariana Dominguez: While the Huskies are the sure favorites to cut the net on Sunday night it is definitely not a shoe-in for the seasoned squad. To advance to the championship game they will first have to defeat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Earlier in the season, they defeated Muffet McGraw’s team 80-71, but it was no easy task. The Huskies were down by double digits in the first quarter to the Irish and had to crawl their way back to seal the win. Notre Dame is also the team that has the most experience defeating UConn in recent memory. Since 2011, UConn and Notre Dame have played 18 times, and Notre Dame was able to defeat UConn in seven of those games. While that may not seem like a hefty number, it proves that McGraw has the experience defeating Auriemma’s team and can do so with the right team.
While it is true that this Notre Dame team has experienced four season-ending injuries in one season, that will make them want to get to the championship game even more. They have made it this far with a thin lineup. Why can’t they go all the way?
Chris: I’ll give you this: the Irish definitely gave UConn one of its biggest scares of the year in that Dec. 3 game at the XL Center. That said, there’s a reason the Huskies still won that game, because no team in the nation has figured out how completely stop UConn from going on one of its huge runs. Plenty of teams have stuck with UConn for three quarters, but losing focus for even five minutes can cost teams the game when they’re vying for a win against the Huskies. Just ask Louisville – another Final Four team – which had an awful first quarter in a Feb. 12 matchup against UConn at Gampel Pavilion and then outscored the Huskies the rest of the way, yet still couldn’t pull off the win.
Ultimately, the team I’d be most worried about if I’m a UConn fan is Mississippi State. Last year’s upset aside, the Bulldogs are the only team I think could beat UConn this season, but even then I’m fairly confident the Huskies would come out on top, should they face off in the National Championship Game. The 2017-18 edition of the UConn women’s basketball team is far more balanced offensively than the 2016-17 team, and crucially, has the experience of a well-seasoned squad that is hungry to avenge its somewhat embarrassing loss from the Final Four last year.
Victoria Vivians and Teaira McCowan make for an imposing scoring duo that will attract the Huskies’ attention, and obviously everyone knows Morgan William has the clutch gene, but this is UConn’s year. Expect Geno Auriemma and the Huskies to hoist the title for the fifth time in six years and 12th time overall.
Mariana: I will agree with you that the Huskies’ biggest opponent this upcoming weekend could be Mississippi State. Besides having to deal with the physical game, UConn will potentially be playing a mind game trying not to get distracted by the fact that they’re playing a team that embarrassed them and knocked them out before the championship game. If the Huskies do meet Mississippi State, Teaira McCowan will be a monumental task for them. In the regular season, McCowan averaged 18.7 points per game and 13.5 rebounds per game. To counter that, Katie Lou Samuelson leads UConn in points per game with 17.5 and Napheesa Collier leads the Huskies in rebounds with 7.5. Also, Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer cannot be underestimated. He molded his team from being beaten by UConn by over 60 points to being able to beat the Huskies in the Final Four a year later. He puts incredible trust in his players and makes them believe that anything is possible. His team does not get caught up in the idea that UConn is unbeatable. If they truly believe that they can win, Mississippi State has as good a chance as any at beating UConn for a national championship.
We won’t know for certain whether or not UConn can claim its 12th national championship Sunday night, but the Huskies’ path for another title starts 9 p.m. Friday at the Nationwide Arena with a rematch against Notre Dame.
Mariana Dominguez is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.