NCAA womens’ Albany Regional preview: UConn, South Carolina, Duke and Buffalo
Three of the top five seeds remain in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament as top-seeded Connecticut, two-seeded South Carolina and five-seeded Duke have all advanced to the regional semifinals. They are joined by the Cinderella story in 11-seeded Buffalo. Saturday will bring the semifinal games at the Times Union Center which will pit Buffalo against South Carolina and UConn with Duke. Here’s how they all match up.
Buffalo vs South Carolina, 11:30 a.m.
Obviously, two-seeded South Carolina, also sitting at number seven in the country in the AP poll, is the overwhelming favorite to win this game if you just look at the seedings the strengths of both squads. However, do not count out the Bulls. They are an extremely strong 11 seed that has boasted back-to-back upsets against six-seeded South Florida and three-seeded Florida State in the first two rounds, both coming rather handily as well, winning by margins of 23 and 21. These wins came behind the strong offensive play of Cierra Dillard and Stephanie Reed. Additionally, Cassie Oursler has provided nearly seven rebounds per game this season.
However, even with this, the odds are stacked against them. Defending national champion South Carolina is by far the strongest opponent that they have played this tournament, and all season. Senior forward A’ja Wilson is one of those players that is next to impossible to guard, and she has proved that all season, averaging 22.6 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game. Three more players, Alexis Jennings, Tyasha Harris and Lindsey Spann all score in the double digits as well. However, they have not blown out either of their opponents in this tournament, allowing both 15-seeded North Carolina A&T and 10-seeded Virginia to stay with them. However, if they turn it on tomorrow and play to their full potential, they have what it takes to move on.
Duke vs UConn, approximately 2 p.m.
The second card on the day pits five-seeded Duke with top-seeded, number one in the country, UConn Huskies. They have not lost a game all season, sitting at 34-0 and have not lost a game since their heartbreaking national semifinal loss to Mississippi State last March. This looks to be one of those “special” UConn teams that seems to not just be destined for a Final Four birth, but a national championship as well. They lead the NCAA in many scoring categories, and have all the pieces in Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier, Azura Stevens, Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams, who all average 10+ points per game. In the first round they beat St. Francis of Pennsylvania by nearly 100 and then beat Quinnipiac by 25.
Duke, to say the least, has the unlucky draw. They have scoring weapons in Lexie Brown, Rebecca Greenwell and Haley Gorecki. If they want to pull off the upset, they will have to give it their all and more on the defensive side and shoot to their full potential from three, as they sit at 10th in the nation in three-point percentage (38.7%), while having to limit UConn in transition, especially from three (they shoot at 39.7%, good for fourth in the nation). Even if they do this, they are not a top-five team in the nation and, simply put, and just too over-matched to beat Connecticut. However, if both games come out the expected way, a monster matchup between UConn and South Carolina will occur on Monday night for a trip to the Final Four in Columbus, Ohio.