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The women’s basketball Final Four has all the narratives a fan could want.

A dynastic Connecticut program looking to reclaim its spot at the top. A traditionally great Stanford program aiming to recapture its former glory. South Carolina, the nation’s newest power, is establishing itself as a perennial contender. And Arizona, the Final Four first-timer, is working to make its mark.

If you missed this week’s games, and even if you didn’t, here’s a primer on what to look forward to in Friday’s semi-finals, where Stanford will play South Carolina before UConn faces Arizona.

UConn is reasserting its dominance

It is probably a surprise to no one that Connecticut is in the Final Four. But predictably or not, and for the 13th consecutive season, coach Geno Auriemma and his team are competing in a semi-final after eking out a Round of 8 win over Baylor. The Bears had led the Huskies by as many as 10 points but crumbled after losing arguably their most important player, the national defensive player of the year, DiDi Richards, to a hamstring injury late in the third quarter. The Huskies’ close win showed the team’s strengths and where the young squad and its freshman starters still occasionally stumble. First among those strengths is freshman Paige Bueckers, who scored 28 points in the victory over Baylor and has averaged 22.5 points in four tournament games. The biggest boost for Connecticut so far in the tournament, though, has been the top-tier play of those around Bueckers. Christyn Williams and Evina Westbrook have given the team a boost from behind the three-point line, and 6-foot-4 Olivia Nelson-Ododa has become an unlikely distributor, with 11 assists in her past two games. It has been five years since Connecticut’s last title, as long of a gap as the program has had between championships since it won its first in 1995.

Aari McDonald is pushing Arizona to new heights

Arizona’s first trip to the Final Four has come courtesy of Aari McDonald, its star senior guard, who poured in 64 points in wins over Texas A&M and Indiana this week and has been an unstoppable force on both ends of the floor. While McDonald, the Pac-12 player of the year, has led the way offensively, forward Trinity Baptiste has given the team some much-needed size and even contributed a double-double against Indiana. The Wildcats play a relentless, high-energy defence that forces a lot of turnovers, especially against teams that underestimate them.

South Carolina can cement its status as a powerhouse

When South Carolina won its first national title in 2017, the Gamecocks had the best player in the country in A’ja Wilson, the 2020 WNBA most valuable player. Coach Dawn Staley’s team looked ready to claim another trophy last season, going 32-1 behind a group of young talent that, while it didn’t yet have statues such as Wilson’s in Columbia, S.C., looked good enough to deserve one. Then the pandemic hit, and the Gamecocks’ momentum was (temporarily) halted. This season, South Carolina lost four times – all to ranked teams, and while still showing some of the immaturity of its young core. The 6-foot-5 centre Aliyah Boston typically fuels both the defence and the offence, scoring efficiently under the basket, but increasingly South Carolina’s quick guards have stepped into starring roles. Junior Destanni Henderson and sophomore Zia Cooke are scoring threats anywhere on the floor, and the Gamecocks are playing their best basketball of the season.

Stanford has the grit to play from behind

Stanford breezed through its first three tournament games, barely breaking a sweat as they hit 43 three-pointers. Then they met up with a scrappy Louisville team Tuesday that spent more than half the game in the lead; at one point in the third quarter, Louisville led by 14 points. But Stanford rallied behind its typically balanced shooting. Bench players such as 6-foot-5 sophomore Ashten Prechtel, who played only 16 minutes but made all six of her shots, offered key contributions when shots by Stanford’s senior leader, Kiana Williams, weren’t falling. Stanford, the top overall seed in this year’s tournament, regained its footing because it has so many players who can shoot. Even in a game when it wasn’t scoring confidently, the Cardinal still made seven three-pointers. Overcoming a big tournament test against Louisville has likely better equipped the Cardinal for what’s to come against South Carolina on Friday. Now the challenge for Stanford will be whether its defence can stifle a team with as many skillful shooters as its own.