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Madness in the Elite Eight Leads to Electric Final Four Matchups



The 2024 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament has been absolutely electric from the opening tip, filled with crazy finishes, heroic individual performances, and the usual array of upsets and Cinderella stories that make March Madness so captivating. But the Elite Eight games took the drama and excitement to a whole new level, setting up a pair of epic Final Four matchups that will have basketball fans around the country glued to their TVs.

In the first Elite Eight thriller on Monday night, Caitlin Clark and No. 1 seed Iowa got their redemption against Angel Reese and the No. 3 seed LSU Tigers. This was a rematch of last year’s national championship game, where the tenacious Reese led LSU to the title over Clark’s Hawkeyes. 

This time, in a battle of Player of the Year frontrunners, it was Clark getting the last laugh. The junior guard erupted for 41 points, hitting seven three-pointers and slashing her way to the basket repeatedly to lead Iowa’s high-powered offense. Reese had another monster game with 29 points and 18 rebounds, but she didn’t get enough support as her teammates struggled with Iowa’s in-your-face defensive pressure.

Clark was incredibly efficient, scoring her 41 points on just 24 shot attempts as she got to the free throw line 15 times. The Hawkeyes led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter before LSU made a furious fourth quarter rally to make it a nail-biter down the stretch. But Clark and Iowa’s veteran experience proved too much, setting up a Final Four clash with an old Big East rival.

In the nightcap, Paige Bueckers and No. 3 seed UConn took down No. 1 seed Southern California 80-73 in another back-and-forth affair filled with drama and big momentum swings. The Huskies were battle-tested after a grueling regular season and tough games earlier in the NCAA tournament against Duke and Syracuse.

That experience paid off against USC, who was making just their first Elite Eight appearance in 30 years behind the brilliant play of freshman phenom Juju Watkins. The lightning-quick 5’5″ guard was virtually unstoppable, slashing to the basket repeatedly and dropping a game-high 32 points to go along with 6 assists.

But UConn had their own star power, with the Bueckers dropping 28 points on 9-15 shooting from the field including 6 three-pointers. The senior sharpshooter was dialed in from long range, hitting huge buckets every time USC looked like they might seize momentum. She got plenty of support from junior forward Aaliyah Edwards, who bullied her way to 24 points and 8 rebounds despite playing all 40 minutes due to foul trouble on the UConn bench.

It was a true roller coaster of a game, with USC jumping out to an early 9-point lead only for UConn to battle back and lead by as many as 10 in the third quarter. The Trojans fought all the way to the end, even cutting the deficit to 2 points with under five minutes to play. But the veteran Huskies, making their 23rd Final Four appearance, showed incredible poise down the stretch, scoring 12 of the final 16 points to salt away the huge victory.

So after four incredible games, the stage is set for an epic Final Four in Cleveland starting on Friday. UConn and Iowa will rematch in one national semifinal in a showdown between two of the most prolific offenses in the country led by two of the top players in Bueckers and Clark.

In the other semifinal, No. 1 overall seed South Carolina will take on No. 3 seed North Carolina State in what should be an absolute grudge match. The Gamecocks have been the dominant team all season, sporting the nation’s stingiest defense and boasting incredible balance with five players averaging double-digit points.  

NC State will counter with a smaller, guard-oriented lineup that loves to get out and run while raining three-pointers. They’re led by senior sharpshooter Diamond Miller, who caught fire in the Elite Eight with 31 points on 7-11 shooting from downtown as the Wolfpack shocked No. 2 seed Maryland.

But the road to Cleveland and the Final Four was no easy feat for any of these teams. UConn in particular had to grind out multiple nail biters just to get to this point.

In the regional semifinal against Duke, the Huskies looked to be in cruise control, opening up a 20-point lead early in the third quarter behind Bueckers’ unconscious outside shooting. But the Blue Devils wouldn’t go away, putting together a furious 24-6 run to cut the UConn lead all the way down to just 2 points with 36 seconds left.

Fortunately for the Huskies, their incredible senior leadership took over. Bueckers calmly drained 3-4 free throws in the final 30 seconds, and UConn lived to fight another day with a 53-45 victory over the gritty and determined Blue Devils.  

Bueckers was brilliant all night, finishing with 23 points despite facing constant double and even triple teams. Edwards chipped in 15 points and 8 boards in another workmanlike performance for the muscular junior forward.

In the Round of 32, the Huskies benefitted from a bit of an easier matchup, dispatching an overmatched Syracuse squad 72-54. Bueckers was stellar again, leading five UConn players in double figures with 18 points. But the star was freshman center Aliyah Boston, who overwhelmed the Orange with her size and skill. The 6’5″ center recorded 12 points, 15 rebounds and 6 blocked shots, making her presence felt on both ends.

USC also had a tough road to hoe, starting with a nail-biter against Baylor in the Sweet 16. Juju Watkins was virtually unstoppable, slicing her way repeatedly to the basket to pour in 24 points and dish out 8 assists as the Trojans built a 19-point second half lead.

Baylor wouldn’t go away quietly, ripping off an incredible 20-2 run to take a 1-point lead with just over 2 minutes to play. But Watkins came up huge again, setting up Kayla Williams for a go-ahead three-pointer, then scoring the final 4 points of the game herself as USC gritted out a 74-70 victory.

The regional final against the ACC champion Virginia Tech Hokies looked like it might be a laugher, with USC jumping out to a 41-23 lead late in the first half. But Virginia Tech furiously battled back throughout the third quarter, cutting the Trojans’ lead all the way down to 4 points.

That’s when Watkins stepped up and put the team on her back, scoring an incredible 17 points in the fourth quarter alone. Her 35-point masterpiece ensured USC punched their first ticket to the Elite Eight in 30 years with a 79-71 triumph over a very game Virginia Tech squad.

So after an incredible series of games throughout the tournament, filled with wild finishes, supernova performances and a couple of stunning upsets, we’re left with an electric Final Four. From the high-octane fireworks expected in the UConn vs Iowa matchup to the brutal defensive battle looming between South Carolina and NC State, basketball fans are in for an absolute treat this weekend in Cleveland.

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