There will be plenty of familiar faces at the women’s Final Four with Stanford, South Carolina, Louisville and UConn heading to Minneapolis.
With all the upsets that occurred during the women’s NCAA Tournament this year — a record number of double-digit seeds won — three No. 1 seeds and No. 2 seed UConn remain.
UConn has been the stalwart of the group, reaching the Final Four an eye-popping 14 straight times now. The team has been to a total of 21 national semifinals and won a record 11 championships. They’ll face defending champion Stanford, which has been to 15 Final Fours. Louisville plays South Carolina in the first semifinal Friday night. The two schools are each playing in their fourth Final Four.
Stanford and UConn have a storied history in the Final Four, having played five times in the national semifinals or championship game — most recently in 2014. UConn is 4-1, including a win in the Final Four in Minneapolis in 1995.
“All the coaches going to Minneapolis have really good players or we wouldn’t be there,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after his team won a double-overtime thriller over NC State—the fourth No. 1 seed.
Stanford is two wins away from repeating as champion — a feat last accomplished by UConn from 2013-16 when the team won four straight.
“It’s crazy to say this but you’re always happy to go to the Final Four, but sometimes you’re like really happy. And I’m like really happy,” coach Tara VanDerveer said.
This year’s trip was easier for the Cardinal, who spent months living in hotels last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re excited to have fans, because last year it was more fans than we had all year, but it still wasn’t the same atmosphere that it is now,” VanDerveer said. “We’ve had this on our radar all year. We’ve never really talked about going to the Final Four. We’ve talked about it, but now we’re really going. It does not get old.”
Dawn Staley has the Gamecocks in the Final Four for the fourth time in seven seasons.
They fell just short of reaching the championship game last season when Aliyah Boston’s last-moment shot bounced off the rim and Stanford won 66-65.
Boston and her teammates have been driven to get another shot, but she hasn’t dwelled on those final painful seconds.
“I think part of growing up and maturing is being able to move on,” Boston said. “So that happened last season but that’s not something I can continue to think about or else there wouldn’t be any progress. So I’ve let go of that since last season and we’ve moved on.”
They’ll face a Louisville team that topped Michigan in the semifinals and reached the Final Four for the first time since 2018. These two teams don’t have much history, last meeting in 2016.
The Cardinals have been among the nation’s best all season, ranked near the top of the AP Top 25 for most of the year. Led by sophomore Hailey Van Lith, who scored 22 points against the Wolverines, Jeff Walz’s team will try to win its first national championship.
“He’s meant the world to me personally,” Louisville forward Emily Engstler said of her coach. “He lets you be yourself and he protects you and you can trust him, and that’s hard in this industry. I’m going to do whatever I can to get him a national championship.”
AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report.
More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25