Cindy Brunson's Tournament Blog
After spending 13 years as an ESPN SportsCenter anchor and studio host, Cindy Brunson is now a member of the Fox Sports Arizona team – and the Valley of the Sun is lucky to have her! Below, Brunson offers her expert analysis of Easter Sunday’s NCAA Women’s tournament games. Make sure to follow Brunson on Twitter @CindyBrunsonAZ and give her a warm Phoenix Mercury welcome. Disclaimer: Brunson is not an employee of the Phoenix Mercury. – Ed.
By Cindy Brunson for PhoenixMercury.com: April 8, 2013
National Championship Preview
Sports are the best form of reality television, because you simply never know what will happen from the opening tip, first pitch or kickoff.
It's that unpredictability that has left my bracket in shambles. But this fan hopes there's more. I think it's great that for the first time in NCAA women's history a No. 5 seed has played its way into the national title game. It signifies the net to include great teams and programs on the rise is being cast wider and that is fantastic.
It won't be long before both my gut and what I thought I knew won't matter because No. 12 seeds will be bouncing No. 5 seeds with regularity. I’ll go ahead and invest in Tums now to deal with the heartburn those kinds of upsets will create for me down the road. Still, I can't help but think it will be good for the game.
This year, No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee State was no match for No. 5 Louisville (don’t sweat it, Blue Raiders – you were not alone). Number 4 seed Purdue, No. 1 overall seed Baylor, No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 2 seed California are all in the Cardinals rear view mirror. As a result, Louisville is just 40 minutes away from celebrating its first national title.
The Huskies had lost to Notre Dame seven of the last eight times they met before Sunday night. But UConn’s convincing 83-65 victory over Notre Dame has them a mere 40 minutes away from celebrating their second national championship in New Orleans and 8th overall. Plus, not only is UConn rocking a 12 game win streak against Louisville, when the Huskies get into the title game, they walk away with the hardware – Geno Auriemma's crew is a perfect 7-0 all-time when a championship is up for grabs.
If Louisville is able to pull off the upset, it would cap off the most phenomenal run in women's NCAA history – including the biggest upset the tournament has ever seen with the one-point win over defending champion Baylor. While I learned my lesson against Cal not to count Louisville out, I just can't lean the Cardinals’ way Tuesday night.
Las Vegas likes Connecticut to win by 12 points, and I agree. UConn features seriously stifling defense that is complimented with Breanna Stewart hitting her stride – Stewart enters the national championship game Tuesday coming off a career-high 29 points and four blocks against Notre Dame. For those crucial reasons, I like the Huskies to win.
It's either an epic Louisville run or Connecticut tying Tennessee with the most titles all-time. For me, it's the Huskies. Whatever happens, here's to a great title game and the start of the 17th WNBA season which tips off in May!
By Cindy Brunson for PhoenixMercury.com: April 6, 2013
Final Four Preview and Picks
I'm not sure what grabs my attention more about this weekend in New Orleans – the fact a pair of teams few expected to be there have a shot to win it all, or that you can still get a ticket to Tuesday night’s championship game for just $60.
Louisville vs. California National Semifinal
At this juncture, I'd like to share one of my favorite quotes from the one and only Charles Barkley. He said, "The world's got enough dumb people; don't be one." While I usually think those words apply to adults at major league baseball games who snag a foul ball and refuse to give it to a child near them, this time I'm one of the dummies.
After watching Louisville shock the world and send No. 1 overall seed Baylor home, I picked Tennessee to beat the Cardinals. It's as if I didn't want to acknowledge Shoni Schimmel's sometimes money impersonation of Kara Lawson – oozing tenacity and confidence while hitting 3-pointers in her sleep.
Coach Jeff Walz told the Yakima Herald, "We ruined the party. No one gave us a chance and we showed everybody." Yes, coach, you showed me and you now have my full and undivided attention.
