The Final Four never disappoints, and we had a packed Friday tonight. A game that went down to the wire, and another that put on a show of spectacular defense. In case you missed it, here’s what went down between the last four teams in the tournament and find out who booked their spot in the final.
South Carolina Gamecocks vs Stanford Cardinals
First Half 25-31, Stanford leads the game
Coming into this game, the South Carolina Gamecocks were in their third Final Four out of the past six tournaments. They were 1-5 versus Stanford, hoping to get a win and advance to the finals today. They got off to a hot start in the first quarter, leading 15-6. At the end of the first half, Zia Cooke lead the board for South Carolina with 12 points.
Although they had a good start, Stanford was able to respond. Haley Jones finally got the help she needed after providing the bulk of the scoring when she was on the floor. Lexie Hull had 8 points and 8 rebounds in the first half, stating that,
“We know basketball is a game of runs, so we couldn’t get caught up with that run by [South Carolina] in the first quarter.”Lexie Hull, F for the Stanford Cardinals
Tara Ann VanDerveer, head coach of Stanford, was not afraid to go with an 11-player rotation in the playoffs, trusting the bench. They went on a 7-0 run to catch up in the first quarter, which evolved into a 16-2 run.
It was 15-15 at the end of the first quarter, and Stanford’s defense throughout the second allowed them to pull away. Double teaming players and some impressive threes from Ashten Pretchel gave them a six-point lead at the half.
Down but not out yet, some main takeaways from South Carolina’s first half were their offensive rebounds and drawing fouls in the paint. Aliyah Boston, in particular, provided size and presence, most often surrounded by multiple Cardinal players. Her ability to create shots for her teammates kept them in the game for the most part.
Second Half, South Carolina falls to Stanford, 65-66
The game really went down to the stretch, with South Carolina falling by one point to Stanford. In what was a very exhilarating second half, Zia Cooke lead the way with threes and got them back into this game early.
Some key problems for South Carolina late in the third and during the fourth was Aliyah Boston being in foul trouble. She had three at the end of the third quarter, and sat out for a bit here and there in the fourth. Boston was a +9 when they were down 56-58 in the fourth, and Stanford made sure to make up for her absence when she was on the bench. They set a NCAA record of threes made in a tournament, with Lexie Hull and Haley Jones lighting it up.
The final couple of minutes was nothing less than exciting. Cameron Brink had some clutch blocks in the fourth quarter, giving Stanford those opportunities to make some stops. The referees missed a questionable call near the end, ignoring an apparent kickball, which allowed the Cardinal to go up by five points. South Carolina almost made up for it, getting multiple offensive rebounds that lead to an eventual and-one, and a clutch three by Henderson to go up 65-64 with 38 seconds to go.
That wasn’t the final clutch shot of the night, as Haley Jones scores to put Stanford over the top 65-66. Brink executes another clutch block on the other end and they’re able to contain Aliyah Boston, who broke down in tears when the clock ran out. Emotions were high, and Jones was feeling grateful.
“It was great to be able to do that for my team.”
-Haley Jones on her clutch shot
Arizona Wildcats vs Connecticut Huskies
First Half, 32-22, Arizona leads the game
Many people probably did not anticipate an offensive team like UConn to struggle as much as they did in the first half. A strong start from Arizona showed out through stifling defense, leading to offensive pressure from the Wildcats. Aari McDonald was the player of the first half, putting up 15 points, showing off her range of shots. When asked about the team’s defense, she told the broadcast,
“Our defense is suffocating and stingy.”Aari McDonald, G for the Arizona Wildcats
Second Half, Arizona defeats UConn 69-59
The Huskies cut it to five points several times down the stretch, but were not able to capitalize and tie the game.
The biggest takeaway from Arizona’s game was their defense. Simply put, they stifled UConn and that allowed them to maintain a double digit lead for the majority of the game. They kept it turned on for four quarters, never letting up. Arizona did a good job of restricting Paige Buecker in the second half, but she almost got away with completing a comeback by sealing some threes near the end.
One odd observation was the lack of consistency in the referee’s calls. Williams of the Huskies fouled out with three minutes to go, looking just as confused as the rest of us.
In addition to this, there was some confusion about whether a tie-up or a time-out was called between the refs at the end too. However, overall, Arizona controlled the physicality and pace of this game through all four quarters. McDonald said in her interview at the end,
“We were doing the things that got us here, most importantly, playing together…we didn’t want to go home.”Aari McDonald, G for the Arizona Wildcats
This was Arizona’s first final four, and now they enter their first championship game on Saturday against Stanford.