NCAA Sweet 16 Women’s Storylines: South Carolina, Stanford on collision course

South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston (4) and Stanford forward Ashten Prechtel vie for the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game. (Sean Rayford/AP)

You won’t find many fans complaining if South Carolina and Stanford advance to the NCAA women’s basketball final.

After one weekend of the tournament, that potential championship clash – which would be a rematch of a thrilling 2021 semifinal – remains a very real possibility.

South Carolina came into March Madness as the top-ranked team, but many are putting the defending champion Cardinal atop their power rankings after one weekend of the tournament.

Last year, Stanford edged South Carolina 66-65 in the semis before recording another one-point win – 54-53 – in the final against Arizona.

Here are some storylines to watch as we enter the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Cardinal flying high

Coach Tara VanDerveer’s Cardinal crushed their first two opponents – 78-37 against Montana State and 91-65 against Kansas – to extend their win streak to 22 games.

Now, they get a unique form of home-court advantage Friday against Maryland in Spokane, Wash.

Twins Lexie and Lacie Hull are Spokane natives. Lexie scored a career-high 36 points in the second round.

VanDerveer told USA Today that the Hull twins do “the dirty work” for her team.

Reigning tournament MVP Haley Jones and Cameron Brink are Stanford’s top scorers.

Boston bounce?

South Carolina star Aliyah Boston would like nothing more than a second shot at Stanford.

Boston’s putback at the buzzer last year rimmed out in the semis, allowing Stanford to escape with the victory.

This year, Boston is favoured to be named the NCAA player of the year.

The six-foot-four forward hasn’t quite been in top form in the first two games, putting up 10 points in each contest (she also averaged 14 rebounds).

South Carolina’s offence wasn’t great in a 49-33 win over Miami in the second round, but the team has allowed just 54 points in the first two games – a tournament record by 17 points.

Dawn Staley’s team faces North Carolina on Friday night in Greensboro, N.C.

Guess who’s back?

The UConn Huskies are making their 28th consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16.

But Geno Auriemma’s Huskies appear vulnerable.

UConn, seeded second in the Bridgeport Region, had a scare on home court in the second round, eventually prevailing 52-47 over Central Florida.

Reigning national player of the year Paige Bueckers hasn’t played at the same level after undergoing knee surgery.

Connecticut gets No. 3 Indiana on Saturday. If the Huskies win, a potential Elite 8 game against top-seeded North Carolina State awaits.

The underdogs

Traditionally, the women’s tournament hasn’t had as many upsets as the men’s event, but there have been some surprises this year.

Eight double-digit seeds won in the first round, tying for most in history, and two have advanced to the Sweet 16 – a pair of No. 10 seeds in South Dakota and Creighton.

South Dakota, in particular, has raised eyebrows with excellent defensive outings against top WNBA prospects in Shakira Austin of No. 7 seed Ole Miss and NyLyssa Smith of No. 2 Baylor.

The Coyotes play their first Sweet 16 game in program history on Saturday against No. 3 Michigan in Wichita, Kan.

Canadian content

Two of the three Canadians with the biggest roles on top contenders are in the Sweet 16 – Laeticia Amihere of South Carolina (Mississauga, Ont.) and Aaliyah Edwards of UConn (Kingston, Ont.).

Both have been relatively quiet in the tournament so far.

Arizona star Shaina Pellington of Pickering, Ont., saw her team eliminated in the second round after she scored 30 points in the opener.

All told, seven Canadians are in the Sweet 16. The other five are:

Latasha Latimore (Texas, Toronto)

Alyssa Jerome (Stanford, Toronto)

Izzi Zingaro (Iowa State, Bolton, Ont.)

Kiandra Browne (Indiana, Montreal)

Merissah Russell (Louisville, Ottawa)

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