When the 2012 NCAA women’s basketball tournament brackets were first released, it looked to some like the Kingston bracket was the “UConn Invitational”.
In addition to home court advantage, it seemed to be filled with favorable matchups. However, with the way a team like Penn State is playing, it’s not a given that they’ll advance to the Elite Eight.
#4 Penn State Lady Lions vs. #1 Connecticut Huskies
Penn State has been playing well over its first two tournament games, scoring extremely efficiently at their normally fast pace to post 90 points on LSU’s defense in Baton Rough, which is no small feat.
What really stands out about PSU is that they’re an outstanding ball handling team: they have the 7th lowest turnover rate in the nation and turn the ball over less often than their opponents even in most of their losses. Against a strong defensive team like UConn, their ability to control the ball so well could be significant – the last thing a UConn opponent wants to do is give them easy points off turnovers.
The problem is that UConn is a team that thrives more on simply keeping teams out of their comfort zone than forcing turnovers. Their 23.8% effective field goal percentage differential is the best of any team in the bracket and PSU’s 36.8% 3-point percentage this season is among the best in the nation. PSU leading scorer Maggie Lucas leads the team with a 41.8% 3-point percentage, but she and Zhaque Gray are really the two main 3-point threats and only three players shoot from beyond the arc with any sort of consistency.
UConn has lost the turnover battle in each of their non-Baylor losses and if PSU continues to play the way they did against LSU – 1.10 points per possession, which is in the range of the elite this season – they have the profile to pull off an upset. However, if UConn can shut down their perimeter shooters and sophomore center Stefanie Dolson can win the battle with PSU post Nikki Greene on the interior, the Huskies should emerge victorious.
#11 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. #2 Kentucky Wildcats
Gonzaga and Green Bay are similar in some broad respects: they’re both high synergy, highly efficient offenses, that are well-organized on both ends. So in a way, Kentucky’s win against Green Bay could be considered a blueprint for beating Gonzaga: forcing turnovers and aggressively controlling the paint.
But the two major differences between Gonzaga and Green Bay are rebounding and Kayla Standish, who is the focal point of Gonzaga’s offense as a post player.
Whereas Green Bay played about even with their opponents on the boards this year, Gonzaga outrebounded opponents by a sizable advantage and Standish’s team-high 7.7 rebounds per game were undoubtedly a part of that. But what makes the 6’2″ Standish particularly dangerous to opponents is her ability to score from all over the court – from scoring around the basket with solid footwork to passing from the high post to stepping out to shoot long jumpers, she can be a major matchup problem for opponents.
Gonzaga can be knocked off their game by more physical teams that attempt to disrupt their methodical, finesse style and it’s noteworthy that both Miami and Rutgers outrebounded Gonzaga in the first two rounds of the tournament; Kentucky is a better rebounding team than either.
It’s tempting to say that Kentucky’s athleticism at guard would overwhelm Gonzaga, even after the exact same thing was said last year when they played UCLA in Spokane: there’s no Courtney Vandersloot to navigate Kentucky’s pressure and that could cause problems. But this will probably come down to Standish and how well Gonzaga is able to use her ability to pull post players away from the basket to their advantage.
UConn def. PSU
Kentucky def. Gonzaga
UConn def. Kentucky
Turnovers will matter if indeed UConn and Kentucky square off for the right to go to the Final Four, but Kentucky is a team that can go through major scoring droughts as an average shooting team and the way UConn plays defense in the halfcourt it could make things hard offensively for the Wildcats. And yet again, Stefanie Dolson will matter in this game: if UConn can get a strong effort from her, particularly on the boards, it will be tough for UK to keep pace.