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Jace Frederick: This week’s stacked Women’s Final Four is the Mount Rushmore of basketball’s best

UConn, South Carolina, Louisville and Sanford are women's college basketball powerhouses

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Spokane Regional-Texas Longhorns vs Stanford Cardinal
Stanford Cardinal players and coaches celebrate after the game against the Texas Longhorns in the Spokane regional finals of the women's college basketball NCAA Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Spokane, Washington.
James Snook / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — How spoiled are we?

If you recall, the men’s Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2019 delivered a couple classic games — Virginia’s wins over Auburn and Texas Tech were two for the books — but the field was, well, meh. There was nothing awe-inspiring about Virginia, Auburn or Texas Tech, though the latter provided a window into how good Jarrett Culver was. High-profile programs fell short of Minneapolis. Michigan State was the closest thing to a blue blood.

This weekend’s Women’s Final Four offers the exact opposite. It’s highlighted by the team that carries the lowest seed into the weekend but serves as the sport’s gold standard — second-seeded UConn. The Huskies feature this weekend’s homecoming queen in Hopkins High School grad Paige Bueckers, who doubles as not only the local but also the face of the sport who everyone wants to see play.

Then you have three No. 1 seeds in defending champion Stanford, South Carolina — the current best team in the land — and Louisville, a perennial power still in search of its first title.

The weekend features a near Mount Rushmore of current women’s college basketball coaches. Geno Auriemma and Dawn Staley — national champions who have served as gold-medal-winning U.S. national team coaches — would certainly belong on it, as would Tara VanDerveer with her three national titles, 13 Final Four appearances and more than 1,000 victories. Louisville coach Jeff Walz, a former Gophers assistant under Brenda Frese, is making his ascension toward that status in his fourth Final Four trip.

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NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Wichita Regional-Michigan v Louisville
Louisville Cardinals forward Emily Engstler (21) blocks out during the third quarter against the Michigan Wolverines in the Wichita regional finals of the women's college basketball NCAA Tournament Monday, March 28, 2022, at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas.
William Purnell / USA TODAY Sports

Aside from the established programs and their long-tenured coaches, there are the stars specific to this year’s teams. Everyone reading this knows about Bueckers, and has for years. Her storyline of trying to win a national championship in the area where she grew up is intriguing enough. Factor in the fact that the reigning National Player of the Year missed a large chunk of the season with a significant knee injury, and the possibility of finishing this season on top becomes all the more remarkable.

As good as Bueckers is, she hardly overshadows freshman guard Azzi Fudd, who completes UConn’s two-headed monster with two of the game’s most skilled scorers.

Then there’s Louisville sophomore guard Hailey Van Lith, who has gone nuclear in the tournament, scoring 20-plus points in all four games. Van Lith trained with the late Kobe and Gigi Bryant, and when asked after Louisville’s Elite Eight victory what Bryant would say to her, she responded, “He would say go (bleeping) win this … That’s what he would say. We’re not done. That’s what he would say right there.”

South Carolina features the game’s best big, and most dominant player, in 6-foot-5 junior forward Aliyah Boston, the front-runner for National Player of the Year. In a Sweet Sixteen win over North Carolina, Boston tallied 28 points and 22 rebounds. No team has found an interior answer for Boston, who dazzles with her play and the various colors of braids she cycles through during the season.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Greensboro Regional - Creighton v South Caroilna
South Carolina Gamecocks forward Aliyah Boston (4) passes with Creighton Bluejays forward Emma Ronsiek (31) guarding in the third quarter in the Greensboro regional finals of the women's college basketball NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, South Carolina.
William Howard / USA Today Sports

Stanford, too, has a star in 6-foot-1 guard Haley Jones, the Final Four’s 2021 Most Outstanding Player who is up to her March magic again, recording double-doubles in the Cardinal’s Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight victories.

All of the aforementioned players will be top WNBA draft picks when their time comes.

The Twin Cities will get to witness, firsthand, the sport at its peak. That extends to the pros, with newly minted U.S. national team coach Cheryl Reeve hosting a USA Basketball training camp this week in Minneapolis, culminating with a free-and-open practice Saturday at “Tourney Town,” located inside the Minneapolis Convention Center. Lynx players will be active around the community this week as they, too, soak in the festivities.

Minnesota has become a mecca of sorts for women’s basketball excellence over the past two decades, from the Gophers’ Final Four run to the Lynx dynasty to the rise of Bueckers.

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The Twin Cities has hosted six WNBA Finals, a WNBA All-Star Game and now this Final Four — which, if it lives up to its promise, could be historically good.

Spoiled, indeed.

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