Defending champion Stanford Cardinal faces one other hurdle to contend for his first recurring title: the Connecticut Huskies, the team that has won more consecutive championships than any other team in the Division I Women’s Basketball Association. Stanford has brought back all but one of its key players, but it will need veterans to put in their best performance against the Huskies — specifically, sophomore phenomenon Paige Bueckers.
Both Husky and the Cardinal enjoyed overwhelming support from their fans during the eighth round. Connecticut effectively had the advantage of home grounds in Bridgeport – a stone’s throw from Storrs – while Stanford played in Spokane, where their teammates and twin sisters Lexi and Lacey Hull grew up and led their high school to two state championships.
In Minneapolis, Connecticut will likely get the most cheer thanks to the Bakers, who played at Hopkins High School in suburban Minneapolis. The Cardinal hasn’t played without the fans on their side in the tournament yet, and in what appears to be a tight match, that support could give the Husky an advantage.
Stanford players Cameron Brink’s 6-foot-4 and Olivia Nelson-Ododa of Connecticut State are both athletic players who move well around the basket to score, rebounds and cross shots, and especially in the case of Nelson-Ododa, look out for their teammates. To facilitate a quick violation.
Both also get into error problems quite often, averaging 2.8 errors per game. It is critical for both teams to keep other best players in the game and are able to play freely. Both Stanford and Connecticut are capable of intense defensive pressure, and Brink and Nelson Ododa will both have to be patient as they maneuver to take an open look around the basket.
Standford, which enters the game with the longest active winning streak of any women’s Division I team — 24 consecutive wins — has a size advantage. Even her guards are tall and can find shots against even the most diligent defenders, as the Texans discovered in the eighth round. Since Connecticut is just as skilled, the Cardinal will need to exploit any mismatches they can find—up to 6-foot-1 Haley Jones versus the 5-foot-11 Bakers.
If Jones and the Boyers protect each other during Friday’s game, it could be one of the best pairs in the tournament. They both have exceptional skills as facilitators and goalscorers, playing plays in almost every part of the court.
Stanford and Connecticut coaches Tara Vandeverere and Gino Orima are the winning coaches and the second-best coaches in women’s college basketball history. Both Huskies own the series by a large margin, but this game will still provide another chance for two of the sport’s most important coaches to compete on its biggest stage.