Even though a No. 5 seed has never won a game at the Final Four, I hesitate to pick against these Cardinals. These are heady times for Louisville nation. This is just the 10th time a school’s men's and women's basketball team has made it to the Final Four in the same year. Only Connecticut has been able to take home both titles in the same season (2004 – the last time the women's Final Four was in the Big Easy).
Full disclosure time: I'm a Pac-12 gal. Washington State University class of '96. Nobody was more excited to see one of the lines in Las Vegas list California as a 1.5 point favorite Sunday. While Vegas may "know," I'm not sure Sin City completely appreciates that these teams are darn near carbon copies of one another.
Looking at Louisville and Cal in a statistical manner is like looking in the mirror. So, how do the Golden Bears tweak their reflection? Well, it starts with Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb. The 35-year-old Coach of the Year candidate recently hit one of my favorite stores, Nordstrom. Gottlieb told CSNBayArea.com that she purchased a new navy blue dress for New Orleans and completed the outfit with the big splurge – a pair of Manolo Blahnik sandals. She said, "It's like my Sex-in-the-City moment."
Coach G's city is not New York like Carrie Bradshaw’s; it’s the Crescent City. Her leading scorer Layshia Clarendon is on board providing the simple soundtrack for Coach G's show, "Why not us? Why not the Cal Bears?"
My heart says Cal, my head says Louisville.
Notre Dame vs. Connecticut National Semifinal
If the old adage says is it's tough for one team to beat another three times in a single season like Notre Dame has already done against Connecticut, one can't help but wonder what the law of averages has to say about doing it four times.
This is the match-up I wanted to see in New Orleans ever since the Fighting Irish's triple-overtime win against the Huskies a month ago. You see, Muffet McGraw 's crew has been able to do something against Geno Auriemma's team that no other club has been able to do over the last 20 years, and that is beat the Huskies on a consistent basis. Notre Dame has won seven of its last eight games against UConn, including the trio of epic battles this season.
McGraw continues to impress. She routinely changes offensive sets, maximizing what the defense gives her team, and there is nobody better out of a time out. So much so, it's jarring when the Irish don't score easily out of a time out because it happens so effortlessly most of the time.
In addition to McGraw, Skylar Diggins is playing some of the best basketball of her life. When she struggles to score like she did early against Duke, Sky just finds the open guy. It's easy to see why she leads the Big East with her six assists per game average. In addition to all of her accomplishments and ability to score, the fact that she unselfishly shares the basketball makes her crazy lethal.
Las Vegas has Notre Dame as a 2.5 point favorite Sunday. This fan hopes Vegas is right. I want to see the Fighting Irish get a chance to see if the third time can indeed be the charm in a third-straight trip to the National Championship game.
I'm quite sure Auriemma is already planning on getting his Huskies to next year’s Final Four in Nashville, and he'll probably do just that. So let this year be for the Fighting Irish and the extension of the nation's longest win streak at 30 straight and counting.
There you have it. Louisville has made me a believer, but as an alum of a Pac-12 school I am on the fence. My head says Cardinals, my heart Golden Bears.
As for which of the two remaining Big East teams will be on the bench on the opposite side of the scorer’s table Tuesday night, I like Notre Dame.
Here's to a pair of amazing semifinal games! Talk to you down the road.
By Cindy Brunson for PhoenixMercury.com: April 2, 2013
Tuesday's Picks: Notre Dame and Tennessee
Well, well, well. If you had the overall No. 1 seed NOT making it to New Orleans, then I want you to pick out some lottery numbers for me for the next Powerball drawing!
For the last 15 years, the Women's NCAA champion has been either a No.1 or a No. 2 seed, which may be bad news for No. 5 see, a.k.a. "Upset City" Louisville. We’ll see…more on the Cardinals in a bit.
It's No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Duke. Here's what I learned about the new all-time scoring leader for the Fighting Irish after they dismantled Kansas Saturday. Skylar Diggins said, "I hate to lose more than I like to win." Boy, it is tough not to like that kind of attitude from a team's co-captain. Now with Baylor out of the way, maybe the 3rd time will indeed be the charm for Muffet McGraw and company. After losing in back to back National Championship games, the goal for this team from the start has been to win it all, period.
