When all is said and done, look for Tennessee to beat UConn for the title.
By Frank Jakka
As predicted here on Outsports in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament preview, Connecticut and Tennessee, top-seeds in their respective regions, along with LSU and Stanford, both two-seeds in their regions, pulled out big victories to gain the biggest stage in the college game. The Final Four is set for Tampa Sunday and Tuesday.
Connecticut, led by 6-0 All-American freshman and Big East Player and Rookie of the Year, Maya Moore, returns the Final Four after a three-year hiatus. Super Girl Moore (17.8 ppg./8.6 rpg./3 apg.) has had a phenomenal season. Though Moore had a hiccup against a stifling Rutgers’ defense in the regional final, look for her to bounce back in Tampa. Moore, who can hit from distance (43% 3FG), handle the ball, drive and defend, is the most well-rounded and complete player in the women’s game.
If UConn has Super Girl in Moore, Tennessee surely has Wonder Woman in Candace Parker. The Volunteer’s 6-5 junior All-American, has disappointed no one with her post-season play. Parker (21.6 ppg./8.3 rpg./2 bpg./2 apg./2 spg.) is credited with changing the women’s game – elevating play above the rim, as her 7 career in-game dunks will attest. Following not one, but two shoulder dislocations in the regional final against Texas A & M, Parker’s health is surely the biggest question mark heading into Tampa.
Because of her defensive presence (WBCA Defensive Player of the Year in all of women’s college basketball), 6-6 senior Sylvia Fowles gets the title of Bat Girl for her ability to fend off opponents from scoring. LSU returns for their record tying fifth straight Final Four – a record Coach Van Chancellor is happy to have kept in tact in his first year. The 9-fold senior class, led by Fowles (17.2 ppg./10 rpg.) is not satisfied with simply reaching the Final Four yet again – they want a trophy.
Stanford has finally returned to the Final Four following an 11-year absence. Tara VanDerveer’s squad is led by the perfect Storm, Candice Wiggins, a 5-11 senior. Wiggins (20.2 ppg./4.6 rpg./3.1 apg./2 spg.) has been nothing short of spectacular in the NCAA tournament – scoring a school record 44 points in a second round game against UTEP, and then blistering Maryland in the regional final with 41. Wiggins is hoping to continue to deliver west coast basketball in Tampa – as Stanford was the last west coast representative in a Final Four.
CONNECTICUT HUSKIES vs. STANFORD CARDINAL
GUARDS: 5-7 senior Ketia Swanier (6.9 ppg./3.1 rpg./4 apg.) and 5-7 junior Renee Montgomery (14.1 ppg./2.5 rpg./4 apg.) lead UConn in the backcourt, while Stanford counters with 5-10 sophomore JJ Hones (6.5 ppg./1.8 rpg./3.1 apg.) and 5-10 sophomore Rosalyn Gold-Onwude (5.1 ppg./2.5 rpg./2 apg.)
UConn relies heavily on Montgomery for offense after losing two of their starting guards to injury – and she usually delivers. Hones delivered a career offensive performance against Maryland. Swanier is one of the quickest and most improved players in America, while Gold-Onwude prides herself on her defense in returning from last season’s injury. EDGE: Connecticut
FORWARDS: The Huskies start Moore and 6-2 sophomore Kaili McLaren (5 ppg./4.1 rpg./2 apg.). The Cardinal bring Wiggins and 6-4 freshman forward Kayla Pedersen (12.6 ppg./8.4 rpg.) Moore can do it all but showed some frustration and struggled against the defensive scheme Rutgers put forth. Wiggins has delivered a Final Four and is playing with emotion - for her teammates, her coach and herself.McLaren is a great passer, but certainly not the quickest or most agile player. Pedersen has perhaps been the real ‘x-factor’ for Stanford this year – she scores, rebounds and defends. EDGE: Stanford
CENTER: Coach Geno Auriemma has favored 6-3 senior Brittany Hunter (5.7 ppg./5.3rpg.) over usual starter Tina Charles (6-4 sophomore). Stanford goes with 6-4 sophomore Jayne Appel (15 ppg./8.9 rpg./2.7 apg./2.4 bpg.). Hunter’s minutes are very limited because of knee problems, so Charles (14.4 ppg./9.3 rpg.) though in Auriemma’s doghouse, gets the majority of the time and is the team’s second leading scorer. Appel is a physical force inside the paint and her passing is perhaps her best attribute. EDGE: Stanford
BENCH: Even with the injuries, UConn delivers some quality off the bench – 6-2 senior Charde Houston (6.5 ppg.) has stepped up in the latter half of the season and has a knack for getting the ball and getting to the basket. Freshman Lorin Dixon will spell the backcourt if needed. Stanford looks to 6-1 junior Jillian Harmon (6.2 ppg.), a former starter, and 6-0 Jeanette Pohlen (4.8 ppg.) for help off the bench. EDGE: Connecticut
OUTLOOK: On paper, the Huskies are more athletic and more talented, but Stanford has some quality players who know their roles very well. UConn has three big-time scoring options in Moore, Montgomery and Charles. Stanford, however, has a phenomenal scoring machine playing at her peak in Wiggins, who is who is having a Sheryl Swoopes-like post season. Because of injuries, UConn is short-handed in the backcourt, while Stanford is light in the frontcourt after Appel and Pedersen. Neither team can afford a disruption in their starting line-ups. Connecticut is the team that should win, but Stanford could surprise.
TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS vs. LOUISIANA STATE TIGERS
GUARDS: Tennessee starts seniors Shannon Bobbit (9.8 ppg./3 rpg./3.4 apg.) and 5-11 Alexis Hornbuckle (10.3 ppg./5.7 rpg./3.7apg./2.9 spg.). LSU counters with seniors Erica White (7.7 ppg./3.1 rpg./4.4 apg.) and 5-9 RaShonta LeBlanc (6.4 ppg./3.5 rpg./3.5 apg.). Bobbit has been key at the point position since her first season with the Vols last year, while White’s leadership has been instrumental in leading LSU back to the Final Four. LeBlanc is a terrific role player for the Tigers. Hornbuckle is the biggest key outside of Parker in delivering another title to Tennessee. EDGE: Tennessee
FORWARDS: 5-10 senior Alberta Auguste (5.1 ppg./2.8 rpg.) has taken over starting duties from freshman Angie Bjorklund (7.4 ppg.) in the post-season and teams up with Parker for the Volunteers. The Tigers will start 5-11 senior Quianna Chaney (14.6 ppg./2.6 rpg./3.2apg./39%3FG) and 6-0 senior Ashley Thomas (5.4 ppg/.5.8rpg.). Auguste was a crucial part of last season’s title run and fills in for the slumping Bjorklund. Chaney is deadly from the outside and is critical in balancing the inside scoring of Fowles. Thomas does not give impressive stats but is the model of consistency at both ends of the floor. Parker, if healthy, is the most threatening player in the country and capable of carrying Tennessee to another championship.
CENTER: Nicky Anosike (8.8 ppg./7.3 rpg.) is a 6-4 senior for UT. Fowles starts in the post for LSU. Anosike will need to pull off stats similar to last year (a record 16 rebounds in the championship game) and more importantly, stay out of foul trouble. Fowles is an intimidating presence capable of completely dominating the paint offensively and defensively.
BENCH: The Volunteers have some quality players and shooters in Bjorklund, 6-3 junior Alex Fuller (6.4 ppg.) and 6-4 freshman Vicki Baugh (5.8 ppg.). LSU has tremendous experience with 5-10 sophomore Allison Hightower (7.2 ppg.) and 6-3 senior Mesha Williams (4.2 ppg.). The Tennessee bench is counted on to contribute. The LSU bench outside of Hightower, simply tries to maintain while subbing for the starters.
OUTLOOK: Though Tennessee beat LSU in the SEC tournament final, they are still smarting from losing out on the regular season title and Parker’s losing out to Fowles as Player of the Year. A health Parker and no foul trouble should equal a Tennessee win. However, several variables can enter the formula: Parker’s health; Hornbuckle’s lack of effectiveness or Bobbit’s inability to take the reins. LSU seemingly has fewer variables – you know what you’re going to get – a heavy dose of Fowles inside, Chaney outside and defensive pressure for 40 minutes. Tennessee should win this game, but the slightest letdown at any position for Tennessee will give LSU a victory.
NATIONAL FINAL: CONNECTICUT vs. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
OUTLOOK: Facing UConn would be the best case scenario for Tennessee as no other team gets the Volunteers (or Coach Pat Summitt) riled up like the Huskies (and Coach Auriemma). Look for the Tennessee guards to pressure UConn and Tina Charles will get all she can handle from Parker. The biggest key in this match-up will be the defensive effort of Hornbuckle against Moore. Look for Tennessee to win it all over UConn fo