Michelle Smith previews Stanford and UConn in the Final Four
MINNEAPOLIS - Two of the most storied programs in the history of the game will clash on Friday night at the Target Center with a chance to play for a national title.
This time, it’s the top-seeded and defending champion Stanford Cardinal and Connecticut, which has experienced an unusual amount of ups and downs, that comes in as the underdog, at least on the seed line as a No. 2
“I think we match up very well,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, whose team has a 2-4 record against Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament. “We've both played great competition. We're experienced teams. I think we play similar styles, and we know that the team that does their thing better will win. So we know that we have to play very well. You have to do the usual stuff. You have to take care of the basketball, take good shots, rebound, play great defense.”
Both teams had a grueling effort to get to Minneapolis, Stanford surviving Texas 59-51 and Connecticut needed double-overtime to get past top-seeded North Carolina State, 91-87.
Let’s break down this matchup some more.
NCAA National Semifinal
Target Center, Minneapolis
No. 1 Stanford (32-3) vs. No. 2 Connecticut (29-5)
Friday, April 1 • 6:30 p.m. PT • ESPN
- Series Record: Connecticut leads 11-7 and is 4-2 against the Cardinal in the NCAA Tournament.
- Stanford’s 2022 Tournament: Defeated No. 16 Montana State 78-37; defeated Kansas 91-65; defeated No. 4 Maryland 72-66; defeated No. 2 Texas 59-50.
- Connecticut’s 2022 Tournament: Defeated No. 15 Mercer 83-38; defeated No. 7 UCF 52-47; defeated No. 3 Indiana 75-58; defeated No. 1 NC State 91-87 (2OT).
- Stanford Starting Lineup: G Lacie Hull, Sr.; G/F Lexie Hull, Sr.; G/F, Haley Jones, Jr.; G Anna Wilson, Sr.; C Cameron Brink, So.
- Connecticut Starting Lineup: G Christyn Williams, Sr.; G Paige Bueckers, So.; G Azzi Fudd, Fr.; F Aaliyah Edwrads, Jr.; F Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Sr.
- Stanford’s Story: The Cardinal comes into this game on a 24-game winning streak, the longest in the nation, and with the added spice of being the defending national champions. Texas’ pressure held Stanford to its second-lowest scoring total of the season of 59 points, but there’s no reason to think that wasn’t specific to that matchup. The Cardinal has three players averaging double figures during the NCAA Tournament - Lexie Hull, Brink and Jones. Eight players are averaging double-figure minutes per game and Stanford holds a 48.30-29.3 rebounding advantage. What Stanford needs most is to keep its key players on the floor, with Cameron Brink, Anna Wilson and Lacie Hull all averaging under 25 minutes a game, largely due to foul trouble.
- Connecticut’s Story: In their 22nd Final Four appearance, the Huskies are seeking their 12th NCAA title, but the Final Four hasn’t been nearly as kind to Connecticut in recent years. They are 11-10 overall in Final Fours, but four of those last 10 losses have come in the last four Final Fours and no player on this UConn roster has won a national title.
- This has not been an easy season in Storrs. A knee injury cost them the talents of Paige Bueckers, the reigning national player of the year and Minnesota native, for 19 games. Highly-touted freshman Azzi Fudd was injured and out for 11 games and Connecticut experienced a 20-day COVID pause in the middle of its season. The Huskies come into this national semifinal game with the most losses on its record since 2012.
- And the injury bug isn’t done with Connecticut quite yet, reserve forward Dorka Juhasz fractured her wrist after just three minutes of action against North Carolina State.
- Bueckers is rounding back into form, with 27 points in that thrilling double-overtime win over North Carolina State on Monday.
- Stanford’s X-Factor: Lacie Hull. The player who was on the floor for more minutes than anyone else on the Cardinal roster on Sunday night against Texas isn’t who you might think. It was, in fact, Lacie Hull who played all 40 minutes under stifling defensive pressure. Even on a tough shooting night (0-for-6), she came up big, finishing with five rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. The hustle complement to her twin sister Lexie, Lacie is a candidate to make a play that wins the game.
- Connecticut’s X-Factor: Evina Westbrook. Westbrook is coming off the bench to provide a spark when the Huskies need it. And after scoring just 10 points in Connecticut’s last two games, Westbrook is due for an offensive breakout the likes of which she displayed in the Big East Tournament when she scored 27 combined points in back-to-back conference tournament games.
- Matchup of the Game: Anna Wilson vs. Paige Bueckers. Wilson, the Cardinal's sixth-year senior, is simply one of the best perimeter defenders in the country and she will be tasked with keeping Bueckers in check.
- Stat that will Decide The Game: 3-point shooting. Both of these teams depend on the three to keep their offense flowing. A tough shooting night for someone is going to spell trouble.
- Stanford Wins If: The Cardinal can continue its recipe for success that has gotten it this far. Diversified offense, holding down turnovers, own the boards, play stout scout defense and keeping Cameron Brink on the floor as long as possible. This is a matchup that suits Stanford’s style of play much better than Texas and the Cardinal have size and depth advantages.
- Connecticut Wins If: They can score against a stingy Stanford defense and defend the perimeter well against a barrage of 3s. Connecticut is slightly better than the Cardinal in scoring and field-goal percentage, but hasn’t played a team this long or deep all year. And Bueckers is going to have to be great again, because it takes a go-to scorer to counter all of Stanford’s offensive weapons.