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The Final Four women’s teams survived a wild tournament amid parity

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – There was a time, not many years ago, when predicting the NCAA Tournament women’s champion seemed relatively straightforward.

UConn or Tennessee or Baylor or maybe Stanford, depending on the year.

But this year is not a year like that.

South Carolina (33-2) goes to the Minneapolis Final Four as a favorite. But defending champions Stanford (32-3), Louisville (29-4) and UConn (29-5) have been there before, often in fact, although each had to fight this season to return to the top as a par. in women’s basketball continues to rise.

“It doesn’t mean a team can’t be dominant, it doesn’t mean it can’t have multiple teams that are dominant,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “It just means that there are stories that appear throughout our season that ask to be heard.”

The second seed Baylor and Iowa were eliminated before the Sweet 16. Florida Gulf Coast, a 12-seed team, defeated fifth seed Virginia Tech in the opening round. Creighton, 10 seeded, reached a regional final.

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Since Breanna Stewart took UConn to her fourth consecutive national title as a senior in 2016, there have been four different female champions and it has even been debated this season whether the Huskies dynasty has taken a step back while others have caught up. The last two games for the title were each decided by a single point.

“Our game is growing,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz, whose team is in its fourth Final Four. “So it’s not a school where everyone goes, a program where everyone goes. Now the players are branching out. Other universities like us are investing in women’s basketball. I think as this continues across the country, you’ll see that more and more programs are evolving and will continue to improve. That’s really what it’s all about. “

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The first rounds re-presented their share of explosions. There were 12 matches decided by 30 or more points in this tournament, compared to only four on the men’s side.

But there were a lot of upsets and evenly matched games, including Monday’s classic that saw UConn, No. 2, beat the first North Carolina State serial number in double overtime. It was the first time that a game that at the end of the tournament had several overtime periods.

“It was an amazing basketball game and it was a great showcase for our sport,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

The men’s tournament was also a thriller. Saint Peter’s caught everyone’s attention as the top 15 finisher in reaching the Elite Eight, prompting a discussion about the growing parity even though four Giants programs reached the semifinals.

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“The way this tournament has been, too, it’s amazing that this is happening,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said on Tuesday, noting that veteran players were piled up on some of the tournament teams. “It’s the oldest college basketball ever. And so, as a result, it’s going to be harder to win.”

On the women’s side, there have been 23 matches in the tournament so far decided by a single digit, 13 by five points or less. The teams of the Final Four took part in six of these matches.

“I know we have three of the four seeded players playing in the Final Four, but so far, how many fantastic games have we had?” said Walz. “How many disorders have we had? That’s what makes our game so much better and so much more exciting.”

Fans noticed it. Twitter and other social media sites exploded during the UConn-NC State match on Monday, with numerous professional athletes among which they send messages about the game and the quality of women’s basketball in general.

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“I think people are very hungry for women’s basketball,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. “I think the matches were very exciting. The coverage, the audience was great. (The Final Four) is going to be a really great opportunity, a great platform for the women on our team and the game itself to show.”

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AP sports writers Eric Olsen and Aaron Beard contributed to this report.

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More March Madness AP coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.



The Final Four women’s teams survived a wild tournament amid parity

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