If you’re looking for a local connection, Bethune-Cookman is your team this year ... though the tourney stay may be short-lived.
Team to beat
Reigning national champ Notre Dame’s 99-79 romp of Louisville in the ACC Tournament final marked the 13th time this season in which all five Irish starters scored in double figures. All five average at least 13.9 points, but the scoring dropoff is glaring from there. Few teams in America are more unselfish than the Irish (30-3). Its 20.6 assists per game ranks fourth nationally), and few guards are more dominant than 6-foot junior Jackie Young (14.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.3 assists). Forward Brianna Turner knows the way to Tampa; she starred during the Irish’s run to the 2015 Final Four here.
A Golden opportunity
No. 16 seed Bethune-Cookman (21-10) will make its NCAA Tournament debut behind 5-foot-8 catalyst — and Alonso High alumnus — Angel Golden. One of two Ravens alumni on the B-CU roster (6-1 freshman Alyssa Jones is the other), Golden (19.7 ppg, 90 3-pointers) scored a team-high 18 points in a 57-45 win against Norfolk State in the MEAC Tournament final, giving the school its first league title since 1984. In three tourney games, Golden totaled 70 points and was named the event’s Outstanding Performer.
Missouri State’s return to the tournament shouldn’t be a surprise; it’s what coach Kellie Harper does. Harper, who won three national titles playing for Pat Summitt’s Vols, is one of only 11 coaches to lead three different schools to the tournament (Western Carolina, North Carolina State and Missouri State). That doesn’t include her trips there while on staff at Auburn and Chattanooga. Now for her next challenge: Trying to advance past the first round for the first time in her head coaching career.
Aside from a 40-point blowout loss to Oregon and a February slump, Stanford has been one of the best teams in the nation all season. The Cardinal’s star is Alanna Smith, an Australia native who is an all-Pac 12 forward for the second year in a row. Smith has increased her scoring, rebounding and blocks every season to establish herself as the top player on a program gunning for its 14th trip to the Final Four.
Texas A&M guard Shambria Washington took an interesting route from Florida to College Station. The former star at Ocala Trinity Catholic made a stop at the College of Central Florida before joining the Aggies. Her 23 starts helped A&M earn a 4 seed and the right to host on the opening weekend.
Women’s Final Four
Amalie Arena, Tampa
April 5: Semifinals, 7 and 9:30
April 7: Final, 6
More info/tickets: www.ncaa.com/womens-final-four