Conference finals live up to the hype
It was an incredible weekend of women’s basketball as a handful of teams experienced the elation of a conference championship title and many more endured the agony of defeat.
Most notably the ACC, Pac 12, and SEC crowned victors on Sunday in three competitive games that featured some of the best athletes the sport has to offer. Let’s breakdown what went down and what it means for the NCAA tournament.
NC State vs. Louisville
The Atlantic Coast Conference is home to many great programs, as evidenced by the fights put up by Syracuse and Georgia Tech in the semifinal matchups, but NC State and Louisville are the cream of the crop. Both ranked top 5 in the country, this was the game everyone wanted to see.
In their only regular season contest, the Wolfpack won with relative ease to knock off the then-undefeated and #1 Cardinals. This only added to the motivation for Louisville, who watched last year as NC State hung the banner after they were prematurely bounced from the competition by Florida St.
It was a back and forth battle, with both teams struggling to hit shots from outside. The Wolfpack found themselves with the ball and the shot clocked turned off, and with two seconds remaining graduate transfer Raina Perez put a dagger into the heart of Louisville fans everywhere.
(If the camera falls for the fake, it was probably pretty good)
Dana Evans could not hit a shot at the buzzer and NC State secured back-to-back ACC titles, with Elissa Cunane winning tournament MVP. In my mind, Wes Moore and his team have done enough to garner a one-seed, with Louisville sitting on the two line. Both teams are poised for incredibly deep tournament runs.
UCLA vs. Stanford
The Pac 12 championship was a much more one-sided affair. It’s hard to even blame UCLA, Stanford is simply becoming a dominant force down the stretch. Number one in the NET ratings and possibly the number one overall team come Selection Monday, the Cardinal stepped on the gas right from the start and rode a 23-point half-time lead all the way to a 75-55 final score.
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Lexie Hull and Kiana Williams both eclipsed 20 points, going a combined 9 for 15 from beyond the arc to bury the Bruins in a wave of triples. UCLA was led by Michaela Onyenwere (as per usual) who finished with an impressive but ultimately unimportant 30 spot.
Despite no impressive non-conference wins, the Bruins are 7th in the NET rankings, which should allow them to hold a three seed despite the blowout championship loss.
Georgia vs. South Carolina
I’ll be the first to admit I did not anticipate seeing the Bulldogs in this game. I had penciled in Texas A&M to play South Carolina, and clearly that was a mistake. This Georgia team does not have the household names that many of the other SEC teams do, which is one of the reasons why head coach Joni Taylor was rewarded with conference Coach of the Year honors.
The Bulldogs started off hot in the final, winning the first quarter by six points. That lead evaporated almost instantly and at the turn of the half, the Gamecocks kicked it into another gear. Aliyah Boston finished with 27 points, 10 boards and 4 blocks, and Destanni Henderson added 18 while playing all 40 minutes of the contest.
Que Morrison had a couple of 4th quarter buckets to try and bring Georgia back into the game, but they could never quite close the gap. South Carolina wins its 6th SEC title in the passed seven seasons and will be a top contender to win it all in March.
The NET has Georgia as a borderline 3/4 seed, but beating A&M should give them an advantage over the other SEC teams on the seed line below them.