UConn guard Paige Bueckers (5) works the ball past Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) during the first half of a college basketball game in the Sweet Sixteen round of the women's NCAA tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

UConn and Baylor clash for trip to Final Four

UConn coach Geno Auriemma believes the Final Four is happening a week early Monday.

He told the media that its opponent Monday in the Elite Eight, Baylor, was under seeded.

“Explain to me how they’re a No. 2 seed,” coach Auriemma said. “These things happen, I know, but I think they deserve to be a No. 1 seed if you look around the rest of the tournament. How we ended up in the same region, that’s even more shocking, given how good they are.”

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey shared a similar sentiment.

“I wish it was for the national championship and not for the chance to get to the Final Four,” Mulkey said, “because I think both programs are elite and it’s a shame somebody has to lose.”

Auriemma makes a strong argument because they entered the NCAA tournament with a 25-2 record. Baylor also won the last National Championship in 2019.

The two titans of women’s college basketball clash Monday at 7 p.m. in San Antonio for a chance to play in the Final Four.

Last time out

The Bears in the Sweet 16 edged out a  78-75 dub over No. 6 Michigan in overtime. Forward NaLyssa Smith led her team with 24 points on a perfect 11-11 from the field. Senior guard Ursin Moon netted the go-ahead bucket to add to her 20-point performance.

UConn cruised to a 92-72 victory against Iowa.

Each program hangs its hat on defense

The Huskies and the Bears use the same formula to achieve the success that they have in the past — rebounding and defense. Baylor sits first in field goal percentage defense (31.7) and UConn ranks third (32.9).

Because of the emphasis on defense, Mulkey thinks the game won’t be pretty.

“You’re looking at two programs that value defense,” Mulkey said. “I think Baylor and UConn are in the top three in the country in field goal percentage defense. Then you look at rebounding. That might explain to you why both programs are respected across the country.”

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But neither team are slouches on the opposite end of the floor.

The Bears have four players that average double-digit figures led by Smith who has scored 18.2 points per game. UConn freshman guard Paige Bueckers has taken the sport by storm. She nets 19.8 points per game at a 53% clip from the field and 46% from beyond the arc.

The freshman also recorded 18, 20, 24 points in the Huskies last three games.

The Huskies hoist the best field goal shooting percentage in the country at 51.9%. Baylor trails them just hitting 48.7% of its shots.

These two teams were also scheduled to meet during the regular season. But their game Jan. 7 in Waco, Texas, was canceled because Mulkey contracted COVID-19. In their last two meetings, the Bears have gotten the best of the Huskies and have taken two-straight.

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Behemoths of their respective sport

Whenever Ohio State and Alabama meet on the gridiron, the eyes of the college football world glare at the television in admiration because they are two of the top programs in the sport. The Huskies and the Bears are viewed in a similar light. UConn has secured the most titles with 11 and Baylor trails second place, Tennessee with three.

The Bears have cut down the nets more recently in 2019 while Auriemma and his team last won it in 2016. UConn is trying to make its 13th-straight Final Four and Baylor is attempting to become the next repeat National Champion since the Huskies.

About Zachary Huber

Zachary Huber is a senior journalism student specializing in sports media at the University of Florida from Jacksonville, Florida. He works at The Alligator, covering gymnastics and volleyball while working at ESPN Gainesville. Follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.

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