Except, this team lost a pair of WNBA players to graduation and was supposed to be in a rebuilding phase, hoping to make the most of Diggins last season. Enter guard Jewell Loyd. Playing beyond her years, she is averaging 12 points per game. Plus, 6'3" forward Natalie Achonwa is averaging 14 points per game, and one of the most fun players on the roster to watch is Kayla McBride. Her size, at 5'11" and her ability to score the basketball averaging 16 points per, is the perfect complement to Sky's team-best 17 points per game average.
Bottom line, this Notre Dame team can score and defend. While averaging 82 points per game, the Fighting Irish have held the opposition to just 58 points. Tuesday, this team that is firing on all cylinders will put its 29-game win streak on the line against the club the Mercury's Krystal Thomas picked to beat them.
Duke is in position to get to the Final Four for the first time since 2006. There is a lot to like about the Blue Devils, starting with Elizabeth Williams and Tricia Liston. Williams is a beast in the paint; she had seven blocks in Sunday's win vs. Nebraska. Liston can bury it from 3, averaging 46 percent from distance on the season; she had 17 points and eight rebounds against the Cornhuskers.
Like Notre Dame, Duke can score seemingly at will averaging 75 points a game. And unlike fresh on the 3-point shooting scene Louisville, as a team the Blue Devils average better than 40 percent from long range. For a 4th straight year, Duke is a No. 2 seed but I just can't agree with Thomas on this game.
My reasoning is simple. In addition to the fact I think Notre Dame is playing some of the best basketball in the country right now, I want to see if the Fighting Irish can beat Connecticut for a staggering 4th time this season. The only way that matchup happens in the Final Four, is by the Fighting Irish bouncing the Blue Devils.
Oklahoma City Region
In the heart of Big 12 Country, it's Big East vs. SEC for a trip to the Final Four. While I'm still trying to wrap my mind around Louisville's ginormous win which brought an end to Baylor's nation’s best 32-game win streak, I'm ready for No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 2 Tennessee.
Leave it to Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick to get real about this matchup. Before the media on Monday's off day, Warlick was candid about not facing Baylor, saying, "Well, I would not be truthful if I didn't say I was glad Baylor is out of the tournament." Uh, I'll take understatement for a thousand, Alex.
In the blink of a Monique Reid free throw, Tennessee morphs from being a likely stepping stone under the kicks of the Lady Bears Final Four run, to a legit title contender. Crazy impressive when you consider these Lady Vols were predicted to finish 5th in the SEC by the league’s coaches before the start of the season.
Now, Tennessee is in great position to make it to a 19th Final Four and first on coach Warlick's watch. Kimiko Williams seems comfortable in her leadership role and had 15 points, four assists and three steals against the Sooners. In addition, Taber Spani looks healthy. She had 12 points in the blowout win over Oklahoma and doesn't look like a player who wants her college career to end. In fact, when the lead ballooned to 28 points, I thought this team, like Notre Dame, just plays smoothly together.
For Louisville, it now comes down to this: What does this team have left in the tank? As a fan, I was emotionally spent at the final buzzer Sunday night. One wonders how the Cardinals find a way to get back up to face the challenge of a storied program that can taste a shot at a 9th NCAA Championship.
Via rumblings on twitter late Sunday, I learned Jeff Walz game plan to bounce Baylor was a page right out of an old Rick Pitino playbook – 3-pointers. Walz thought his team needed to hit 20 triples to beat Baylor. Louisville hit 16. This from a team that only averages five 3-pointers a game!
While simply brilliant Sunday, I don't know how much more Walz can get out of his Cardinals. Antonita Slaughter hit seven triples; Shoni Schimmel added another five as the pair combined for 43 points. Still, I'm not sure Slaughter (10 ppg) and Schimmel (14.2 ppg) can nearly double their respective scoring averages again, so soon after that big win.
