In its 14th consecutive Final Four, the UConn women’s basketball team is headed to Minneapolis, Minnesota to take on the Stanford Cardinal (32-3). The Cardinal, an all-time rival for the Huskies, won last year’s national championship and is a strong contender to repeat this weekend.
Stanford has had about as good of a season as any other team in the country, holding a top two or three slot in the polls for the vast majority. In just its second game of the campaign, it dropped one at home to Texas, a team that ended up being a No. 2 seed. The team then went on a four-game win streak, including against future No. 9 seed Gonzaga and No. 3 seed Indiana.
It picked up a fluke loss in the Bahamas to future No. 9 seed South Florida, in a contest where it had trouble getting its offense going. The very next game though, The Cardinal shut down a red hot Maryland squad that would eventually get a No. 4 seed, winning the game by 18. It collected three more straight wins, with the most notable coming against future No. 4 seed Tennessee. A brutally tough game against top overall seed South Carolina ensued, where Stanford lost by just four in an absolute dogfight and potential championship preview.
The Cardinal then entered PAC 12 play, where it completely dominated. It ripped off 21 straight wins against conference opponents, including three straight to secure the PAC 12 tournament.
In March Madness, it started off against No. 16 Montana State in a matchup that wasn’t even competitive, as it more than doubled the Bobcats. No. 8 Kansas proved to be no problem, as the Cardinal dropped a 26 point win, which it followed with a close rematch win over No. 4 Maryland. Its ticket to the Final Four was punched though by its win over No. 2 Texas, where it avenged its loss from earlier in the year.
For the Huskies, this year has been quite the up and down journey. Ranked early in the year as the No. 2 overall team, they hit quite the bump in the road when they lost Paige Bueckers, Azzi Fudd and Christyn Williams, each for at least three games. They had difficulty beating their top level competition such as Louisville during that stretch, but there was a benefit to the struggle: all the people who didn’t have a large role had to step up and become better, making them a more optimal second, third or fourth option once the normal players returned. This culminated in their Big East Tournament and ongoing March Madness run in which the Huskies have won their past 14 games.
The most recent was also the most memorable, with the Huskies winning what people are calling one of the best women’s basketball games of all time, a 2OT thriller against NC State. The star of the show was Paige Bueckers, who scored 27 points and grabbed six boards. During the game though, key center Dorka Juhasz was hurt, which could prove to be a massive problem for the Huskies this weekend.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cameron Brink — Brink has been an absolute force all season for the well-spread Cardinal offense. Leading the team with 13.4 points, the 6’5’’ player has also been extremely efficient, shooting over 56%. She also paces Stanford defensively, leading them with 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. Brink has scored in double figures in every tournament game so far this year, but more impressive is her increased shot-blocking ability. She’s rejected 17 shots over the four tournament games, which is a team high. With Juhasz out, it will be critical for Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa to stay out of foul trouble throughout the contest.
Paige Bueckers — Bueckers is back in the 612 for this weekend’s slate, just 15 minutes from her hometown of Hopkins, where she had a storied high school career. Bueckers had her best performance since returning from injury on Monday, and the biggest determining factor of the outcome of the game against Stanford will be whether she can pick up where she left off. The guard had 15 points in overtime alone, which is one point away from her previous post-injury high. Hopefully for the Huskies, Bueckers’ home cooking will allow her to get to a new level and take UConn to its 12th national championship.
The game will air on ESPN at 9:30 p.m. EST this Friday.