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UConn Huskies Enter Columbus As Big Favorites In Final Four

Adora Namigadde, WOSU News
A member of the UConn pep band plays in downtown Columbus on Thursday.

The first Final Four ever hosted in Columbus includes a team very familiar with the terrain. But it’s not the hometown Ohio State Buckeyes.

The undefeated University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team enters Friday as the overwhelming favorite to win their 12th national title. It’s also the Huskies’ 11th straight Final Four appearance.

The Huskies feature two players, Gabby Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson, who were named finalists for the Naismith Award, which is awarded to the sport’s best player. As a team, UConn led the nation in offensive and defensive efficiency.

UConn (36-0) takes on Notre Dame in second of Friday’s two semifinal games in Nationwide Arena. The first pits Louisville against Mississippi State. The winners play for the national title on Sunday.

The Irish are led by junior Arike Ogunbowale, a first-team All America who average 20.7 points per game in the regular season.

UConn was also heavy favorite in last year’s tournament, but lost to Mississippi State in one of last year’s semifinal games.

Known as the team that ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak last season, Mississippi State (36-1) is led by Teaira McCowan, a 6’7” center who grabbed 13.6 rebounds a game this season.

If they want to get to the national title game, the Bulldogs will have to get past Louisville. The Cardinals’ offense runs through point guard Asia Durr, who’s flashy passes and aggressive style are a hit with fans.

Neither Mississippi State nor Louisville (36-2) have also never won a national title. Notre Dame (33-3) won its only tournament championship in 2001.

This is just the fourth time in tournament history that all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four.

As downtown Columbus bustles with out-of-town visitors all weekend, there won’t be many in-town basketball fans cheering from local bars, restaurants, and arena seats. After winning the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed in the Spokane regional. They beat George Mason in the first round but were upset by Central Michigan in the tournament’s second round.

This year’s Buckeye team was once again led by Kelsey Mitchell, the three-time Big Ten Player of the Year and the second-leading scorer in the history of NCAA women’s basketball.