A well-liked chorus this March is that the 2021 NCAA girls’s basketball match is up for grabs, some saying as many as 10 groups are within the combine to win the championship. A part of the reason being the massive quantity of expertise — a number of standout seniors and three robust draft-eligible juniors — misplaced to the WNBA in 2020. Plus there’s the impression of the coronavirus pandemic, which restricted nonconference matchups, and the truth that each group shall be on impartial courts, with all the match to be performed within the San Antonio space.
However now that we have seen the bracket and gone over the matchups, which groups seem to have the very best likelihood to boost the trophy within the Alamodome on April 4? This is a take a look at 5 championship contenders and why they stand out, plus 10 gamers who may assist ignite a title run.
Seed/Area: No. 1 seed, Alamo Regional
Opener: vs. No. 16 seed Utah Valley, 10 p.m. ET Sunday (ESPN/ESPN App)
The highest general seed, the Cardinal would be the group least impacted by a possible three-week keep in a resort in San Antonio. That is as a result of they lived in hotels for nine weeks from December to February due to COVID-19 laws in Santa Clara County.
“We caught collectively and actually leaned on one another,” senior guard Kiana Williams stated. “It was exhausting at occasions residing out of a suitcase and resort rooms, however we wished to play so unhealthy.”
Stanford (25-2) has much more going for it than adaptability to being on the highway. The Cardinal are the deepest group within the area, a bonus although rotations are likely to get shorter within the postseason. Stanford has had seven totally different gamers as its main scorer in video games this season, six totally different main rebounders and 7 totally different help leaders. So one participant having an off sport seemingly is not going to sink the Cardinal.
If there is a practically indispensable Stanford participant, it is Williams. She leads the group in scoring (14.3 PPG), assists (2.9), 3-pointers (65) and minutes performed (31.7 MPG). She hasn’t needed to be the go-to scorer each time; junior Lexie Hull, sophomore Haley Jones and freshman Cameron Brink, amongst others, are all able to taking up that position, too. However Williams is a crunch-time participant.
“Massive gamers make massive performs, and my teammates and coaches believe in me,” stated Williams, a San Antonio native. “So I’ve confidence in myself. However I believe our energy is that we do not have that one particular person you can actually key on.”
Williams and fellow guard Anna Wilson lead a protection — one other massive Stanford energy — that has allowed opponents a mean of 52.7 PPG this season.
“I do really feel like we are able to guard folks,” coach Tara VanDerveer stated. “I additionally really feel like we are able to shoot the ball rather well. We have now quite a lot of totally different weapons. Regardless of who’s on the market, they’re enjoying exhausting for one another and with one another. There’s not a free cannon that is all about herself, attempting to get her factors, or somebody you can’t rely upon. This can be a reliable group.”
Stanford may very well be examined by No. 4 seed Arkansas in the event that they meet within the Candy 16, and there is the potential of an Elite Eight matchup with No. 2 Louisville. However Stanford ought to have the solutions within the Alamo Area, after which on the Closing 4, too.
UConn Huskies: Regular enchancment, championship historical past
Seed/Area: No. 1 seed, River Stroll Regional
Opener: vs. No. 16 seed Excessive Level, 8 p.m. ET Sunday (ESPN/ESPN App)
With seven freshmen and no seniors this season, coach Geno Auriemma admitted he grew pissed off at occasions. However he adjusted his strategies with out altering his expectations, and the Huskies steadily improved. After they received the Massive East match, Auriemma talked about how his gamers this season did not at all times do issues the way in which he wished, however they nonetheless bought the job carried out.
“I’ve by no means been extra happy with any group, with all these younger youngsters,” Auriemma stated after the Massive East match last. “How a lot they’ve grown up over the course of 4 or 5 months. It is actually been refreshing to look at.”
Rebecca Lobo breaks down the record-setting numbers for UConn freshman Paige Bueckers this season and explains whether or not Bueckers can carry the group to a nationwide championship.
That development will assist as a result of the Huskies shall be with out Auriemma for the early-round video games, as he’s quarantining at house after testing positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. His decades-long sidekick, affiliate coach Chris Dailey, and assistants Shea Ralph and Jamelle Elliott are higher positioned than some staffs can be to take care of the lack of a head coach due to all of the expertise they create.
And as Auriemma stated, UConn’s gamers have grow to be a a lot sharper unit on the offense and defensive ends. Freshman Paige Bueckers leads the Huskies in scoring (19.7 PPG) and assists (6.1). Juniors Christyn Williams (15.8 PPG) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (12.5 PPG) and freshman Aaliyah Edwards (10.2 PPG) are all scoring in double figures, too. Junior Evina Westbrook is averaging 9.2 factors and is second in assists at 4.2.
The Huskies maintain opponents to 50.5 PPG. Admittedly, they dominated the Massive East and weren’t examined of their convention the way in which different high groups have been of their leagues. However UConn is used to not being challenged a lot in league play however nonetheless reaching the Closing 4.
This group might need a powerful youth component, however led by Bueckers, it additionally has quite a lot of ability. And with or with out Auriemma, the teaching workers is aware of greater than every other workers within the nation about successful nationwide championships.
