SEATTLE (AP) — Once the brackets were released, a showcase featuring two of the biggest powerhouse names in women’s college basketball seemed inevitable.
And then Virginia Tech and Ohio State went and kicked aside the nostalgic hopes of a possible UConn and Tennessee showdown with a Final Four berth on the line.
Instead, it will be the top-seeded Hokies (30-4) and the No. 3 seed Buckeyes (28-7) meeting Monday night in the Seattle 3 Regional final and the last spot in Dallas on the line.
And it’ll provide another fresh face to the Final Four landscape. Ohio State hasn’t reached a Final Four since 1993, its only appearance in school history. Virginia Tech had never even reached the Elite Eight before Saturday night’s win over Tennessee.
“I think that’s the beauty because these kids have dreamed — they didn’t dream of playing for Tennessee or UConn. They dreamed of getting to the Elite Eight, the Final Four, and now they’re accomplishing those goals,” Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks said. “And I want them to relish in it. I want them to understand what they have accomplished for Virginia Tech.”
While it was easy to dream at the potential of another UConn-Tennessee matchup after the tournament field was unveiled, Virginia Tech was the No. 1 seed in the region for good reason. The Hokies’ 73-64 win over the Lady Vols in the Sweet 16 was their 14th straight win.
The previous time Virginia Tech suffered a setback was Jan. 26 at Duke. Two months later, there hasn’t been another blemish and only one of those 14 wins has been by fewer than eight points.
“I think the end of our season that we had kind of prepared us for this,” Virginia Tech guard Georgia Amoore said. “We played a bunch of talented teams back-to-back-to-back. I think it tested us a lot. We came out with wins, but we definitely learned a lot from that final season stretch.”
For Ohio State, getting to a regional final is an accomplishment, but also the Buckeyes are finally meeting their lofty expectations. Prior to this season, Ohio State had been a top-3 seed in the tournament six times and failed to reach the Elite Eight.
That included 2016 when Ohio State was a No. 3 seed and lost to seventh-seeded Tennessee in the Sweet 16. Two years later, the Buckeyes were again a No. 3 seed and were upset by No. 11 seed Central Michigan in the second round.
But their success — including the dominant win over UConn in the regional semifinal — has given Ohio State the chance to add another new fresh face to the Final Four.
“There is a lot more parity than there used to be. But to really validate that statement we need new teams in the Final Four,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “So I think this is obviously a great opportunity for both programs.”
Ohio State freshman Cotie McMahon was sensational in the win over UConn with 23 points, including 18 in the first half when the Buckeyes built a 10-point halftime lead. McMahon was the freshman of the year in the Big Ten and has scored in double figures in 15 of the past 17 games for Ohio State.
She was a known standout to McGuff by playing her high school career about an hour from Columbus. Brooks — and a special assistant — was also aware of McMahon’s talent.
“I have a 17-year-old daughter and once a year I’ll take her in the summertime and let her tag along with me on a recruiting trip. And one of these ones we happened to sit down and watch Cotie. And she doesn’t really know people’s names, but she knows Cotie McMahon’s name,” Brooks said. “And we’ve been watching them during the year, and she’s like, ‘There’s that Cotie girl.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s that Cotie girl. She’s really good.’ And now all of a sudden we’re facing her.”
Virginia Tech struggled in the fourth quarter handling the full-court pressure from Tennessee. The press allowed the Lady Vols to trim an 18-point deficit down to 53-52 before the Hokies settled and pulled away in the closing minutes.
The pressure from the Lady Vols was a precursor to what Virginia Tech will face from Ohio State and its full-court press.
“I think the whole ACC teams, Duke, Louisville, Miami, they’re all aggressive styles and they all pressed at some points in the game,” Virginia Tech’s Cayla King said. “So playing those teams throughout the year and the ACC tournament I think has prepared us some for this.”