NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Preview: Is Baylor a Slam Dunk?
Elena Delle Donne
The air in high-altitude Denver is notoriously thin. But not nearly as thin as the chances of anyone other than Baylor cutting down the nets when the NCAA women's basketball championship concludes in the Mile High City. Undefeated at 34-0, the Lady Bears dominated their opponents this season — including third- and fourth-ranked Notre Dame and Connecticut — winning games by an average of 27.2 points.
When the brackets for the NCAA tournament are announced Monday night Baylor will find out the path they must follow to get to Denver and the school's second national championship. Should they cut down the nets on April 3, they will become the first team to compile a 40-0 record.
Brittney Griner — the likely national player of the year — keys Baylor's defense and offense, ranking first in the nation in blocked shots and second in field-goal percentage. "The only thing that will prevent them from winning the national championship would be if they have an off shooting night and somebody else shoots lights out against them, or if Brittney Griner would happen to get in foul trouble — which doesn't seem likely," says ESPN analyst Brenda VanLengen. "Something I think that is really significant about Baylor is that they've had a lot of role players who have to be OK playing supporting roles, but they also have to be able to hit the big shots when needed. And so far, they have."
Stanford, Connecticut and Notre Dame are expected to earn the other three No. 1 seeds, with the Atlantic Coast Conference (Maryland, Duke) and the Southeastern Conference (Tennessee, Kentucky) likely to split the No. 2 slots.
This year's Cinderella story could be Delaware, a rare school from a "mid-major" conference to crack the Top 10. Led by Elena Delle Donne, the nation's top scorer (at 27.5 points per game), the Blue Hens have lost just once this season. Delle Donne has been profiled recently in Sports Illustrated, USA Today and on ESPN's Outside the Lines, but Delaware has yet to play on national television. With a hotshot player like Delle Donne, they could stir up some March Madness. "When you have that kind of a superstar talent, who can score 40 points, there is always that possibility that you can advance further than anybody would expect," says VanLengen. Making it to Denver would be a Rocky Mountain highlight.
The NCAA Women's Basketball Selection Special airs Monday at 7/6c on ESPN. First-round games begin Saturday, March 17 at 11am/10c on ESPN2.
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