The area might present some checks for UConn, together with former Massive East foe Syracuse and Iowa, which boasts a robust offense. Do not rely out Kentucky within the Huskies’ a part of the bracket, both. Nonetheless, the Huskies’ most troublesome potential matchup can be within the Elite Eight with No. 2 Baylor.
Baylor Lady Bears: Prowess within the paint and on protection
Seed/Area: No. 2 seed, River Stroll Regional
Opener: vs. No. 15 seed Jackson State, 4 p.m. ET Sunday (ABC)
The Woman Bears (25-2) are nonetheless the defending champions (from 2019) and so they as soon as once more have been the bosses of the Massive 12. On account of their dominance there for the previous decade, Baylor at occasions is taken with no consideration.
Baylor maybe wasn’t given as a lot nationwide acclaim this season as a result of the Woman Bears misplaced their solely marquee nonconference sport (at Arkansas on Dec. 6). Their Jan. 7 sport in opposition to UConn was canceled as a result of Baylor was on a COVID-19 pause.
Proper after they got here again from the pause, the Woman Bears misplaced to Iowa State 75-71 on Jan. 16. However they have not misplaced since. They’ve three wins over West Virginia, which is a No. 4 seed, and three in opposition to Texas, a No. 6 seed.
Baylor sometimes wins the old school manner: with high-percentage photographs and attending to the free throw line. The Woman Bears have made the fewest 3-pointers of any of the highest eight seeds, going 93-of-286 from lengthy vary. However of these groups, Baylor is second in free throws made (380-of-531), trailing solely Maryland (409-of-518).
However should you assume Baylor cannot win an NCAA title with its relative deficit of 3-pointers, simply take a look at its final two nationwide championship groups. The 2018-19 Woman Bears made 117 3-pointers in 38 video games (3.1 per sport) and the 40-0 group in 2011-12 made 143 treys (3.6 per sport). This yr, they’re averaging 3.4 made 3-pointers per sport. In different phrases, fairly commonplace for Baylor.
The opposite factor that is typical of those Woman Bears? Excellent put up play. Heart Brittney Griner led the way in which in 2012, and heart Kalani Brown and ahead Lauren Cox anchored the within in 2019.
Ahead NaLyssa Smith (18.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG), an athletic marvel who already appears prepared for the WNBA and was Massive 12 Participant of the Yr, leads Baylor. She groups inside with heart Queen Egbo, whose has performed significantly effectively the previous few weeks, together with an 18-rebound sport within the Massive 12 match semifinals in opposition to Texas.
Baylor’s guards are additionally stable. The perfect from lengthy vary is DiJonai Carrington (34 treys, 13.5 PPG), with Moon Ursin averaging 11.6 PPG. These two plus DiDi Richards — who was temporarily paralyzed after a collision in apply in October — and Trinity Oliver type probably the greatest defensive backcourts within the match.
The River Stroll Regional has quite a lot of expertise, and Baylor might face third-seeded Tennessee — a group that was ok to beat South Carolina this yr — within the Candy 16. But when seeds maintain, we’ll get the UConn-Baylor matchup that everybody was trying ahead to again in January.
And if the Woman Bears attain the Closing 4, they will be there with a ton of confidence.
Maryland Terrapins: Catch the high-scoring Terps should you can
Seed/Area: No. 2 seed, Hemisfair Regional
Opener: vs. No. 15 seed Mount St. Mary’s, 4 p.m. ET Monday (ESPN/ESPN App)
If the Terps are to win this system’s second nationwide championship, they will do it with the very best offense within the nation. Maryland leads Division I girls in scoring (91.3 PPG) and has six gamers who’re averaging double figures.
The closest any group got here to shutting down Maryland’s offense was Northwestern of their regular-season matchup on Feb. 28. That is not a shock, because the Wildcats are led by defensive star Veronica Burton. But the Terps nonetheless received 62-50.
Guard Ashley Owusu leads the Terps with 18.3 PPG, and fellow sophomore guard Diamond Miller is at 17.2 PPG. Each of them common 2.7 assists. Then add within the group’s finest 3-point shooters: guard Katie Benzan (88 treys, 13.3 PPG) and wing Chloe Bibby (52, 13.4). Ahead Mimi Collins (10.7 PPG) and Angel Reese (10.0) are taxing to opposing defenses, too.
The truth that Maryland misplaced 5 of its high six scorers to commencement or switch from final yr and remains to be in place to compete for a nationwide championships says lots about Brenda Frese and why she was the ESPN.com national coach of the year. Nevertheless it is also a testomony to how rapidly this yr’s gamers bonded, and the way effectively their personalities meshed collectively on courtroom and off.
The higher groups in Maryland’s half of the area may not be capable of actually decelerate the Terps offensively, or sustain with them. No. 7 Alabama, a possible second-round opponent, permits 70.0 PPG and scores 74.8.
Within the Candy 16, Maryland may face third-seeded UCLA (scores 72.0, permits 58.1) or No. 6 Texas (scores 69.9, permits 62.8). In all three circumstances, the Terps most likely simply have too many weapons.
