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Key players to watch in the 2021 women’s Final Four

These are the players who will determine the women’s Final Four.

The women’s Sweet 16 games had us on the edge of our seats as we watched many of the matchups come down to the final buzzer. The tournament has been nothing short of must-watch tv, and now we’re left with four great teams who all feel like they enter college basketball’s biggest stage with a legitimate chance to win it all. While some schools are used to these late tournament runs, it’s a brand new experience for others.

Of the four teams, UConn is the most experienced program when it comes to deep tournament runs. This is their 13th consecutive year reaching the Final Four, and they have done so 21 times in program history. Stanford also has plenty of experience, with this being their 14th Final Four appearance. Their last Final Four matchup was in 2017, where they lost to the eventual national champions, South Carolina.

The Gamecocks are a budding program and have seen a lot of success in recent years. In the last six years, they have one national championship and three Final Four appearances under legendary head coach Dawn Staley. On the other hand, Arizona finds itself in a similar position as South Carolina was a few years ago. They are making school history in their Final Four debut under head coach Adia Barnes.

But while experience, lack thereof, and winning tradition matter, it’s a clean slate when these teams step on the floor this Friday. Here is a look at each team’s key players who will define the women’s Final Four.

UConn Huskies (No. 1. seed)

Players to watch: Paige Bueckers, Christyn Williams, Evina Westbrook

Baylor v UConn Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

To only be a freshman, Paige Bueckers has risen to the challenge and performed well in every game this tournament. Coming off a nail-biting win against Baylor, Bueckers logged 40 minutes, 28 points, three rebounds, and three steals. You can read more about Bueckers’ outstanding freshman campaign here.

Though Bueckers has rightfully been in the spotlight of the Huskies team all season, breaking multiple records in her first year, Christyn Williams and Evina Westbrook are two other players to keep an eye on during the Final Four.

Williams was the 2018 No. 1 recruit in the country and has played a big part in UConn’s success throughout the tournament. Williams played unconscious in the second round of the tournament, helping UConn push past No. 5 Iowa. She ended the game with 27 points, leading all scorers.

Evina Westbrook seems to be the anchor of this young UConn team. A redshirt junior and a veteran, Westbrook has tournament experience as a Tennessee Lady Vol prior to becoming a Husky. UConn is hard to stop when Westbrook gets cooking. While she is averaging just under double figures, 9.7 points, and 4.6 rebounds, she seems to heat up when it matters most this postseason.

During the second-round game against Iowa, she logged 17 points and nine rebounds to help the Huskies put the game away and move on to the next round. Though her stats may not show it, Westbrook does much of the dirty work for UConn and brings a sense of maturity that cannot be taught or coached.

Arizona Wildcats (No. 3 seed)

Players to watch: Aari McDonald, Cate Reese, Trinity Baptiste

Texas A&M v Arizona Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Arizona is the new kid on the block in this Final Four and probably the tournament’s biggest wild card. Senior and two-time All-American Aari McDonald leads them. McDonald has been virtually unguardable this tournament.

At 5’6, she’s a speedy point guard in the open court that plays with a lot of heart. Her quickness is something most teams struggle with, not to mention she is a pest on the defensive end. She has racked up two Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors for 2020 and 2021.

Against Indiana in the Elite Eight, McDonald registered 33 of her team’s 66 points. Yes, that’s half. She also went 5-for-6 from the three-point line. McDonald is the engine that makes Arizona go. Outside of her contributions to the team, Cate Reese and Trinity Baptiste will be keys to Arizona’s success in the Final Four.

Baptiste is a veteran forward who is most effective for the Wildcats on the boards, averaging 8.5 this postseason. Reese is also averaging six rebounds. If these two can crash the glass and get into double figures scoring, they not only lighten the load for McDonald but make defenses play more honestly, opening up shots for their other teammates.

South Carolina (No. 1 seed)

Texas v South Carolina Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Players to watch: Zia Cooke, Aliyah Boston, Laeticia Amihere

South Carolina is coming back to claim the NCAA championship they felt they were robbed of last year when the pandemic canceled the NCAA tournament. Headed into this Final Four, many of their players remember what that felt like.

In particular, sophomore guard Zia Cooke has been a terror in this tournament. She has averaged 14 points over the last four games and grabbed an average of 4.5 boards. In South Carolina’s Elite Eight win against Texas, she recorded 16 points and six rebounds. Though Cooke is young, she drives South Carolina’s up-tempo pace and puts her teammates in position to succeed.

To add, center Aliyah Boston is a key to South Carolina’s success as well. Standing at 6’5, she is a matchup nightmare for many teams with her physicality in the paint. Boston is averaging a double-double this postseason with 14.7 points and 10.9 rebounds. Keeping her on the floor and out of foul trouble is going to be paramount.

Finally, Laeticia Amihere and her shot-blocking ability is a hidden gem for the Gamecocks. In their win against Texas, she recorded nine blocks. If she can help keep opponents from converting in the lane, Amihere will help South Carolina continue to be a terror on defense. This would force opponents to settle for jumpers and threes and increases their chances of moving on to the championship game later this month.

Stanford Cardinal (No. 1 seed)

Players to watch: Kiana Williams, Cameron Brink

The Cardinals have been led by their front court for much of this tournament run, but it’s one of their smallest players, Kiana Williams, who makes the Cardinal so difficult to defend. The 5’8 guard is one of the best shooters in the country, and can knock it down from anywhere on the floor with extended range.

Williams is a senior from San Antonio, and has come home for her last hurrah. This postseason, she has averaged 16.1 points per game and is shooting 46.2 percent from beyond the arc on 7.4 attempts. Williams’ ability to stretch the floor has helped open things up for Stanford’s tremendous interior players.

Cameron Brink is another standout freshman in this year’s NCAA tournament for the Cardinal. She led the Pac-12 in blocked shots, logging 57 during the regular season, and 21 through this postseason. At 6’4, she is a presence in the paint, but she doesn’t live there. Brink has some finesse in her game and can knock down a pull-up jumper and threes with ease. Her versatility has created matchup problems for opposing teams throughout this run.

With all the talent headed into this NCAA women’s Final Four, you will not want to miss any of these games. Games take place on Friday, April 2 and begin at 6 p.m. ET, with a battle between two No. 1 seeds, Stanford and South Carolina. From there, No. 3 Arizona and one seed Connecticut take the floor at 9:30 p.m. ET to secure the final sport in the championship game.

The women’s tournament has given us so many amazing moments so far. It feels like the best is yet to come in the Final Four.