March 28, 2023 

The Weekly Fast Break: And then there were four

How the 2023 Final Four in Dallas came together

In all the celebration of wins and amazing performances during the NCAA Women’s Tournament, there is the difficult reality for many that their season and possibly careers have come to an end. We have had buzzer-beaters and blowouts, grind-it-out wins and track meets with scores that blow past any total point bet made. The moments of elation for one team are equaled by the heartache of the other that does not survive and advance to the 2023 Final Four.

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The road to the 2023 Final Four has given us a field of 68 teams each with their own unique story and path to the NCAA Tournament. Now, we sit just days away from the last four teams looking to claim the ultimate prize – the 2023 National Championship. Who are they, how did they get here and who has the best shot at winning it all?

Coaches will say to win a national title you need a little bit of luck, talented players and a team that has bought in to the gameplan and culture of your program. We here at The Weekly Fast Break know that the teams in the Final Four in Dallas, TX are not going to put their hopes on being lucky. They are going to give it their all for the opportunity to be part of the confetti party to raise the championship hardware on Sunday, April 2. For one more week, we work to do anything and everything to be sure our team survives and advances. Get your dancing shoes on friends – the last tunes of the Big Dance are coming loud and strong!

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National semifinal #1 – LSU vs. Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN (Friday, March 31)

The LSU Tigers have been part of the national conversation since November, but even head coach Kim Mulkey was not sure what the season would hold. In just her second year in Baton Rouge, Mulkey continues to look at the job as a rebuilding project, one that takes patience and time. But if there is one person that knows the formula for building a winner, it is Mulkey, and the success has come sooner rather than later. The Tigers are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2008 and at 32-2 overall heading to Dallas, have found the winning recipe.

Seeded No. 3 in the Greenville 2 Regional, LSU advanced to the Sweet 16 after wins over Hawaii and Michigan in the first two rounds. They beat No. 2 seed Utah, 66-63 to advance to the Elite 8 to face the remaining Cinderella of the tournament, No. 9 seed Miami. The Hurricanes found themselves one win away from the Final Four after three games that were all different – a come-from-behind win over Oklahoma State, knocking off the No. 1 seed Indiana on their home court and hanging on to beat No. 4 seed Villanova after a ferocious comeback by the Wildcats. 

The LSU Tigers are headed to the Final Four for the first time in 15 years led by All-American sophomore Angel Reese.
(Photo Credit: LSU Athletics, Dylan Borel)

This Elite 8 game was not a thing of beauty (26-20!) at half but give credit to the Miami defense for holding LSU, one of the top offenses in the nation, in check. Both teams combined for 1-for-27 from three-point range and 30 turnovers. But a dominant performance on the glass by the Tigers, including 16 offensive rebounds for 15 points, gave the Tigers a 54-42 win and a trip to the Final Four. 6’3 sophomore Angel Reese had 13 points and 18 rebounds, setting the SEC single-season record for double-doubles. Senior point guard Alexis Morris led the Tigers with 21 points and four steals and controlled the game out front from start to finish. Morris’ journey started with Mulkey at Baylor and will finish with her at the Final Four, a place where her coach has won it all three times before. Their opponent in Dallas will be a team that is making their first Final Four appearance in program history.

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The Virginia Tech Hokies are one of the hottest teams in college basketball, having won 15 games in row, including the ACC Tournament title, and earning the No. 1 seed in the Seattle 3 Regional. They beat Chattanooga, South Dakota State and Tennessee on their way to a match up with No. 3 seed Ohio State in the Elite 8. The Buckeyes advanced to meet Virginia Tech after dispatching of UConn in the Sweet 16, flustering the Huskies with their pressure defense. If you want to find a way to force a team that causes 20 turnovers per game out of their full-court press, find yourself a floor general like Hokie guard Georgia Amoore. The 5’6 junior sliced and diced the Ohio State press, never looking rushed or rattled and leading her team to an 84-74 victory.

Ohio State stayed in the game with hot shooting in the first half led by senior guard Taylor Mikesell who dropped 25 points and went 7-for-11 from three. Freshman sensation Cotie McMahon, who has turned heads in the NCAA Tournament, finished the night with 18 points. But Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks has veteran leadership in Amoore, along with Hokie seniors Cayla King and Boston College transfer Taylor Soule who stepped up when needed. Brooks also has the ACC Player of the Year, Elizabeth Kitley, holding court in the paint with a deadly turnaround jumper and great hands to catch and finish. Kitley ended the night with 25 points and 12 rebounds, her 56th career double-double, which sets a new program record. Amoore has been electric the last three weeks and after a brief trip to the locker room after a hard fall in the first half, finished the night with 24 points. 

