By virtue of their dominating victory over Duke on Monday night, Stanford's women's basketball team has earned a date with Destiny Williams, Brittney Griner, and the rest of the #1-ranked and undefeated Baylor Lady Bears on Sunday night in Denver, Colorado, the site of this year's Women's NCAA Final Four. The winner of that game will play Tuesday night for the National Championship against the winner of the UConn-Notre Dame game on the other side of the bracket. This year's Final Four is as chalk as it gets; all four remaining teams are #1 seeds and all four got there by beating the #2s from their respective regions.
Below the jump I'll talk a little bit about the game, but first I want to note that Baylor is throwing a send-off rally on Thursday afternoon before the Lady Bears leave for Denver that evening. If you are a student on-campus or have the ability to make it, I strongly suggest you attend, if possible. I was at Baylor in 2005 when the Lady Bears made their run to the program's first championship, and I remember vividly how much fun it was to take part in the events afterward. I wish I had done the same thing beforehand, too.
Also, I have bad news if you were hoping to go to the game in Denver on Sunday night and don't already have a ticket: BaylorBears.com says that Baylor has already sold out its allotment and you'll have to go through PrimeSport.com, the NCAA's official ticket broker. I'm sure other tickets are available on the secondary market if you so choose. If you click on the link above, Baylor also has travel packages arranged in case you want to go.
Head below the jump for more.
I plan on doing a more in-depth preview of this game later in the week to identify the strengths and weaknesses of this Stanford team as compared to Baylor, but I can tell you right now that this is probably a matchup of the two best teams in the country and the two best players. Stanford (35-1 on the season with the lone loss coming to UConn on 11/21) was ranked second in the country coming into the tournament and is led by senior forward Nneka Ogwumike, who joins our own Brittney Griner as a Wooden Award Finalist and First-Team All-American, and averages 22.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game while shooting over 55% from the field.
Nneka's younger sister Chiney, a sophomore, also plays for Stanford and is probably their second-best player. Chiney, who is one inch taller than her sister at 6-3, averages 15.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. She rarely shoots anything outside the paint and hit just over 58% of her shots this season. If Chiney has a major weakness it is at the free throw line, where she shoots only 66% as opposed to Nneka's 83%. In their win over Duke in the Elite 8, Chiney only scored 12 points but grabbed 17 rebounds in an impressive performance. The fact that Chiney basically lives in the lane while her sister is more of a perimeter player could mean that Griner draws Chiney on defense while Destiny Williams gets Nneka. Stanford doesn't have a true "center" and prefers to run with two posts and three guards, so I could see it going either way. It might also make sense to let Williams and Brooklyn Pope (when she plays) guard Nneka to help keep Griner out of foul trouble. We'll have to see about that.
For our side, the "fight" at the end of the game and her near-triple-double overshadowed the fact that Brittney Griner actually had a subpar game against Tennessee offensively. Though she scored 23 points, she did it on 8-18 shooting, far below her normal 61% on field goals. She did manage to pull down 15 rebounds, 11 of which were defensive, and block 9 shots to offset that. The fact of the matter is, however, that Baylor didn't beat Tennessee because of Brittney Griner, it did so because Odyssey Sims and Kimetria Hayden went a combined 8-11 on 3s and Tennessee as a whole hit only 4 of 21. Some of that was no doubt due to the fact that they were playing from behind, but it was also the team defense of the Lady Bears, which held Tennessee to a season-low 30.1% shooting in the game.
As I said, I'll get into more detail about how these two teams match up later in the week. Suffice to say for now that this will be the Lady Bears' most difficult opponent of the season, and one that we've never played before. Like in 2005 when Baylor played UNC in the Elite 8, the Lady Bears are facing the likely second-best team in the Tournament before the NC game itself, and if Baylor wants to get to that game Monday night and go for its 40th win, it's going to have to do it the hard way.