With 6-foot-8 star Brittney Griner, left, and a lineup loaded in every position, Baylor is favored to win the NCAA women's championship Tuesday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.associated press
DENVER -- For the first time since 1989, all four top seeds reached the NCAA women's Final Four.
This year's field of Baylor, Stanford, UConn, and Notre Dame is arguably the strongest ever, with all four programs motivated by unfinished business from last season and out to add yet another crown to their crowded trophy case.
"All four of us, I think, pretty much we're the top four teams in the country all year long. I'm not sure if anybody ever fell to fifth," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think all four teams are probably the most talented teams in the country. So I guess we all achieved our expectations."
Yet, Baylor, behind 6-foot-8 star Brittney Griner and a lineup loaded at every other position, is a prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets at the Pepsi Center Tuesday night.
To become the first team in NCAA hoops history to win 40 games in a season, the Lady Bears will have to get past Stanford, led by superstar sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike, Sunday and then either UConn or Notre Dame in the title game.
"Whoever wins this tournament this coming weekend will have earned it, because they'll have beaten two of the best teams in college basketball in quite some time," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
Auriemma, whose Huskies played all three of the other semifinalists this season, said the common thread is a dedication to defense and "people that are OK with the spotlight. They're OK with the big moment. They've had enough failure and enough frustration to kind of harden them and toughen them."
"I think all the teams have a little bit of a hunger. There is no defending national champion that's in the field. So I think the same thing is going through everyone's mind at this point."
And that is, why not us?
Only one other time, 23 years ago, did all four No. 1 seeds reach the Final Four, which speaks to the parity in women's basketball.
"I'm kind of glad in a sense because it tells you that women's basketball is growing," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said.
"It tells you that there's parity out there. Back in the '80s, when I played and brackets were released, you pretty much knew what four teams would be in the Final Four.
"Now, because of teams getting better, you are seeing teams even win national championships that weren't No. 1 seeds, including our 2005 championship at Baylor. But you've had a lot of parity since '89 until 2012. And that's a good thing."
Stanford and UConn have reached the Final Four for the fifth straight season.