Many times in previous seasons, the NCAA Tournament bracket on the women's side of things has seen a lot of chalk. Dominant programs are dominant, and continue to be so. Breaking into the upper echelon where the likes of the Connecticut Huskies, Tennessee Volunteers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and a choice few others reside has been no small task for upstart programs.
Until recently, anyway. So that's how you end up with the Syracuse Orange women's team, a 4-seed, as a favorite in a national semifinal. They're not even the tournament's biggest surprise. That title would go to the 7-seed Washington Huskies from the Lexington, K.Y. region. The Huskies did not have to get through a 1-seed the way the Orange did. But with wins over a 4-, 3-, 2- and a 10-seed, respectively, Washington's every bit as tested through four rounds of the tournament.
These two teams have also played already this season, with the Orange winning a 66-62 game in the South Point Shootout in Las Vegas back in late November. Neither group had rounded into their current respective forms, as evidenced by the low-scoring affair. The hot-shooting Syracuse women hit just 29.2-percent of their shots in that first matchup. Washington manged a little over 35-percent as the teams played much more methodical basketball.
In the NCAA Tournament thus far, the opposite's been the case for both. Syracuse has averaged 79.5 points per game over the last four, while Washington has gone for a similar 77.25. You know the usual cast of characters, Brianna Butler, Alexis Peterson, Brittney Sykes and Briana Day will all get themselves on the box score for the Orange. But what of Washington?
For the Huskies it comes down to Chantel Oshahor, Kelsey Plum and Talia Walton. Three names, and the lion's share of the points for UW. Syracuse's tough defense has a chance to shut down one of them, but stopping all will be a tough order. The last time these squads met, the trio combined for 51 points and 27 rebounds. Against Stanford on Sunday, they had 62 and 30. Oshahor, in particular, is a matchup nightmare because she's a force in the paint but can also hit from outside. Obviously the Orange have their own abilities to shoot from the perimeter (did just fine against Tennessee yesterday). But it'll be a big test for Day, who's experienced some foul trouble in this tournament, to be able to keep Oshahor from filling the stat line. If she can get going, that could be trouble for SU.
Where things could get problematic for UW is defending the perimeter against Syracuse. Knocking down 14-of-30 threes against Tennessee, the Orange women just never let the lead get too slim -- delivering multiple daggers to put and keep the game out of reach for the Lady Vols. Stanford was able to shoot over 40 percent from beyond the arc against UW, while Maryland hit on nearly 36-percent from deep. It's not a weakness for the Huskies, as much as it is something to watch out for given SU's own abilities from out there.
Time's still TBD on this one as we wait for the other two women's Elite Eight games to wrap up on Monday. Syracuse and Washington will play in Indianapolis on Sunday, April 3. We'll have plenty more to preview between now and then too, don't worry.