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SPORTS

March Madness: How to Watch the Women’s Final Four and What to Watch for in the NCAA Tournament

Women’s basketball is having itself a moment as March Madness heads to the Final Four.

A year ago, 9.9 million people tuned in to see Angel Reese and LSU beat Caitlin Clark and Iowa in a national championship game made unforgettable by the two stars who backed up their talk with stellar play. The game was on a national network — ABC — for the first time since 1996.

Well, Clark and Reese were back for more and Iowa won a thrilling rematch in the Elite Eight behind 41 points from Clark. The Hawkeyes will face Paige Bueckers and UConn in one semifinal. In the other, North Carolina State will take on No. 1 overall seed South Carolina, which hasn’t lost all season and has a chance to become the 10th perfect national champion.

Clark has been the talk of the sport all season, making a bid for a second straight Associated Press Player of the Year honor after becoming the all-time leading scorer in Division I history and selling out venues wherever Iowa went. She will share the stage in Cleveland this weekend.

The Final Four
1 South Carolina vs. 3 N.C. State (7 p.m. Eastern, Friday). The Wolfpack weren’t even ranked in the preseason but they climbed to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 by December and have been one of the top teams in the country for months. Caitlin, JuJu, Paige and Angel have been in the spotlight, but N.C. State guard Aziaha “Zaza” James is a star, scoring 29 points and then 27 the past two games. The Gamecocks are deep and relentless, riding 22 points from center Kamilla Cardoso in the Sweet 16 and then 15 from Tessa Johnson in the next game to advance to the semifinals.

3 UConn vs. 1 Iowa (9:30 p.m. Eastern, Friday). The Friday night lights will be bright for the Clark vs. Bueckers show, two standout guards who make their teammates shine. Clark’s scoring has been the talk of the sport, but she also leads the nation in assists per game while Bueckers is back in MVP form for the Huskies, who are in their record 23rd Final Four.

How to watch
Every game of the women’s tournament will be aired — here is a schedule — on ESPN’s networks and streaming services with select games on ABC. While ESPN will air the Final Four, the title game will be back on ABC, just like last season.

Betting guide
South Carolina is the overwhelming favorite to win its second title in three years and third overall, all since 2017. Behind the Gamecocks (in order) are Iowa, UConn and N.C. State, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

When are the games?
The Final Four is in Cleveland on Friday night, April 5, with the championship game at 3 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, April 7.

Go deeper
From Caitlin Clark to Angel Reese to JuJu Watkins, the star power for March Madness is on full blast. A lot of those talented players happen to be freshmen, too. And some of their coaches certainly know their way around campus, since they are at their alma mater.

There was a lot of talk about how to stop Clark and her prolific scoring. It’s been tried, with mixed success. The Pac-12 put seven teams in the tournament as the conference fades away, but none advanced to the Final Four.

The games at times have been overshadowed even with robust attendance and ratings. The NCAA had to replace one official at halftime when it was discovered she had a degree from one of the schools whose game she was officiating. Notre Dame star Hanna Hidalgo missed a chunk of the Fighting Irish’s Sweet 16 loss when officials made her remove a nose ring, which she had played with earlier in the tournament.

Away from the court, Utah players and coaches were subjected to racist taunts near their Idaho hotel, which was 40 minutes away from their game site. The NCAA also said one of the 3-point lines on the court used this past weekend in Portland, Oregon, was about 9 inches short of regulation at its apex during five games.

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