By The Associated Press
March Madness is in the Women’s Final Four. Defending champion South Carolina remains on track to repeat and complete the 10th undefeated season in women’s play following their 86-75 victory over Maryland. Virginia Tech became the second seed to travel to Dallas with its 84-74 victory over Ohio State to complete the regional finals. With the Hokies advancing, it’s the seventh time in the past 10 years that there will be a first-time Final Four entrant. LSU and Iowa won on Sunday to break long droughts. Here’s what you need to know:
GAMES TO WATCH
No. 3 LSU (33-2) vs. No. 1 Virginia Tech (31-4), Friday, 7 p.m. EDT, ESPN
LSU ended its rapid rise with Kim Mulkey, reaching the Final Four in his second season under the former Baylor coach. The Tigers are in the Final Four for the first time in 15 years after beating Miami 54-42. The Hokies have won 15 straight games and are in the Final Four for the first time in school history. Elizabeth Kitley scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while Georgia Amoore added 24 points in their win over the Buckeyes.
No. 1 South Carolina (36-0) vs. No. 2 Iowa (30-6), Friday, 9:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN
It will be a clash of the top two players as All-Americans Aliyah Boston and Caitlin Clark face off in the second national semifinal. The Gamecocks have won 42 straight games and are entering their third straight Women’s Final Four after an 11-point win over Maryland. Boston is averaging 12.0 and 11.0 rebounds during the tournament. Clark and the Hawkeyes are back for the first time in 30 years after a 97-83 win over Louisville on Sunday night. Clark recorded the 11th triple-double of his career and 19th in NCAA Tournament history with 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds against the Cardinals.
The top four seeds in the tournament were awarded to South Carolina, Indiana, Stanford and Virginia Tech. Stanford was the first to bow out on March 26, and Indiana was ousted a day later by Miami.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The women’s tournament field was filled with stars, including Boston, last season’s AP Player of the Year. She’ll have plenty of competition for the honor this year, including Clark, LSU’s Angel Reese and more.
Charisma Osborne scored a career-high 36 points to help UCLA rally after losing an 18-point lead to Oklahoma to reach the Sweet 16. Alissa Pili had a career-high 33 points, eight rebounds and a career-high eight assists to lead Utah. on Gardner-Webb.
Then there’s Reese, who has 89 points and 67 rebounds for LSU on four wins.
Gun violence has claimed lives and disrupted college sports all season, affecting some of college basketball’s top programs. Coaches have been pushed into uncertain and unwelcome roles trying to navigate the subject – as well as the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
On a lighter note, if you think you know the women’s tournament, try this 25-question quiz. And do you think behemoth teams are good for the game?
Want to hear from the athletes themselves? UCLA freshman Kiki Rice and injured UConn star Paige Bueckers each wrote diaries for the AP about their “tournament trips.”
HOW TO WATCH
The title game will air on a national network – ABC – for the first time since 1996. ABC’s plan was to air at least half a dozen other games as well.
Alongside that, every match of the women’s tournament will be available on ESPN’s networks or stream, with fans encouraged to navigate to the “Watch” tab on ESPN’s sites. There are several sites listing game times, channels, and other details, including the NCAA site.
Who will win the national championship?
Heading into the Final Four, the betting favorites (in order): South Carolina, LSU, Iowa and Virginia Tech, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
With Indiana, Stanford and UConn gone, the Gamecocks are an even bigger favorite to become the first repeat women’s tournament champion since UConn won the last of four straight in 2016.
Where is the Women’s Final Four? In Dallas, where the semifinals are Friday and the championship game is Sunday. The men’s Final Four happens to be a four-hour drive away in Houston on the same weekend.
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com /AP_Top25