Of course, if Louisville comes out and hits 72 percent from downtown in the first half against Tennessee like it did against Baylor…well, then I'll slap my forehead ala, “I should've had a V-8.” The Lady Vols are an NCAA best 115-23 all-time in tournament play and I like Tennessee to find its way to Bourbon Street.
So, now that I see it in the Sans Serif font, it's official. I like Notre Dame and Tennessee to join California and Connecticut in the Final Four.
Enjoy the games and I'll talk to you again down the road to New Orleans!
By Cindy Brunson for PhoenixMercury.com: April 1, 2013
Monday's Picks: Connecticut and Cal
Lin Dunn's accent makes me smile and crave southern cooking all at once. I first heard that syrupy southern drawl filing stories about the ABL's Portland Power in 1998 as a member of the KATU-TV sports department in Portland, OR. Dunn's team really solidified my love for women's pro hoops. A year later I was hired at ESPN and I've been rabidly interested in both college and pro basketball ever since. Thanks, Lin. Her defending champion Fever has the No. 9 pick in the 1st round of the WNBA draft.
While Elena Delle Donne won't be on the board at No. 9, I do want to take a second and applaud Delle Donne on a smashing collegiate career. She leaves Delaware as the games 5th leading scorer all-time with 3,039 points. Talk about a game changer! She is 6'5" with tremendous ball skills. Think the Storm's Lauren Jackson with a much better handle. Delle Donne broke the Kentucky press several times Saturday, by herself, taking the ball coast to coast with a mid-range jumper or a spin drive to the hole finish. What a special talent. This fan hopes the Chicago Sky takes her No. 2 overall so I can see her in the Phoenix Mercury season and home opener Monday May 27!
Despite a tremendous 33 points and 9 rebounds effort from Elena Delle Donne, it was the No. 2 seed Kentucky advancing. Wildcats coach Matthew Mitchell may need to invest in Just for Men hair color because the way his team struggles when it comes to boxing out gets on one’s nerves. His crew was out-rebounded by the Blue Hens by four. Still, his 40 minutes of dread defense was able to hold off Delaware. Jennifer O'Neill's game continues to grow and her decision making seems much easier to trust. O'Neill was 4 for 9 from 3-point range and led the way with 19 points. The Brooklyn native makes the most of her 5' 6" frame and plays with moxy. Even with O'Neill's improved game and the compliment of SEC player of the year A'dia Mathies, the Wildcats will struggle mightily to hang with Connecticut.
It's No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 2 Kentucky in the Elite Eight. There is a reason why Geno Auriemma has really never looked backed after advancing to his first Sweet 16 in 1991. He consistently puts the most fundamentally sound team on the floor night in and night out. He demands high basketball IQ's from his players and has been rewarded with seven NCAA Women’s Titles, an Olympic gold medal and a ginormous five-year, 10.8 million dollar contract extension in March. He's worth every penny, in my opinion. I had a bird’s eye view of his mastery during my 13 years in Connecticut. When I first arrived at ESPN, I flat out didn't like him. I'm a huge Pat Summitt fan and really loved all those great Lady Vols teams, but Auriemma wore me down with his tenacity and demand of excellence. Then, Diana Taurasi hit Storrs and was easily the best player I'd ever seen in person, and Geno finally won me over.
Even though Connecticut wasn't at its fundamentally sound best at times Saturday, the Huskies rolled Maryland with ease. I expect the Huskies to make it to their 14th Final Four in the rematch of last year’s regional final. Kentucky has a deep bench, but lacks the size and ability to score consistently to keep the Huskies from booking a flight to New Orleans. If I learned anything on the Women's College Basketball studio anchor desk over the last six years in Bristol, CT, it's that you shouldn’t bet against Auriemma and his Huskies. Go ahead and use a sharpie on your bracket; Connecticut will do everything possible and then some to make it to a school and NCAA Women’s record sixth straight Final Four.
