(NBC)–The women’s Final Four will have a familiar feel to it with three of last year’s teams back in the national semifinals.
UConn, Notre Dame and Maryland all return to the Final Four while South Carolina is making its first appearance.
It’s the third time in the history of the Final Four that all four of the top seeds made it this far.
“That’s the way it is in women’s basketball,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “The absolute best teams get to the Final Four. I’m not one bit surprised Notre Dame and South Carolina are there. That’s the way it is in our game. The best teams go to the Final Four every year.”
The Huskies will be trying for their third straight national championship and 10th overall which would move Geno Auriemma into a tie with vaunted UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for the most all-time.
UConn will face Maryland and Notre Dame faces South Carolina on Sunday in Tampa, Florida. Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley will become the second person to both play and coach in the Final Four.
South Carolina is the Final Four newcomer, making its first appearance in the national semifinals. Coach Dawn Staley became the second person to both play and coach in the Final Four joining Baylor’s Kim Mulkey.
“We are not just going to show up and just be happy to be there,” Staley said. “This particular regional final game isn’t the destination game for what we set out to do this season.
“So, you know, I think this was a statement game because we are going to — we punched our ticket into the Final Four, and now it’s time to maybe check off some things that we’ve wanted to do, which is win the national championship.”
Here’s some other things to look for this weekend:
WELCOME BACK: The Southeastern Conference had one of the most dominant stretches in women’s basketball sending at least one team to the Final Four from 1982-2008 in every season but two. That run ended when Tennessee celebrated its second straight national championship in Tampa, Florida in 2008. The conference, which only missed having teams in that run in 1992 and 2001, hadn’t had a team back since until South Carolina made it this year.
WE’RE GOING STREAKING!: UConn has made it to a record eight straight Final Fours while Notre Dame is back for the fifth straight time. The only other teams to accomplish five straight trips to the national semifinals are Connecticut (2000-04), LSU (2004-08) and Stanford (2008-12).
While UConn has won four titles in that span, including the past two, Notre Dame is still looking for its first championship during this run.
“We have been there a number of times and not been able to finish,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “Each year, we feel like maybe this will be our year, but I think (we’re) definitely celebrating this whole week of what we accomplished all year long because only one team is going to win.”
LET’S TWEET ABOUT IT: Staley lifted the Gamecocks season-long ban on social media for 48 hours so her team could celebrate its first trip to the Final Four.
“Gave @GamecockWBB players social media for 48hrs……they have been thirsty for a few weeks. They surely deserve it. #Final4bound,” Staley tweeted.
She also let the team use social media after they won the SEC Tournament for a few days. The ban will go back into effect Tuesday night.
PHILADELPHIA CONNECTIONS: Auriemma, Staley and McGraw all have Philadelphia roots. All three grew up in the area and spent time coaching there.
“Maybe it’s something in the water in the Philadelphia area,” Auriemma quipped. “We like to win. I’m happy for both of them. Happy for Dawn, happy for Muffet, happy for their teams. I’m looking forward to seeing them when we get down there.
TIP-INS: The four teams have combined to go 139-7 this season for a .952 winning percentage. … It’s the first time since 2003 that four different conferences will be represented in the Final Four. … Four No. 1 seeds also made the Final Four in 1989 and 2012.