For the seventh time in the past 10 Final Fours, there will be a first-time participant in Dallas. The Hokies will be embarking on many firsts this week, but as an experienced group who has answered the call time and time again in the past two months, this will probably seem like business as usual — just with brighter spotlights and a lot more swag.

National semifinal #2 – Iowa vs. South Carolina at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN (Friday, March 31)

Can just one player get a team to the Final Four alone? Many may say yes after seeing the lights-out NCAA Tournament performances of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark the last two weeks. But we are here to tell you that to win at this level, it takes a full team, yet having a star like the junior guard is a huge bonus. The Hawkeyes are headed to the Final Four for the first time since 1993, when legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer was at the helm of the program. Iowa entered the Big Dance as the No. 2 seed in the Seattle 4 Regional, and their path to Dallas changed drastically when Ole Miss knocked off No. 1 seed Stanford in the Round of 32. Head coach Lisa Bluder’s team beat SE Louisiana, Georgia, and Colorado before they met No. 5 seed Louisville in the Elite 8 on Sunday. 

The Cardinals came into the game playing their best basketball of the season, including knocking off No. 3 seed Texas on the road in the second round of the Big Dance. Junior guard Haley Van Lith averaged almost 24 point per game in the NCAA Tournament, leading the Cardinals with 27 points against Iowa. But the Hawkeyes were just too much for Louisville, with a team effort led by Clark for a 97-83 win. The All-American recorded a triple-double, her sixth of the season, with a monster 40 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, scoring or assisting on 70 of her team’s 97 points. In tournament time, you need others to step up and who better than seniors to answer the call. Forward McKenna Warnock dropped 17 points and guard Gabbie Marshall added 14 to move the Hawkeyes into the match-up everyone has been wanting to see all season long.

The nation’s best defense is what awaits Iowa in Dallas as the defending national champions, South Carolina, captured the Greenville 1 Regional title with an 86-75 win over No. 2 seed Maryland. The Gamecocks enter the Final Four undefeated at 36-0, which is the most wins in program history and they are looking for two more. Dawn Staley’s roster is complete from top to bottom, with size, length, speed, and the reigning national Player of the Year, Aliyah Boston. The 6’5 senior is not the typical “big” in women’s basketball, with a skill set to operate in space and score off the dribble and on the offensive glass. South Carolina defeated Norfolk State, South Florida, and UCLA on the way to matching up with Maryland in the Elite 8.

Brea Beal dominates on both ends against UCLA during Sweet 16 matchup at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 25, 2023 (Photo credit: South Carolina WBB Twitter).
Senior Brea Beal was dominant in the Sweet 16 matchup and helped propel South Carolina back to the Final Four to defend its title.
(Photo credit: South Carolina WBB Twitter).

Maryland got off to a quick start, leading after the first quarter 21-15, but then the Gamecock defense took over. The Terrapins could muster only 9 points in the second 10 minutes, being outscored 23-9 and giving South Carolina the confidence to cruise to their third consecutive Final Four. Boston was one of three seniors to hit double-figures with 22 points and 10 rebounds, complimented by 18 from guard Zia Cooke and 16 from forward Brea Beal. Maryland was led by senior Diamond Miller with 24 points, a multi-dimensional scorer who had an outstanding NCAA Tournament, but the vibe of this game was that South Carolina was not going to be denied.

Now, college basketball and sports fans everywhere are going to get the match-up that has been talked about all season long – defense vs. offense, South Carolina vs. the nation’s best scorer, Caitlin Clark. If you ask us, we think it is going to everything we could want and more – just how a national semifinal game should be.

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Final Four prediction time

We have spent the season here at The Weekly Fast Break working hard to get our playing time by highlight the amazing stories that makes women’s college basketball so special. Whether it has been outstanding team accomplishments, record-setting individual performances, freshmen who piqued our interest and even controversial or difficult topics, we see the parity that is growing the women’s game. The Final Four will be a fantastic display of players, coaches and teams who have absolutely earned their way onto the biggest stage in college basketball. We have not made any predictions this season on games, only told you who you should keep an eye on throughout the year. But that all changes this week – to be the best, you have to beat the best.

National championship game: South Carolina vs. Virginia Tech on Sunday, April 2

2023 national champions: South Carolina Gamecocks

Written by Missy Heidrick

I am a retired Kansas State shooting guard and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, Locked on Women's Basketball podcast host, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!

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