Just like Connecticut, Stanford was also gunning to make it to a school record sixth straight Final Four. Key word there: “was.” The Cardinal opened on a 9-0 run against Georgia Saturday night and then the Lady Bulldogs decided to chip away, get defensive and stun the No. 1 seed 61-59. Stanford relied on Chiney Ogwumike and for good reason; she is really good. Ogwumike exceeded her 20 and 12 averages against top 25 teams this season, finishing with 26 and 12, but it was not enough. The All SEC “Jasmines” came through when it needed most. Jasmine James had 16 points and five assists while Jasmine Hassell added 13 points. The difference maker was Tiaria Griffin who poured in 13 huge points as well.
While Landers has a wealth of NCAA Tournament experience and is chasing a 6th trip to the Final Four, the same cannot be said of the gal on the opposite side of the scorer’s table Monday night. Both LSU's Nikki Caldwell and Cal's Lindsay Gottlieb made their sweet 16 debuts Saturday night. Tied at 26 points at the break, the Golden Bears were able to create separation in the second half behind guard Layshia Clarendon. The Wade Trophy Award finalist found her stroke with 17 of her 19 points coming in the second half. I'm really looking forward to seeing Clarendon in the WNBA. Brittany Boyd came through with clutch 3's, seven assists and 12 points. In addition, Gennifer Brandon pounded the glass, did the dirty work and led the charge with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
It's No. 4 Georgia taking on No. 2 California with a trip to New Orleans on the line. Cal is in its first Elite Eight thanks in large part to Gottlieb. She
is one of four finalists for the Naismith Women's Coach of the Year Award that will be handed out in the Big Easy and I like her Golden Bears to make sure
she can also compete for a National Title, too. While Landers team is pesky and feisty, Cal's size and depth should be the difference. The only thing that
worries me about this Pac 12 team is free throw shooting. Only able to hit 62 percent from the stripe on the way to the tournament, they raised that to 63
percent Saturday night, but simply can't afford to leave points on the free throw line if they hope to advance. Sure, Cal is in uncharted territory, but I
like this team to add to its school record 31 wins this season and get to New Orleans.
Now that I've typed it out, I guess it is official -- I like Connecticut and California when all is said and done Monday night. Until the next time, enjoy the games!
By Cindy Brunson for PhoenixMercury.com: April 1, 2013
Remembering Brittney Griner
I will never forget where I was when I first learned about Brittney Griner. It was late January in 2007 and I was in the makeup chair at ESPN. My colleague, WNBA champion point guard Kara Lawson comes into the room with a laptop and insisted I get out of that chair ASAP.
At the time, Kara was busting her tail to secure a spot on the 2008 U.S. Women's National team. As she clicked ‘play’ on a YouTube video, she explained the game she knew was forever changing because of this exceptional, once in a generation, game changer.
Under the headline, "High School Girl Dunker," I saw Griner for the first time. I got goose bumps. I'd never seen a woman throw down in rhythm like that. Sure, it was easy to tell she was still learning the game, growing and getting comfortable in her own skin, but “special” leapt off that computer screen. I remember speaking in a near whisper, mindful I was beholding something never before seen in the women's game. I asked where Griner was going to college and if that program had a point guard to get her the ball.
When I looked up from the screen and back at Kara, her eyes were wide, and she had a huge smile on her face. She said, "I have to get what I want from this game now, because the future is almost here."
Thanks to Kara's initial head's up, I've watched Griner from those early days at Nimitz High School in Houston, TX right up until her final game at Baylor Sunday night. There isn't a player I look more forward to seeing in the WNBA than 42.
Griner has not only energized the women's hoops fan base, she brings in the casual fan as well. She tweeted out an apology to Baylor nation for letting them down after the loss to Louisville.
After I screamed, "NO" at my Ipad, I tweeted her back.
"No apologies,” I said. “You didn't let anyone down; you lifted basketball fans everywhere up with your extraordinary Baylor run!"
It's still a little hard to believe her college career is over. Griner leaves with 3,283 points (2nd most in Division 1, 110 points behind Jackie Stiles), No. 1 in blocks with 748 and dunks with 18. She finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in her last game at Baylor.
