The 2024 NCAAW Final Four is filled with star talent and storylines

Who doesn’t love the NCAA Tournament Final Four? It’s the apex of college basketball’s most exciting time of year, and with one team remaining from each of the tournament’s four regionals, there’s no shortage of excitement no matter who you’re pulling for.

This year, we have several repeat customers, with the South Carolina Gamecocks and Iowa Hawkeyes both returning to the Final Four after their dramatic matchup last season. They’re joined by the UConn Huskies, who are no strangers to this stage of the tournament, and the NC State Wolfpack, who have reached this point for just the second time in their program’s history.

There’s plenty of star power in the Final Four, too, with several of the NCAA’s biggest names taking center stage and a handful of players who will participate in the 2024 WNBA Draft shortly after the conclusion of the tournament. Here’s everything you need to know about the competing teams.

South Carolina Gamecocks

Oregon State v South Carolina

South Carolina’s roster looks a lot different than it did last season, but the Gamecocks’ winning ways haven’t changed.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Round of 64: 91-39 vs. Presbyterian

Round of 32: 88-41 vs. North Carolina

Sweet 16: 79-75 vs. Indiana

Elite Eight: 70-58 vs. Oregon State

What a season it’s been for South Carolina. The Gamecocks lost an unenviable amount of talent to the 2023 WNBA Draft, but Dawn Staley reloaded her program quickly and effectively, and they haven’t lost a game since then—a span that now exceeds a full calendar year. South Carolina spent nearly the entire regular season ranked No. 1 in the country by the Associated Press, went undefeated in both conference and non-conference play and earned the top overall seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament, so expectations understandably have been high.

Needless to say, the Gamecocks have met those expectations, breezing through their first two tournament matchups and never truly looking challenged in the others, save for a close second half against Indiana. South Carolina is arguably the most well-balanced of this year’s Final Four contenders; Staley has at her disposal two of the country’s top shot-blockers in Kamilla Cardoso and Ashlyn Watkins, a dynamic starting backcourt that can both shoot and distribute in Te-Hina Paopao and Raven Johnson, a top-tier perimeter defender in Bree Hall and a game-changing sixth woman in freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley, a player who would be starting on nearly any other team and whose best days are still ahead of her.

It’s not like this is uncharted territory for South Carolina, either. Save for Fulwiley and Paopao, most of the Gamecocks’ current rotation was present during the team’s heartbreaking loss to Iowa in last year’s Final Four, albeit in smaller roles. You can bet that’s still fresh in the minds of their players and coaches, and if South Carolina ends up running the table and winning its second championship in three seasons, its motivation for redemption will be a major reason why.

Iowa Hawkeyes

LSU v Iowa

It starts and ends with Caitlin Clark for Iowa, but she doesn’t do it alone.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Round of 64: 91-65 vs. Holy Cross

Round of 32: 64-54 vs. West Virginia

Sweet 16: 89-68 vs. Colorado

Elite Eight: 94-87 vs. LSU

Speaking of unfinished business, Iowa has been on a tear after coming up just short in last year’s NCAA Tournament championship game. The Hawkeyes ranked first in Division I in points per game (91.9) and points scored per 100 possessions (118.2; Her Hoop Stats) and are hoping their unstoppable offense can carry them to the program’s first-ever national championship.

That offense is, of course, powered by the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, Caitlin Clark. The one-woman wrecking crew is averaging 32.3 points and 10 assists per game during the 2024 NCAA Tournament, and though Iowa’s opponents have tried a variety of different defensive strategies to stop her, none have been successful; West Virginia and LSU, most notably, were able to bother Clark into a few early turnovers in their respective tournament matchups, but Iowa’s superstar proved to be more resilient in both cases.

Credit should be given to the rest of Iowa’s roster, too. The Hawkeyes space the floor for Clark by surrounding her with 3-point shooting; Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Sydney Affolter each shoot 36 percent or better from long range, and one of them is typically open if defenses try to get the ball out of Clark’s hands. Sophomore forward Hannah Stuelke has also proven to be an efficient scorer in the frontcourt, shooting 62.5 percent on the season.

