With the Women’s Final Four drawing closer, teams are arriving in Tampa and beginning their preparation. Connecticut, Notre Dame, Oregon and Baylor are all hopeful a few magical moments will result in a trip to the title game.
We already know about the perennial stars of the weekend. We also know there is always one player who can make a big difference in their teams winning.
These X-factors will be crucial and each one will have a significant impact in these games. Let’s take a look at four players who can sway outcomes during the Final Four.
Megan Walker, F, Connecticut
Katie Lou Samuelson went down with back spasms and missed the AAC Tournament. She has since returned for the NCAA Tournament. In a weird way it was a blessing, because of the missed time Megan Walker has been able to play with more confidence. The sophomore forward is averaging 13.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and is shooting 42% from the floor.
“[Samuelson] made some big shots, but I’ve got to give credit to Megan Walker,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz stated after the Elite Eight game. “Megan Walker was the difference in the first half. You know, at times you’ve got to roll the dice a little bit, and I thought we did a really good job on Napheesa. But we backed off of Walker at times to help on Collier, and she knocked down shots. I thought she was the difference for them. And I know it was in the first half, but she really kept them going and gave them a bounce.”
Walker was instrumental in the Lady Huskies defeating Louisville in the Elite Eight. Walker had 13 points, 12 rebounds and was 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Her shots were big in UConn getting the jump on the Cardinals.
For UConn, Walker will be a vital cog in the team’s strategy to defeat UConn. Connecticut already has Napheesa Collier, Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield. It is known that Walker has the fourth highest usage rate on the team at 20.7%. If she can repeat her performance from the Elite Eight game, we could see Connecticut win their 12th national championship.
Marina Mabrey, G, Notre Dame
This is not the way coach Muffet McGraw pictured one of her better players performing. Marina Mabrey has been struggling during Notre Dame’s run to another Final Four appearance. The senior guard is averaging 3 points and is shooting only 13.3% from beyond the arc.
This type of performance is unlike a player of her caliber. In turn, don’t expect it to last.
Considering the type of shooter Mabrey is, you would think that she would get herself out of this slump. On the season, the 5-foot-11 guard has made 45.8% of the team’s 3-point field goals. Mabrey is shooting 41% from 3-point range.
Although most players would be distraught by not making enough shots for the team, Mabrey remains confident on making sure her team wins.
“At this point, I don’t really care it goes in or doesn’t go in,” Mabrey said speaking to Alex Wilcox of WNDU. “I mean, I obviously want it to go in, but I would rather win. If I score zero points, and we win – I feel like I’ve already proved what I can do.
Yes, Notre Dame has support around if Mabrey is not hitting shots. Arike Ogunbowale, Jackie Young, Jessica Shepard and Brianna Turner are performing at high levels. It is Mabrey, though, who will be key in Notre Dame repeating as national champions.
It helps that she’s not letting the slump get in the way of her confidence.
“This little whatever-you-want-to-call-it is not really putting such a damper on me,” she declared to Wilcox. “I’m going to shoot with confidence still. I’m not taking bad shots, they’re just going all the way in the basket and coming out, so I don’t know what else to do at this point. Maybe the basketball gods will bless me next week. We’ll see.”
Marina Mabrey should be ready to go this weekend, continuing to shoot the ball to help the Fighting Irish repeat as national champions.
Satou Sabally, F, Oregon
The Oregon Lady Ducks have pushed on to the Final Four after losing the past two years in the Elite Eight. Head coach Kelly Graves can depend on Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard to come through for his team.
Those two aforementioned stars deserve to get the most attention, but it might be Satou Sabally who will have the biggest impact come the weekend’s festivities.
The 6-foot-4 forward is having a phenomenal sophomore campaign. Sabally is averaging 16.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Her true impact can be seen on defense. Satou Sabally is one of the important anchors on defense. She accounts for 29.1% of the team’s blocks on the season. Sabally will have to be that anchor when it comes to the Baylor front line.
Along with that, the sophomore has to be aggressive on offense. She has the second-best usage rate on the team (25%) and has a true shooting percentage of 62.3%.
“When she’s aggressive, we’re a totally different team, especially when it comes to rebounding,” senior Oti Gildon stated to Maggie Vanoni of the Daily Emerald. “She’s so much taller than all the other guards so when she is able to go get rebounds against the smaller guards, they can’t stop her.”
It isn’t only the scoring, as Satou Sabally has grabbed 17.2% of the team’s rebounds this season.
Baylor’s front line is one of the best in the country. Their guard play can control the tempo and make things go for that team. Oregon has to have a big game from Satou Sabally. She can exploit numerous mismatches on the court and that will key for the Lady Ducks winning this game.
Didi Richards, G, Baylor
Head coach Kim Mulkey will be looking to garner her third national championship at Baylor. She has a multitude of talent at her disposal to get the job done. One of the numerous players on the roster who will look to have an impact is Didi Richards.
The 6-foot-1 guard is one of the bigger guards in the country. Because of her size, she causes matchup nightmares for the opposition. Richards averages 7 points, 4.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game.
Richards is also a player who has come on hot as the NCAA Tournament started. During this tournament run, the sophomore is averaging 13 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. She’s getting better as the lights are shining brighter. There’s no real reason to believe that will stop now.
Because of her play in the Greensboro Region, Richards was awards the Most Outstanding Player of the region.
“I was curious to know who they were going to give it to,” Mulkey stated to Chad Conine of the Waco Trinune-Herald. “If you would’ve asked me, I couldn’t pick just one. Usually I can pick just one.”
Didi Richards can cause pressure with her play on offense. She can also wreak havoc on the defensive end as well. Richards averages 1.3 steals a game. With her size, it makes it difficult for the opposing guards to make a difference. That is going to be very important because Oregon relies on the play of Sabrina Ionescu.
Didi Richards should be one of the key difference makers for Baylor in winning another national championship.
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