Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Women's March Madness 2024: The Final Four of the Revival Tournament

Paige Buckers vs. Juju Watkins was a sensation. The LSU-Iowa rematch exceeded that. South Carolina hung on to stay undefeated. NC State pulled off another upset.

Now the final four storylines are set in abundance.

Caitlin Clark is trying to add to her already formidable legacy by trying to bring Iowa its first national title after losing just one game a season ago.

After missing all of last season, he is back in the Final Four for a third straight time as he tries to finish the job he was unable to do in 2021 and 2022.

South Carolina doesn't have a star on the level of Clark or Buekers. GameCox is a joint — not all games have the best one. After taking an unblemished record into the Final Four a year ago, South Carolina will take another run at finishing the season perfect to see Clark and the Hawkeyes end up in the national semifinals.

NC State is the team that shouldn't be here, but the Wolfpack might have had an easier trip. To reach the program's second Final Four, they were a no. Defeated No. 1 and No. 2 seeds by double digits.

There will be plenty of exploration of these stories and more over the next few days, but here's a first look at the Final Four.



Undefeated South Carolina advanced to the Final Four

Tessa Johnson scored 15 points, Camila Cardoso added 12 and the Gamecocks advanced to the Final Four for the fourth straight time with a 70-58 win over Oregon State.

Number 1 seeds

South Carolina GameCox
Original Seed: No. 1 overall (Region 1 in Albany)
NCAA Tournament Results: beat 16-seed Presbyterian 91-39; beat No. 8 North Carolina 88-41; beat No. 4 seed Indiana 79-75; Defeated Oregon State 70-58

GameCox has had tense moments in both regional games but is still No. 1 overall. Unbeatable is undefeated. Since their 29-point win over Notre Dame in the season opener in Paris, they've been considered the nation's best and lived up to every twist — a close call with Tennessee in the SEC Tournament and road trips to Indiana and Oregon State. In Albany though. Coach Dan Staley and South Carolina are favorites to win a third national title.

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South Carolina never trailed against the Hoosiers or the Beavers. But concerns about Gamecox's ability to close resurfaced when a 22-point lead over Indiana dwindled to two in the fourth quarter and a 14-point lead in the final stretch against Oregon State dwindled to four. In both instances, South Carolina made a big play — Raven Johnson's 3-pointer against the Hoosiers and freshman Tessa Johnson's three-pointer against the Beavers — to keep either game from getting close and spark South Carolina. succeeds. Staley's team has now demonstrated its ability to beat opponents And Make a key play in crunch time. GameCox doesn't have to rely on one person to do it. They have had four different leading goalscorers in every competitive game and nine players have scored in each of the last three games.

Next: 3-seed NC State (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Iowa Hawkeyes
Original Seed: No. 1 (Region 2 in Albany)
NCAA Tournament Results: beat Holy Cross 91-65; beat West Virginia 64-54; defeated 5-ranked Colorado 89-68; 3-seed LSU was defeated 94-87

Only an undefeated team keeps the Hawkeyes from the top of the list. Clark and the Hawkeyes excelled in regionals beating Colorado and LSU. Clark averaged 30 points in both games, including a 41-point performance against the Tigers in Monday's rematch of last year's national championship game.

Iowa's 91.5 points per game in Albany came against a pair of top-20-rated defenses. Clark's nine 3-pointers tied the record for most in an NCAA Tournament game, but along the way he became the all-time tournament leader in assists. His 12 against the Tigers helped Kate Martin (21 points vs. 13.1 ppg on the season Monday) and Sidney Affolder (16 points vs. 8.3 ppg on the season) better than their season averages.

No wonder Iowa is being blamed. But with Clark at the helm, the Hawkeyes weren't a good offense; They are special. They lead the nation in points per game, points per scoring attempt, 2-point field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage and assists per game. Most of that hockey is not thriving. They are talented.

