Women's NCAA National Championship Game Breakdown

Connecticut Final Four

Women’s NCAA National Championship Game Breakdown


In what is the final year of the old Big East Conference, it is only fair that the women’s basketball national finals should involve two teams from a league strongly considered the best in the country. Think about it. Three of the Final Four teams came from the Big East, and two of those teams meet for the right to hoist the trophy. Here is a look at that big game involving a storied basketball tradition and a program making its second appearance in the national finals.

#5 Louisville vs. #1 Connecticut (8:30 p.m. Tuesday at New Orleans, Louisiana)

At first glance this matchup appears to be one-sided. Connecticut has won 12 times in 13 matchups against Louisville, with the only time the Cardinals recorded a victory coming in 1993. Most of those players on the Cardinals roster weren’t around the last time Louisville won, so they have grown up with the Huskies always winning. But, as Louisville guard Shoni Schimmel told her hometown paper, the Courier-Journal, “If we can beat Baylor, we can beat anybody.” Baylor and Tennessee were the last two teams Louisville (29-8 overall) beat to reach the Final Four, and the Cardinals then held off a last-second challenge from California to record a 64-57 victory. Connecticut destroyed Idaho, Vanderbilt, Maryland and Kentucky to reach the Final Four, and once there the Huskies beat Notre Dame 83-65 in a contest many thought would be much, much closer based on the teams’ previous meetings this season.

The only times Connecticut beat Louisville by less than 10 points took place in 2006 (75-68) and 2008 (65-59). It should be noted in the teams’ recent meeting this season, a 72-58 victory on Jan. 15, Connecticut freshman Breanna Stewart did not play. All Stewart did against Notre Dame was drop 29 points. She also had 21 points against Kentucky in that one-sided victory.

Each team has its double-digit scoring leaders. Shoni Schimmel has 14.3 points per game to go with a team-high 133 assists. Sara Hammond (10.7 points, 6.4 rebounds) and Antonita Slaughter (10.2 points, 4.9 rebounds) also average in double figures, and Bria Smith (9.6) and Monique Reid (9.3) are close. However, Schimmel and Smith combined for 230 turnovers this season, so if either are careless with the basketball Connecticut could pounce. Shoni’s younger sister, Jude Schimmel, has been coming into her own this season with 5.7 points per game and 73 total steals.

Connecticut (34-4) has Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis leading the way at 17.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, and Stefanie Dolson averages 13.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. Stewart has a 13.5 scoring average and Kelly Faris (10.1) and Bria Hartley (9.1) are also among the Huskies’ top players. Of this group only Faris is a senior; everyone else will be back next year, so this team could mature into quite a scary group – not that it isn’t already.

I have a feeling this matchup will be a little closer than the earlier one this season, but Connecticut has way too many weapons to fall apart. That said, Louisville has pulled the shocker many times in this tournament, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it again. For now, I stand with Connecticut.

Projection: Connecticut 79, Louisville 67