Every March the question remains the same: Can anyone stop Connecticut women’s basketball?
Usually, the answer is no. But most people thought that last year also, and Mississippi State ended UConn’s four-year reign as national champions with a buzzer beater in the Final Four.
Here are the five schools with the best chance to prevent the Huskies from winning their 12th NCAA championship (which would give them sole possession of the record they now share with the UCLA men).
1. Mississippi State (32-1, SEC regular-season champion)
We have to start with the one team that actually beat UConn. All season the Bulldogs have seemed on a collision course for a rematch, this time in the title game in Columbus on April 1.
MSU’s unbeaten record picked up its first blemish in the SEC championship game, when defending national champion South Carolina sprang a 62-51 upset. Although State would love a chance to prove last season’s upset was no fluke, the Bulldogs probably would prefer somebody else does the dirty work this time.
The Bulldogs feature three terrific perimeter shooters and a dynamic post player in Teaira McCowan, plus second-team all-SEC guard Morgan William, who made the shot that shocked the world against UConn in 2017.
2. Louisville (32-2, ACC regular-season co-champ and tourney champion)
Like Mississippi State, Louisville has never won it all. But the Cardinals finally broke through for a share of the ACC title this season and then won the conference tournament. The two most successful seasons in program history, 2008-09 and 2012-13, ended with title-game losses to Connecticut.
Louisville lost by only 11 at UConn last month, but it wasn’t especially close after a disastrous first quarter. Conference player of the year Asia Durr and the Cardinals would love a chance to atone for that bad start.
3. Notre Dame (29-3, ACC regular-season co-champion)
Notre Dame has been a UConn nemesis for nearly the entirety of the Huskies’ two-decade reign atop the sport. And early this season, the Irish actually led UConn by 11 in the fourth quarter – on the road.
But UConn rallied to win, and the Irish have suffered knee injury after knee injury in a challenging season. Still, they clawed to a share of the ACC title with Louisville behind stellar guard Arike Ogunbowale.
A full-strength Irish team could be expected to put up a strong fight against UConn. But this squad might not even earn a No. 1 seed. And even if it does, Notre Dame missed the past two Final Fours despite being a No. 1 seed, losing twice to Stanford in Lexington.
4. Baylor (31-1, Big 12 regular-season and tourney champion)
The Lady Bears have a pair of national titles and always seem to be in the championship conversation. They’ve ended four of the past eight regular seasons with one or no losses and this year dominated an atypically subpar Big 12.
But the league’s struggles this season make Baylor a bit of a question mark. The Lady Bears beat Texas three times and crushed Stanford in Waco, but they lost 82-68 at UCLA in perhaps their stiffest test.
At least Baylor has the size to cause problems. Superstar center Kalani Brown averages almost 20 points per game on better than 65 percent shooting, and Lauren Cox adds rebounding, scoring and about 2.5 blocks per game.
5. South Carolina (26-6, SEC tourney champion)
Not many people are saying much about the defending champs, who fought through a six-loss season to win a fourth straight SEC tournament championship. Beating Mississippi State in that tourney final served as a reminder that the Gamecocks remain a threat.
All-everything A’ja Wilson returns from last year’s title team, but three other players moved on to the pros. While South Carolina managed to avoid UConn en route to last year’s title, the Huskies went to Columbia last month and won by 25 to make a statement.
Best of the rest
UConn has made 10 straight Final Fours, and no team worse than a No. 2 seed has won it all since 1994. It’s hard to imagine a team besides these five pulling off the enormous upset, but two superstars potentially could carry their schools if given the opportunity.
Sophomore Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu already has the NCAA record with nine career triple-doubles, and the Ducks (30-4) did reach the Elite Eight last season (they lost by 38 to … UConn). And Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State (27-6) needs a deep tournament run to get 165 points and pass Kelsey Plum’s NCAA career scoring record of 3,527 points.
NCAA men’s tournament coverage on Yahoo Sports:
•March Madness bracket: Tournament field of 68 revealed
•Printable bracket: Start making your picks
•Selection Sunday winners and losers: Kentucky, Duke get rough roads
•Five biggest tournament snubs
•Everything you need to know before filling out a bracket
•For beginners: Tips and tricks to filling out a bracket
•Non-traditional ways to spice up your bracket pool