The build up for the Final 4 matchups was among one of the best in Women’s Basketball History. The games did not disappoint as both games combined to have over 30 lead changes and there was never a point during the 80 minutes that a team had a double digit lead. That is very rare to happen in Basketball (Men’s and Women’s).
Many first round draft picks were showcased in the games on Friday from all 4 teams. But only 2 could advance as it would be Baylor defeating Oregon 72-67 in the first game.
And Notre Dame eliminating UConn from the Semi-Finals for the second year in a row, 81-76. The stage is set for Sunday and it should be a fantastic game with two teams playing somewhat similar styles and very good front court players.
Sabrina Ionescu is considered by many to be the #1 Pick in the WNBA Draft come June. She is still a Junior, so she could come back for her senior season, but that seems to be unlikely at the moment. Ionescu did get 18 Points and 6 Assists, but was not effective from the field whatsoever.
It was the combo defense of G Juicy Landrum and DiDi Richards that held Ionescu to a disappointing 6-24 from the field and 4-11 from 3. Oregon was able to connect on 12 3’s. Baylor only shot 3 the entire game. Baylor does their work opposite of Oregon by scoring in the paint as Lauren Cox and Kalani Brown combined for 43 Points on 18-26 shooting and 18 Rebounds.
Baylor was a consistent 54% from the field, while Oregon was forced to shoot 3’s late in the game that would not connect, as they finished 36%. Oregon’s offense did eclipse Baylor’s PPG Defense, but was no where near The Duck’s average PPG (at 85).
Sabrina Ionescu was able to leave a legacy at Oregon and if she stays, gives the Ducks a legitimate chance to be back in this same position next year. But with the perimeter defense and shot creating down low that Baylor possesses, it was too much for the Ducks to handle.
The most historic rivalry over the past decade in Women’s College Basketball is UConn-Notre Dame. No debate about it. UConn has dominated the series, but Notre Dame has gotten the last laugh during the tournament as of late.
The most clutch player in WBB’s history was able to get 23 Points on 6 rebounds and was perfect from the line in Arike Ogunbowale. But more notably, it was Notre Dame’s frontcourt that was able to dominate the Huskies. Brianna Turner had a night to remember with 15 Points and 15 Rebounds. Jessica Shepard was also a monster down low with 20 Points and 13 Rebounds on 10-19 shooting in the contest.
UConn has first round talent in players like Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, who will be great WNBA players. But their Junior and Senior years didn’t go quite as well as they wanted it to. UConn’s 3 Point shooting let them down with just 26% and weren’t consistent enough in connecting on shots as they were just 42% from the field.
What makes this Baylor-Notre Dame matchup so intriguing is the frontcourt matchup, as well as, if DiDi Richards is able to contain Ogunbowale, the same way she was able to contain Ionsecu.
Keys to a win for Baylor:
Notre Dame has the #1 scoring offense in Women’s College Basketball at 88 PPG. Baylor has the #1 scoring defense. The story writes itself after that.
Baylor isn’t new to facing really good offenses as they’ve held Top 5 scoring Iowa to 53 and Oregon to 67 (both well below their season averages) in back to back games. But Oregon doesn’t have the talent in the backcourt AND frontcourt that Notre Dame has. With Ogunbowale, Shepard, and Turner, that is not going to be an easy task.
Oregon uses a lot of screens to get their shooters open and that’s not how Notre Dame will play this game. Baylor needs to focus on all around defense, but primarily Cox and Brown’s defense against Shepard and Turner.
Keys to a win for Notre Dame:
Baylor doesn’t rely on the 3, so that should make things easier for Notre Dame as to what to focus on. Baylor runs a lot of pick and rolls and high ball screens to either get their bigs open or a driving lane for Chloe Jackson. Keeping most of your defenders inside the 3 point arc will be a key.
Notre Dame is going to have to shoot the 3 ball better than they did against UConn. Notre Dame plays more of a modern NBA offense, while Baylor is more of a 1999 San Antonio Spurs where they pound you in the paint and have excellent perimeter defense.
Ogunbowale winning matchups against Richards/Landrum and Shepard/Turner’s hustle on rebounds against Cox/Brown will be the keys to a win for Notre Dame.
This should be one of the most even and thrilling games of the Final Four in about a decade. These teams have history as the last time Baylor and Notre Dame faced off for a national championship, The Bears clinched the first ever perfect 40-0 season.
McGraw and Mulkey have both been in this situation before and know how to handle it. With some late heroics from Ogunbowale and clutch putbacks from Brianna Turner, Notre Dame repeats as National Champions in a game to remember. Notre Dame 74, Baylor 72.
Image Credit: https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/04/02/notre-dame-womens-ncaa-tournament-arike-ogunbowale