NCAA Tournament: The Field is Down to Four

Third-seeded Arizona will join top seeds Stanford, UConn, and South Carolina in the Final Four.

By Alex Holmes

The Final Four is set for the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, with top seeds Stanford, UConn, and South Carolina advancing to the Final Four. Third-seeded Arizona will join the top seeds in its Final Four debut this weekend. Regional action from the NCAA tournament featured a UConn-Baylor matchup worthy of a national championship game, Aari McDonald scoring 31 and 33 points in back-to-back games, and Stanford continuing its hot streak from beyond the arc. Here’s a recap of the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight contests.

ALAMO

Stanford and Louisville rolled over their Sweet Sixteen opponents. The top-seeded Cardinal had eight players score at least seven points in an 89–62 rout of No. 5 Missouri State. Louisville’s Dana Evans dropped 29 points in the Cards’ 60–42 win over No. 6 Oregon.

Sophomore Ashten Prechtel scored 16 second-half points in Stanford’s Elite Eight win over No. 2 seed Louisville. (Source: Stanford Athletics)

The Elite Eight game was between the region’s top two seeds. It was a tale of two halves, as Evans and Louisville took a 12-point lead over Stanford at halftime. Evans finished her illustrious career with a game-best 24 points. The second half was a different story for Stanford, who got a major boost from sophomore Ashten Prechtel. She finished with 16 points, all coming in the second half. Lexie Hull led the Cardinal with 21 points and All-American senior Kiana Williams came to life in the second half, finishing the game with 14 points. The San Antonio native will play the Final Four in her hometown.

Dana Evans finished her career at Louisville with 24 points in the Cardinals’ Elite Eight loss to No. 1 Stanford. (Source: NCAA)

RIVER WALK

The first Sweet Sixteen contest was a highly-anticipated matchup between Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and UConn’s Paige Bueckers. The fifth-seeded Hawkeyes put up a valiant effort against the Huskies, with four players finishing in double figures and scoring 12 three-pointers. Led by Christyn Williams’ 27 points, the Huskies had four players score at least 17 points and made 10 three-pointers of their own, winning the game 92–72. Clark finished her freshman campaign with 21 points, outscoring Bueckers’ 18 points.

Second-seeded Baylor needed overtime to escape sixth-seeded Michigan’s upset bid behind 24 points from All-America First Team selection NaLyssa Smith. 

The River Walk region’s Elite Eight matchup between No. 1 UConn and No. 2 Baylor was the tournament’s best game yet. The Lady Bears gave the Huskies all they could handle, going up by as many as nine in the third quarter. The pivotal moment in the game came when Baylor’s DiDi Richards went down with a hamstring injury late in the third quarter, and UConn’s 19-0 scoring run followed. Baylor whittled the margin to one in the final seconds before DiJonai Carrington’s drive led to a controversial no-call in the final second. UConn won 69-67, led by Bueckers’ 28 points and Williams’ 21 points.

There was no foul called on UConn during DiJonai Carrington’s shot in the final seconds. (Source: Elsa/Getty Images, The New York Times)

MERCADO

The first No. 1 seed to fall was NC State in their Sweet Sixteen game against No. 4 Indiana. The Wolfpack were without All-ACC performer Kayla Jones and lost 73–70. Grace Berger’s double-double and Ali Patberg’s 17 points, along with 17 Wolfpack turnovers, powered the Hoosiers to the Elite Eight.

Third-seeded Arizona defeated second-seeded Texas A&M 74-59 behind Aari McDonald’s 31 points, in which she connected on six three-pointers. 

The winner of the Elite Eight matchup between Arizona and Indiana would make history, as both teams were seeking their program’s first Final Four appearance. McDonald had a stellar performance, scoring 33 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in Arizona’s 66–53 win. The Wildcats earned their first trip to the Final Four.

Arizona’s Aari McDonald led the Wildcats to the program’s first Final Four after defeating Indiana in the Elite Eight. (Source: @ArizonaWBB, Twitter)

HEMISFAIR

The Hemisfair region’s No. 1 seed South Carolina defeated a pesky Georgia Tech team 76–65. Zia Cooke led the Gamecocks with 17 points.

The second Sweet Sixteen matchup between No. 2 Maryland and No. 6 Texas saw one of the tournament’s most surprising results. The Longhorns limited the sharp-shooting Terps to only five three-pointers on their way to a 64–61 victory.

In the Elite Eight matchup, South Carolina defeated Texas 62–34 behind a balanced attack, with five players scoring in double figures. The Gamecocks held the Longhorns scoreless in the fourth quarter, securing the program’s third trip to the Final Four.

The Final Four begins this Friday at 6 P.M. ET as the top overall seed Stanford takes on No. 1 seed South Carolina. The second national semifinal between No. 1 UConn and No. 3 Arizona is slated for 9:30 P.M. ET. Both matchups will air live on ESPN.

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