As for how that "last" game transpired, how about the word “wow” to the 16th power! A string of three letter words, for the NCAA Women’s tournament single game, record-tying sixteen 3-pointers that Louisville hit to shock the world and send No. 1 overall seed Baylor home Sunday night.
My heart is still pounding. What a game! Jeff Walz' crew hit the floor in the Oklahoma City regional against the Lady Bears as 24-point underdogs. TWENTY-FOUR! Walz' game plan was simply masterful. He had everybody on his team, from starting point guard Shoni Schimmel right down to the equipment manager believing they could bring an end to the longest win streak in the nation. I don't know exactly what Walz said, but it was clear from the jump his players were more than ready to punch Baylor in the mouth and did so repeatedly. Attitude, desire, grit and want in addition to lights out shooting from 3-point range did the trick.
Not that it was easy. After building a lead of 19 points, the Louisville engine started to sputter and Baylor chipped away and pulled within single digits. Then, the unthinkable. After 22 points and playing the point beautifully, Shoni Schimmel fouled out. Lady Bears’ guard Odyssey Sims pinned her ears back and willed her team back. It was Sims hitting a pair of free throws which gave Baylor its first lead of the game with just 9.1 seconds left in regulation. Brittney Griner fouled Monique Reid and just a couple of possessions after missing the front end of a 1-and-1, Reid hit both free throws, putting a bow on the biggest upset in women's basketball history.
Stunning as the finish was, it also brought an abrupt end to Griner's incredible career.
As impressed as I am with the Louisville win, because it was truly fantastic, this fan is bummed. Sure, I picked Baylor to become the just the 4th different team to repeat as National Champions, but it's more than that. I was looking forward to seeing how the Lady Bears would handle pressure to repeat on the biggest stage, in New Orleans. But alas, the hoops Gods have other ideas, like giving the entire Elite Eight a new sense hope. The heavy favorite is going home and not to the Big Easy, so the field basically resets.
In fact, I would like to give everybody who loves women's basketball a bracket mulligan. If you had Baylor winning it all, just go ahead and tweak one team in your Final Four. I won't tell anybody, I promise. You know I'm suggesting it's cool, ‘cause I already did it myself.
Now that David has slain Goliath, here's to more, heart-pounding, deodorant-testing, gut-wrenching, fantastic finishes the rest of the way!
By Cindy Brunson for PhoenixMercury.com: March 30, 2013
Previewing Norfolk and Oklahoma City
Tough to beat Easter Sunday with chocolate bunnies, peeps and setting the second half of the NCAA Women’s Elite 8 table!
I've been a huge fan of women's basketball for, well as long as I can remember. Over the second half of my 13 year ESPN career, I had the privilege of watching the best women's college and WNBA basketball around, alongside the top analysts in the game. While that phase of my career is over, I'm putting what I learned from Olympic gold medalist Kara Lawson, coach of '99 National Champion Purdue Carolyn Peck, Hall of Famer Rebecca Lobo and expert analyst Doris Burke to good use here in my new Arizona home.
Easter Sunday features the team I predicted at the end of last season would become just the fourth team to repeat as National Champions: Baylor. USC, Tennessee (twice) and Connecticut (twice) are the only schools to have done the repeat champ thing. More on the Lady Bears in a bit.
Meeting for the first time Sunday the No. 12 seed Kansas and No. 1 seed Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are rocking a school record 28-game win streak and face the only double digit seed left in the tournament. The Jayhawks bounced a No. 5 and a No. 4 to get here, and are probably thinking, “Why can’t we beat a No. 1?” While Kansas has a trio of career 1,000 point scorers in Carolyn Davis, Angel Goodrich and Monica Engelman that may not be enough scoring punch to hang offensively with the Irish.