Principally, if the sport is performed on the Terps’ most well-liked tempo, they will beat anybody. A really robust protection with a dominant put up might be the most important risk to Maryland. That describes Hemisfair’s high seed, South Carolina.
Seed/Area: No. 1 seed, Hemisfair Regional
Opener: vs. No. 16 seed Mercer, 6 p.m. ET Sunday (ESPN/ESPN App)
The Gamecocks have had the precise items all season. The problem was placing all of them collectively in the precise order, which was one thing level guard Tyasha Harris did so effectively the earlier 4 years.
Along with her gone, there have been occasions when South Carolina did not appear to get the ball into the fingers of its greatest offensive weapon, sophomore ahead Aliyah Boston, sufficient. After South Carolina’s loss to NC State on Dec. 3, coach Daybreak Staley mainly stated it had been a very long time since she had a group that didn’t pay attention or execute the way in which the Gamecocks did that evening.
With Harris and ahead Mikiah Herbert Harrigan gone to the WNBA, this was a group that was going to have some rising pains.
But when the mud settled on the SEC season, who was holding the convention match trophy? The Gamecocks, for the sixth time in program historical past. And Boston had most likely her finest general sport of the season within the SEC last in opposition to Georgia, with 27 factors, 10 rebounds and 4 blocked photographs.
South Carolina resembles Baylor in the way it scores. Of the highest eight seeds, the Gamecocks have the second-fewest 3-pointers (solely Baylor has fewer, with 114), however the third-most made free throws (379) behind Maryland and Baylor.
Guard Zia Cooke leads in scoring (15.9 PPG), adopted by Boston (13.7 PPG) and guard Destanni Henderson (12.6). Shedding senior guard LeLe Grissett to harm within the SEC match hurts South Carolina’s general depth and expertise, however there are different gamers to step ahead.
The most important concern for South Carolina is when its offense falls quick, which occurred in all 4 of its losses this season: to NC State, UConn, Tennessee and Texas A&M. In three of these video games, South Carolina scored fewer than 60 factors.
And if it comes right down to a regional last matchup with high-scoring Maryland, quite a lot of stress shall be on the Gamecocks’ protection. If South Carolina beats the Terps to go to the Closing 4, the Gamecocks nonetheless might need to get previous Stanford only for a shot on the nationwide title. But when their protection holds in opposition to the Terps, it’d maintain in opposition to anybody.
Ten gamers who deserve extra consideration
We have already checked out a lot of the star players for our high 5 picks to win the nationwide title. However what in regards to the potential X components on these groups, plus the highest two seeds within the Mercado Area, No. 1 NC State and No. 2 Texas A&M? Perhaps the Wolfpack or Aggies could have the final chuckle (it will mark the primary NCAA title for NC State). We should not look previous Louisville, the No. 2 seed within the Alamo Area, both.
Listed here are 10 gamers (in alphabetical order) who aren’t essentially within the highlight, however will seemingly be essential for a title run among the many high eight seeds.
Cameron Brink, Stanford: Foul hassle is about the one factor that holds again the freshman ahead. When she’s on the courtroom, she contributes in quite a lot of massive methods, averaging 10.2 PPG and 6.8 RPG, with a team-high 64 blocked photographs.
Mimi Collins, Maryland: One of many transfers who has been so efficient for the Terps, the ahead is averaging 10.7 factors and 6.3 rebounds and is capturing 51.7 % from the sphere.
Jakia Brown-Tuner, NC State: The sophomore guard/ahead usually takes on the hardest defensive assignments, together with being the Wolfpack’s second-leading scorer (13.6 PPG).
Aaliyah Edwards, UConn: The freshman ahead leads the Huskies in area objective share (68.0), is second in rebounding (5.4 RPG) and fourth in scoring (10.2 PPG).
Lexie Hull, Stanford: The guard influences video games along with her scoring (11.5 PPG), rebounding (4.8), protection and vitality. She may not be the Cardinal’s star, however she’s a significant a part of their success.
Raina Perez, NC State: The smallest participant (she’s 5-foot-4) on the Wolfpack hit one of many greatest baskets this season for NC State: a bounce shot with 2 seconds left to beat Louisville within the ACC match last and assist safe the group’s No. 1 seed. She additionally leads the Wolfpack in assists (4.9 APG).
Victaria Saxton, South Carolina: The junior ahead leads the Gamecocks in area objective share (55.7) and steals (32), is second in rebounding (5.9 RPG) and fourth in scoring (8.7 PPG).
Moon Ursin, Baylor: The senior guard is having her finest season: She’s second on the group in assists (3.9 APG) and steals (37) and third in scoring (11.6 PPG) and rebounding (6.7).
Hailey Van Lith, Louisville: One other standout freshman, the guard ranks third on the Cardinals in scoring (11.2 PPG), rebounding (5.5), and assists (2.2).
Aaliyah Wilson, Texas A&M: The senior guard (12.6 PPG) leads one of many nation’s most balanced assaults, and is first on the Aggies in steals (45) and is second in assists (2.5 APG).