For the third time in history all four No. 1 seeds have made the women’s basketball Final Four, with the Connecticut Huskies and head coach Geno Auriemma seeking their third straight national title starting Sunday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
Auriemma, having spent the last 30 years with Connecticut, could pick up the 10th national title of his career, which would equal UCLA legend John Wooden on college's all-time list.
The Huskies are making a record eighth straight trip to the Final Four, while the Maryland Terrapins and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are repeat finalists from last year’s showdown.
Led by former superstar turned head coach Dawn Staley, the South Carolina Gamecocks are the newest addition, and they’ll face a Notre Dame squad that’s reached the championship game three out of the last four years.
It’s that kind of consistency and dominance that Auriemma has come to expect in the women’s game.
"That's the way it is in women's basketball," Auriemma said to reporters this week. "The absolute best teams get to the Final Four. I'm not one bit surprised Notre Dame and South Carolina are there. That's the way it is in our game. The best teams go to the Final Four every year."
Here’s a breakdown of how each squad made the Final Four and their matchups. Both games will be broadcast by ESPN, and a live online stream is available at Watch ESPN.
No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (34-2, 15-1) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (35-2, 15-1)
Since taking over the Gamecocks in 2008, Staley has managed to advance her team into the Final Four for the first time, and she’s now one of only two people to ever play and coach in a Final Four.
South Carolina blazed through the SEC and most of the regular season, winning 22 straight before meeting Connecticut on the road on Feb. 9. Still the Gamecocks have gone 12-1 since, including the tournament, with top scorers Tiffany Mitchell, A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates leading the way.
Mitchell, a junior guard averaging 14.5 points per game, spearheads a South Carolina offense that’s put up 76.2 points a game and kept opponents down with 53.8 points. The Gamecocks have also been especially dominating on the glass, averaging 41.3 rebounds to foes 31.7.
South Carolina breezed past Savannah State and Syracuse in the first two rounds, winning by an average of 26 points, yet faced much stiffer tests in North Carolina and Florida State. But Mitchell’s 21 points and Coates 14 points off the bench against the Seminoles earned the Gamecocks their first trip to the Final Four.
Head coach Muffet McGraw and the Fighting Irish got their two hiccups out of the way early, with both losses to Connecticut and Miami by Jan. 8, but since then have ripped off 21 straight victories thanks to a loaded offense powered by junior guard Jewell Loyd, freshman forward Brianna Turner, sophomore guard Lindsay Allen and sophomore forward Taya Reimer. Loyd was enjoying an excellent 19.9 points per game season, but Allen bailed the Irish out in the Elite Eight with 23 points in the 77-68 victory over Baylor, their closest victory in the tournament thus far.
Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
No. 1 Connecticut Huskies (36-1, 18-0) vs. No. 1 Maryland Terrapins (34-2, 18-0)
The Huskies once again tore through the tournament, dropping opponents by an average of 43.5 points, including a 105-54 smashing of Texas in the Sweet 16. But they’ll stare down a Maryland squad that’s put up 79.2 points per game and faced some serious battles in the early rounds.
As one of four starters to reach double-digits, sophomore guard Lexie Brown notched 15 points in the Terrapins 58-48 Elite Eight victory over a 30-win Tennessee squad. It was the kind of balanced scoring fans have come to expect from Maryland, with four players averaging a minimum of 13 points a game.
Maryland will look to 6-foot-3 sophomore center Brionna Jones, who’s put up 12.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per contest, to contain the Huskies star, junior 6-foot-4 forward Breanna Stewart.
Racking up 17.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, Stewart is the Huskies force inside, with senior center Kiah Stokes swatting away another 3.9 shots per game.
Start Time: 8:30 p.m.