The 2019 NCAA women’s basketball tournament is entering the final weekend, and in three days, we will have a national champion. The three favorites entering the tournament have advanced to the Final Four, and the Oregon Ducks join them on a serious roll entering their first-ever Final Four.
Baylor entered the tournament as the 7-5 to take home the title, and they remain the heavy favorite at 4-5. Notre Dame is riding close behind them at 5-2, while UConn sits at 4-1 and Oregon is listed at 12-1. Baylor and Notre Dame enter the national semifinals as favorites in their matchups, but both underdogs have proven they can be dangerous.
Below are the point spreads for each matchup, and some thoughts on why each team will cover that spread. We’ll be back on Sunday with something similar for the national title game.
1) Baylor vs. 2) Oregon, 7 p.m., Friday, ESPN2
Spread: Baylor -7
Why Baylor will cover: Well, they’re the favorites to win the title, according to both the NCAA selection committee and the stats geeks over at FiveThirtyEight, who currently give them a 58 percent chance of taking home the chip. Bigs Kalani Brown — 6’7 — and Lauren Cox are formidable against any offense, and should be particularly effective given that size is not a strong point for the Ducks. In the tournament, guard DiDi Richards has emerged as a crucial player on both ends of the court: she’s the team’s best defender, and has turned up the heat on offense in the tournament, scoring 25 in the Sweet 16 and 16 in the Elite Eight. If she continues to fill in the team’s offensive gaps and they’re able to continue their run as the best defense in the country, they should easily cover.
Why Oregon will cover: Few teams are hotter than the Ducks right now, who proved in the Elite Eight they’re not afraid of a 6’7 center by effectively shutting down Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan for the entire second half of the game. Obviously Sabrina Ionescu is more or less unstoppable, and her supporting cast — including exceptional forwards Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally — have rarely played better than they have in the tournament. In a battle of the No. 1 offense and the No. 2 defense, it’s going to come down to possessions; in a Final Four game, especially so. Betting that it will be closer than eight points, and that Oregon might just prevail, seems exceedingly reasonable in a year after both Final Four games went to overtime.
1) Notre Dame vs. 2) UConn, 9 p.m., Friday, ESPN2
Spread: Notre Dame -2.5
Why Notre Dame will cover: The reigning champs are actually better than they were last year, when they were hampered by injuries and won by the slimmest possible margin. With legitimate threats in all five starting positions and impressive depth, the Fighting Irish enter the tourney as one of the favorites to win it all. UConn has lost uncharacteristic games already this year, and played closer than anyone would have anticipated in the early rounds of the tournament. Plus, star guard Arike Ogunbowale — of back-to-back buzzer beater fame — can cover the spread all on her own with one choice three-pointer. And as one of the most fearless shooters left in the tournament, she is always good for a choice three-pointer.
Why UConn will cover: Well, they’re UConn. Plus, this year the NCAA selection committee did the team the favor of slotting them in a No. 2 seed — a decision that has resulted in the UConn Huskies, yes, those UConn Huskies — coming into the Final Four with a chip on their shoulder. Technically Vegas is calling them underdogs, but the fact of the matter is no team with this much raw talent, coached by one of the best coaches working in any sport, can ever be counted out. Led by Napheesa Collier, who will score anytime she has the ball, UConn is still UConn, and this is a rivalry game — coach Geno Auriemma certainly has no interest in losing to Muffet McGraw without a fight.