Defending champion Stanford Cardinal has only one hurdle left to compete for her first repeat title: the Connecticut Huskies, the team that has won the most consecutive championships than any other women’s college basketball team in Division I. Stanford fired all but one starter from its title team, but it will take its veterans to give their best against the Huskies — especially sophomore phenom Paige Bueckers.
Both the Huskies and the Cardinal received overwhelming support from their home crowds in the Round of 16. Connecticut effectively had home-court advantage in Bridgeport — a stone’s throw from Storrs — while Stanford played in Spokane, where teammates and twin sisters Lexie and Lacie Hull grew up and led her high school to two state championships.
In Minneapolis, Connecticut will likely have the strongest cheer section thanks to Bueckers, who played at Hopkins High School in suburban Minneapolis. The Cardinal hasn’t played without the fans on his side in the tournament so far, and in what looks to be a close game, that support could give the Huskies an edge.
Stanford’s 6-foot-4 Cameron Brink and Connecticut’s 6-foot-5 Olivia Nelson-Ododa are both athletic post players who move well around the basket to score and rebound, block shots and, especially in the Nelson-Ododa case, find their teammates to facilitate a quick offense.
They also often have foul issues, each averaging 2.8 fouls per game. It is therefore crucial for both teams to keep their best position players in the game and to be able to play freely. Both Stanford and Connecticut are capable of applying intense defensive pressure, and both Brink and Nelson-Ododa will need to remain patient as they maneuver for open looks around the basket.
Stanford, which enters the game with the longest active winning streak of any Division I women’s team – 24 straight wins – has the size advantage. Even his guards are big and can find shots against the most diligent defenders, as Texas discovered in the Round of 16. Because Connecticut is just as adept, the Cardinal will have to exploit any mismatches they can find — even 6-foot-1 Haley Jones against the 5-foot-11 Bueckers.
If Jones and Bueckers defend in Friday’s game, it could be one of the best pairings in the tournament. Both are exceptionally skilled as entertainers and scorers, making plays on just about every part of the field.
Stanford and Connecticut coaches Tara VanDerveer and Geno Auriemma are the winningest and second-winningest coaches in women’s college basketball history. The Huskies own the series by a wide margin, but this game will provide yet another opportunity for two of the sport’s most important coaches to compete on its biggest stage.