The women’s NCAA tournament features two teams expected by many to play for the national title on Tuesday, April 8. in No. 1 UConn and No. 1 Notre Dame. They’ve been the two best teams in the country all season long, and it’ll take an exemplary effort to keep either team from reaching the game’s biggest night in Nashville. Saturday both teams took another step towards their goal of winning a national title, advancing to the Elite Eight with double-digit victories.
Geno Auriemma’s Huskies, the top overall seed, struggled with No. 12 BYU in a Lincoln Region semifinal and led the Cougars by just one point at the half. Whatever Auriemma said to his players in the locker room had an effect, as UConn limited BYU to 31% shooting in the second half of their 70-51 victory.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, leading four double-digit scorers, and UConn turned 20 offensive rebounds into 27 second-chance points (18-point advantage). Kim Beeston scored 16 points and Morgan Bailey added 14 for BYU, which beat No. 5 NC State and No. 4 Nebraska last weekend to reach this point. Next up for 37-0 UConn is No. 3 Texas A&M, as the Aggies limited No. 7 DePaul to 24 first-half points in their 84-65 victory over the Blue Demons. Courtney Walker paced the Aggies with 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting.
As for Notre Dame, Muffet McGraw’s Fighting Irish built up a 14-point halftime lead and that proved to be the cushion they needed in an 89-72 win over No. 5 Oklahoma State. Natalie Achonwa accounted for 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five blocks to lead the way, with Jewell Loyd adding 20 points and 12 rebounds and Kayla McBride 18 points for the 35-0 ACC champions.
Next up for Notre Dame is the South Bend regional final against No. 2 Baylor, which is also the last team to beat the Fighting Irish at Purcell Pavilion. Job one for Notre Dame on Monday night will be to slow down high-scoring guard Odyssey Sims, who led the Lady Bears to a 90-72 win over No. 3 Kentucky with 25 points and seven assists. Sims has now scored 1,021 points this season, becoming the second woman in Division I history to score 1,000 points in a single season (Jackie Stiles was the first in 2001).
Not to be overlooked in Baylor’s win is the play of Nina Davis, who added 2o points and eight rebounds. Kentucky shot just 34.8% from the field and guard Jennifer O’Neill, who leads the team in scoring with an average of 12.6 points per game, missed all 12 of her shots and scored all eight of her points at the foul line. And in a glance at Monday’s game in South Bend, Baylor is 4-0 all-time against Notre Dame with their last win coming on December 5, 2012, and the Fighting Irish have won 27 straight home games since.