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Women’s Final Four preview and prediction: Connecticut vs. Stanford

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Top-seeded Connecticut Huskies and second-seeded Stanford Cardinal will meet for the second time this season, on April 6, with the winner advancing to the NCAA national championship game. Notre Dame and Maryland are playing the other semifinal.

This will be the 16th time that the Huskies (38-0) and the Cardinal (33-3) have met and second time this year. UConn holds a 9-6 lead in the series and has won three straight.The Huskies also hold the edge (3-1) in the series when meeting in National Semifinals and it is the sixth time the programs have met in NCAA tournament play.

Bria Hartley dumped in 20 points as UConn defeated Stanford in their last meeting on Nov. 11. in Gampel Pavalon (76-57). Kiah Stokes added 10 points and 13 caroms for the Huskies.

Stanford was led by Amber Orrange, who finished with a game-high 22 points , and Chiney Ogwumike, who chipped in 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Connecticut: The Huskies are the top-seeded team in the tournament and are playing in a record seventh consecutive Final Four. UConn is 95-17 all-time in NCAA Tournament play. The Huskies are 8-6 in national semifinals.

Connecticut entered NCAA tournament play undefeated for the sixth time in program history. The Huskies have completed their season unblemished four times previously.

The Huskies led by All-Americans Breanna Stewart (19.4 points, 8.1 rebounds) -- Stewart named National Player of the Year by the Associated Press on April 5 --, Bria Hartley (16.3 ppg, 47.9 field goal percentage) and Stefanie Dolson (12.4 points, 9.4 rebounds), are very talented but not deep. All five Huskie starters have scored in double-figure in each game of the tournament. Moriah Jefferson (10.2 points, 58.8 field goal percentage) and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds) are the other two starters.

Connecticut goes eight deep but only Kiah Stokes (4.4 points, 7.2 rebounds) is real productive. Briana Banks (3.7 points, 1.6 rebounds) and Saniya Chong (4.9 points, 1.9 rebounds) are the other key reserves.

The Huskies led the nation in scoring defense, assists, blocks and field goal percentage. They also finished in the Top-10 in the nation in assist/turnover ratio, field goal percentage, three-point percentage defense and points scored. In addition, the Huskies were 11th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage.

Stanford: The Cardinal are in the Final Four for the sixth time in seven years and 12th time overall. Stanford has made 28 NCAA tournament appearances overall, which is the third most in women’s basketball history.

All-American Chiney Ogwumike leads the Cardinal. She is the only player in the country to rank in the national Top 10 in scoring (26.4 ppg), rebounding (12.1 rpg), field-goal percentage (60.4), and double-doubles (26).

Mikaela Ruef (7.1 points, 9.4 rebounds) and Amber Orrange (10.1 points, 161assists) are the other major contributors.

Statistically, Stanford ranks fourth in the nation in assist/turnover and eighth in field goal percentage (47.1). The Cardinal are also 10th in assists and 10th in field goal percentage defense.

Projected starters: Connecticut: G Jefferson ,G Hartley, F- Mosqueda-Lewis, F- Stewart, C – Dolson

Stanford: G- Orange, G- Lili Thompson G- Sara James, F- Ruef, F- Ogwumike

X-Factors: Moriah Jefferson (UConn): Bonnie Samuelson/ Lili Thompson (Stanford)

While Jefferson is having a breakout season, she is still the only Huskie starter that there are still questions about and he will be matched up against

Jefferson reached double figures in scoring 21 times and dished out 184 assists. She also shot 58.8 percent from the field and had a 2.9-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, which ranked 12th in the nation.

Thompson and Samuelson have both raised their game since the start of the tournament. Thompson has done it on both ends of the court. She is averaging 11.5 points a game in the tournament and has locked down defensively on Penn State’s Maggie Lucas (six points on 3-of-14 shooting) and North Carolina’s Diamond DeShields (13 points, on 5-of-15 shooting). Thompson is dangerous from the perimeter, connecting on 41.9 percent of her three-point attempts.

Samuelson has come off the bench for the Cardinal the last four games and is averaging 12 points and three rebounds. She has made 14 triples in the tournament and is shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc. Samuelson is averaging 7.4 points a game and has connected on a team-high 62 three-pointers (41.9 percent).

Head coaches:

Geno Auriemma is a Naismith Hall of Famer and one of the best coaches ever in women’s basketball. He has compiled a 877-133 record at the school and has led the Huskies to 15 Final Four appearances and eight national titles.

Tara Vanderveer has guided the Cardinal to a 777-155 record in 28 seasons. Under her leadership, Stanford has captured two NCAA Titles and made 11 Final Four appearances. VanDerveer's teams are 71-23 in NCAA Tournament play.

Prediction: Connecticut 75, Stanford 65



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