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Iowa was beaten on the boards by LSU (54-36), but Clark's 3-point shooting (9-of-20 against the Tigers) could make up for it. The only team left in Iowa's possible path is South Carolina, which is rebounding at an elite level — the Hawkeyes led the way to the Gamecocks in last year's national semifinals.

Some credit must go to Lisa Bluder and her adjustments at halftime. The Hawkeyes were plus-19 in the third quarter during regionals.

Next: 3-seed UConn (Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET ESPN)



UConn reached its 23rd Final Four record after Buker's 28-point night

Paige Bookers scored 28 points with 10 rebounds and 6 assists as UConn topped USC to reach its 23rd Final Four appearance.

Yukon Huskies
Original Seed: No. 3 (Region 3 in Portland)
NCAA Tournament Results: defeated 14-seed Jackson State 86-64; beat 6-seed Syracuse 72-64; beat 7-ranked Duke 53-45; Defeated 1-seed USC 80-73

Geno Auriemma built the UConn program from the ground up. He has won 11 national championships. He has five unbeaten seasons. But this may be his best coaching career yet. UConn lost five players to injury this season, and each of them would have played a significant role on this team.

The Huskies have used a six-player rotation since early January. Three of those six are freshmen. Beukers, Nika Muhl and Aaliyah Edwards played 40 minutes in the regional final against USC. The Bukers haven't left the court in three games. Avreema and her staff helped the team reach the 23rd Final Four of the show.

If Clark was the tournament's No. 1 player, the Bukers 1A. The sheer numbers weren't that pretty, but she delivered in every way. Her 28 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists were asked to guard Watkins for large portions of the game. Bukers has three double-doubles and is shooting 51.1% from the field in four tournament games.

According to HerHoopStats.com, he has been the most efficient player per minute and has the most defensive win shares since the start of March Madness. What she does on both ends of the court, rebounding like a WNBA power forward at 5-foot-11, perhaps earns the Bukers the crown as the tournament's best all-around player.

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Next: 1-seed Iowa (Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)



NC State cruised to a Final Four berth in the first half

Asia James' five first-half 3s propelled the Wolfpack to their second Final Four berth in school history.

NC State Wolfpack
Original Seed: No. 3 (Region 4 in Portland)
NCAA Tournament Results: beat 14-seed Chattanooga 64-45; beat 6-seed Tennessee 79-72; beat No. 2 Stanford 77-67; Defeated Texas 76-66

Raleigh is now the centerpiece of the basketball universe, the Wolfpack's unlikely destination since its lone debut in 1998, and the 11th-ranked men's team faces an even more unlikely trip to the final weekend of the season.

The women entered the NCAA Tournament with a sputtering offense. The Wolfpack averaged 58.0 PPG in the three games prior to March Madness. In their last three games in the NCAA Tournament, the Wolfpack have averaged 77.3 PPG. That came against the 34th-ranked (Tennessee), eighth-ranked (Stanford) and third-ranked (Texas) defenses, according to HerHoopStats.com. Whatever switch Wes Moore flipped, it worked. Only South Carolina, the next opponent, has a higher average through regionals since the second round. The biggest reason for the turnaround? Asia James. His shooting (7-for-9 on 3-pointers) was the key to the Longhorns' upset. He averaged 24.3 PPG in the NCAA Tournament after producing 15.8 PPG on the season.

LSU and Arizona combined for the third No. 1 Final Four appearance since 2017. NC State ranks 3 or less. Yes, last year the Tigers won the title in 3rd place. But the Wolfpack's run this year may have been more impressive. They had to beat as many high-scoring opponents as possible in each round, topping No. 6 Tennessee, No. 2 Stanford and No. 1 Texas. LSU was ranked No. 1 in regionals during last year's championship run. No. 2 seed Utah and No. 9 seed Miami, while No. 1 Arizona defeated Texas A&M and No. 4 Indiana en route to the Final Four. faced 2.

Next: 1-seed South Carolina (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

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