Iowa’s offense certainly seems inevitable, but will the Hawkeyes be able to defend well enough to get the job done? Clark has a maximum of two games left in her storied career as a Hawkeye before she’s off to the WNBA, and it would be fitting for her to end things on a high note.

UConn Huskies

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament Portland Regional-Connecticut vs Southern California

A rotation depleted by injury hasn’t stopped UConn from achieving the high standards the program has set for itself.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Round of 64: 86-64 vs. Jackson State

Round of 32: 72-64 vs. Syracuse

Sweet 16: 53-45 vs. Duke

Elite Eight: 80-73 vs. USC

One year after their streak of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances was broken, the UConn Huskies are back—though things haven’t exactly gone according to plan.

Season-ending injuries to guards Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme, wing Aubrey Griffin and center Jana El Alfy have left UConn’s rotation barren, with head coach Geno Auriemma often electing to play just six of his remaining healthy players during games. As such, several Huskies have played the full 40 minutes in regulation on more than one occasion, and if one were to cite UConn’s lack of depth as its primary weakness entering the Final Four, it would certainly be a reasonable argument.

At this time of year, however, teams go as far as their star players take them, and UConn has still fielded enough high-end talent to get the job done. Paige Bueckers, who missed all of last season with an injury of her own, has been outstanding, averaging 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and 3.3 steals per game during UConn’s current tournament run, while the WNBA-bound Aaliyah Edwards has held what remains of the Huskies frontcourt together with her typical physical defense and efficient scoring. Add in valuable contributions from Nika Mühl (seven assists per game during the NCAA Tournament) and Ashlynn Shade (12.5 points per game; 44 percent 3-point shooting) and you have a recipe for another Final Four appearance for one of the country’s most successful programs.

Granted, the days of UConn mowing down its opponents in the tournament are probably over—at least for now—but the Huskies winning both low-scoring (vs. Duke) and high-scoring games (vs. USC) during their current run shows that they’re still more than able to meet whatever challenge they’re presented with. As long as Bueckers continues playing her best basketball and the rest of the team stays out of foul trouble, UConn will remain dangerous.

NC State Wolfpack

NC State v Texas

The NC State Wolfpack were considered underdogs in their Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight matchups, but they sure didn’t play like it.
Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

Round of 64: 64-45 vs. Chattanooga

Round of 32: 79-72 vs. Tennessee

Sweet 16: 77-67 vs. Stanford

Elite Eight: 76-66 vs. Texas

If there’s a Cinderella in this year’s Final Four, it’s NC State. As a No. 3-seed in the Portland 4 region, the Wolfpack used a remarkable second half to defeat No. 2-seed Stanford, then upset No. 1-seed Texas in surprisingly comfortable fashion.

That’s not to say NC State isn’t a worthy Final Four competitor—far from it. The Wolfpack finished 13-5 and in second place in an ultra-competitive ACC that sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament, and the fact that they’re the last one standing speaks to the long-term success of a program that head coach Wes Moore has been building since his hiring in 2013.

The Wolfpack will now get the opportunity to do something they’ve never done: play in a national championship game. Momentum is certainly on their side; there are few players in the country hotter than NC State guard Aziaha James, who ESPN ranked as the third-best player competing in the Final Four. She’s paired with Saniya Rivers to form a backcourt that is both athletic and versatile. Freshman Zoe Brooks has been a valuable contributor, playing heavy minutes off the bench and scoring in double-figures in each of NC State’s last three wins, while forward River Baldwin provides both efficient scoring in the paint and size at 6-foot-5.

Even so, the Wolfpack enter the Final Four as the unquestioned underdogs. Among ESPN Women’s Tournament Challenge participants, 35.6 percent of users picked South Carolina to win the championship, 28.8 percent picked Iowa and 4.8 percent picked UConn; these were the three most-picked teams. Only 0.7 percent of brackets have NC State winning it all.

As NC State’s tournament run has proven, though, sometimes it’s more about who’s peaking at the right time than which team has the most instantly-recognizable names. The Wolfpack have already written a feel-good story for themselves in reaching the Final Four for the first time since the days of Kay Yow; if they advance any farther, they’ll be writing history instead.

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