While Kansas enjoys a second-straight trip to the Sweet 16, Notre Dame is focused on making it to a third-straight national title game. In addition to her impressive 315,500 twitter followers at last check, Skylar Diggins is Notre Dame's all-time steals leader with 369 and only 27 points away from becoming the all-time leading scorer in Fighting Irish women's hoops history. Kayla McBride is coming off a career high 28 points, but the entire team impresses Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson. She told the South Bend Tribune, "The sum of their parts is so good, Notre Dame is great at both ends of the floor." I could not agree more.
In the second game, also meeting for the first time, No. 6 Nebraska takes on No. 2 Duke. An unprecedented four No. 6 seeds made it to the Sweet 16. To say I'm impressed the Cornhuskers made it this far would be a huge understatement. To compensate for early season injuries, Head Coach Connie Yori punted on her motion offense and opted for a Princeton style of play. In addition, she scrapped her full court man-to-man defense in favor of zone. As a result, Yori's crew has won 13 of their last 15 games.
Duke is the Mercury's Krystal Thomas' pick to keep Notre Dame from getting to New Orleans. Sure, there is some Blue Devil loyalty going there, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, Duke needs to beat Nebraska. Coach Joanne P. McCallie will rely on Elizabeth Williams to defend the paint and score in bunches. The growth of freshman guard Alexis Jones has been impressive. Since star Chelsea Gray tore her ACL in February, Jones just gets better and steadier by the game. Quiet confidence in that one – I like it. We'll see if Thomas is right and Duke is able to make it to the Final Four for the first time since 2006, real soon.
Oklahoma City Region
This is poised to be a great game – No. 6 Oklahoma battling No. 2 Tennessee. The Lady Vols are in the Sweet 16 for the 31st time. Junior guard Meighan Simmons is leading the way averaging 17.3 points per game. I would love to put her on the baseline and clock how fast she goes end to end with the ball; she is so lightening quick and fun to watch. It's a good thing Lady Vols nation supports its team. Averaging an impressive 11,390 fans at home games this season, Tennessee will need to pack up some of those cheers for Sunday.
Oklahoma is playing about 30 minutes from the Sooners home floor in Norman and home cooking could fuel the upset here. Aaryn Ellenberg is coming off a 27 point effort and is more than ready to add to her school record 276 career 3-pointers. Senior Joanna McFarland, with 33 points and 38 rebounds through two tournament games, will certainly bring her lunch pail and “do your job” vibe to rattle Tennessee. The Sooners are only 1-4 all-time against the Lady Vols, but that record evens to 1-1 in the state of Oklahoma.
Last but certainly not least is No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 1 Baylor. The Cardinals are 1-0 against the Lady Bears in NCAA Women tournament play. In 2009, led by Angel McCoughtry, Louisville bounced Baylor on the way to the National Title game. While the Cardinals are enjoying their fourth trip to the Sweet 16 in seven years, Angel isn't walking through that door. Junior Shoni Schimmel leads the way, averaging 14 points per game. Additionally, Sara Hammond is a solid player, but they don't provide enough punch to get Louisville out of the role of David.
Goliath is Baylor. Sporting the nation’s longest win streak at 32 in a row and counting, the Lady Bears are entrenched in scary good territory. Brittney Griner, ‘nuff said right?!?! Griner is averaging 32 points and 11 rebounds while shooting a blistering 69 percent from the floor. She seems to be getting stronger by the game – her shot steadier than ever, her leadership now clearly visible and unquestioned. Her NCAA Women’s tournament dunk total currently stands at six, including four this year alone. Griner, the likely No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury, may leave college as the all-time NCAA Women’s tournament scorer. She needs to score 91 points to break the record held by Chamique Holdsclaw (479). That would be an average of 22.5 points per game in a possible four games left to play.
Of course, the Lady Bears are not just Griner. All-American candidate Odyssey Sims continues to impress; the point guard ranks No. 1 in the nation in assist to turnover ratio at 2.8. Plus, there is her ‘I-would-rather-die-than-let-you-beat-me’ mindset that this fan digs.
I'm ready for another great day of women's hoops. I like Notre Dame, Duke, Tennessee and Baylor. Can't wait!