Tipping Off: Second half of Final Four field to be decided


By Doug Feinberg - AP Basketball Writer



Mississippi State players and coaches celebrate with the championship trophy after a regional final of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament against Baylor, Sunday, March 26, 2017, in Oklahoma City. Mississippi State won 94-85. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)


Stanford's head coach Tara VanDerveer watches her team during the second half of a regional final of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament against Notre Dame, Sunday, March. 26, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. Stanford won 76-75. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)


Mississippi State's Blair Schaefer (1) cuts the net as she celebrates after a regional final of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament against Baylor, Sunday, March 26, 2017, in Oklahoma City. Mississippi State won 94-85. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)


BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — Half the women’s Final Four field is complete after two thrilling games.

The other two spots in Dallas will be decided tonight when UConn faces upstart Oregon and South Carolina plays Florida State.

It took a huge second-half rally and one last defensive stop for Stanford to beat Notre Dame, sending the Cardinal to the national semifinals for the first time since 2014.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be back, and we’re ready to play,” said Stanford senior Karlie Samuelson.

She hopes to be joined by her sister Katie Lou Samuelson, who has starred for UConn this season.

The Cardinal will play the winner of the South Carolina-Florida State game. Stanford was joined in the Final Four by Mississippi State, which pulled off a stunning victory over Baylor to reach the national semifinals for the first time in school history.

The Bulldogs ended last season with a 60-point loss to UConn in the Sweet 16. A victory by the Huskies over the Ducks would set up a rematch on a much bigger stage.

Here are a few other story lines for the Elite Eight:

THE NEXT STEP: Florida State coach Sue Semrau knows how much it would mean for Florida State to take that long-awaited step and reach the Final Four.

Her players understand the opportunity, too.

“That would be something that Florida State’s never done in program history,” Brittany Brown said. “It would be something we would always remember as a group.”

Semrau is proud of the young women she leads for many more reasons than what they achieve on the court.

In fact, she is doing all she can to reaffirm to her players the importance of self confidence in every step of their basketball and life journeys — not matter what happens Monday night.

“We talk in our program about becoming strong, beautiful, powerful women. That’s more important to me than whether or not we go to the Final Four, is that that character is developed in these young women, and I have an amazing staff that helps us with that,” she said.

“This game, it’s so interesting, because I remember when I was a young coach hearing people say, ‘Why is your goal the Final Four?’ Because then you’re going to get to the Final Four and you’ve achieved your goal,’” she said.

“That’s the pinnacle. And for so many programs, that seems to be the pinnacle, and so there’s a lot of pressure that is put on to get to that game.”

PASSING PAT: A win on Monday would give Auriemma 113 NCAA Tournament victories, moving him past Pat Summitt for the most all-time.

WATCHING FROM AFAR: There was definitely rooting interests during practice on Sunday. Oregon stopped its practice early to watch the end of fellow Pac-12 school Stanford’s win over Notre Dame. South Carolina did the same during its practice to see the school’s men’s team advance to its first Final Four. Katie Lou Samuelson was intently watching the Stanford game before UConn took the floor for its practice.

UNCHARTERED WATERS: Oregon will look to become the first double-digit seed to reach the Final Four. Only two others had made the Elite Eight before with No. 10 Lamar accomplishing the feat in 1991 and No. 11 Gonzaga — under Oregon coach Kelly Graves — in 2011.

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AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this story from Stockton, California

Mississippi State players and coaches celebrate with the championship trophy after a regional final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament against Baylor, Sunday, March 26, 2017, in Oklahoma City. Mississippi State won 94-85. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2017/03/web1_115736839-3455f6da847846789153c3a7c48df633.jpgMississippi State players and coaches celebrate with the championship trophy after a regional final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament against Baylor, Sunday, March 26, 2017, in Oklahoma City. Mississippi State won 94-85. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Stanford’s head coach Tara VanDerveer watches her team during the second half of a regional final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament against Notre Dame, Sunday, March. 26, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. Stanford won 76-75. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2017/03/web1_115736839-e4c63049d7ef439680f22b1df26be999.jpgStanford’s head coach Tara VanDerveer watches her team during the second half of a regional final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament against Notre Dame, Sunday, March. 26, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. Stanford won 76-75. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Mississippi State’s Blair Schaefer (1) cuts the net as she celebrates after a regional final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament against Baylor, Sunday, March 26, 2017, in Oklahoma City. Mississippi State won 94-85. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2017/03/web1_115736839-c6d0331c245d4469a4e1241ae4a1a880.jpgMississippi State’s Blair Schaefer (1) cuts the net as she celebrates after a regional final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament against Baylor, Sunday, March 26, 2017, in Oklahoma City. Mississippi State won 94-85. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

By Doug Feinberg

AP Basketball Writer