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Final Four picks: Predicting the 2023 NCAA championship matchup

No. 1 overall seed South Carolina celebrates its win over Maryland in the Elite Eight. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

College basketball’s biggest stage is set. Iowa, South Carolina, LSU and Virginia Tech are headed to the Final Four, and in three short days, one team will hoist the national championship trophy.

First, No. 3 LSU and No. 1 Virginia Tech (7 pm ET, ESPN), and No. 2 Iowa and No. 1 South Carolina (9 pm ET, ESPN) square off on Friday for the final two spots.

Iowa vs. South Carolina

To have Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston, the country’s top two players, squaring off in the Final Four is a gift from the basketball gods. And though the 2023 National Player of the Year and 2022 National Player of the Year will dominate headlines, this game is going to come down to the other eight players on the court.

Clark is going to be Clark. No one in the country has been able to contain her thus far, and even with an elite defender like Brea Beal marking her, I don’t see South Carolina slowing her down either. On the other side, Boston is going to be Boston. Monika Czinano is a talented center, but she’s no match for Boston, who will likely dominate the post matchup.

So, the stars will likely cancel each other out, meaning the winner of this game will be determined by the supporting cast. In that battle, South Carolina is superior. Beal, Victoria Saxton, Zia Cooke and Kierra Fletcher round out the Gamecocks’ starting five, which will go up against Czinano, Gabbie Marshall, McKenna Warnock and Kate Martin. While Iowa has shooters, their ability to score hinges largely on the playmaking skills of Clark, whereas South Carolina’s role players can create their own looks.

Then, there’s the bench. Iowa’s Hannah Stuelke is going to have an incredible future in the program, and Molly Davis has provided exactly what the Hawkeyes needed from her off the bench, but South Carolina has the best bench unit in the country. With 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso and elite point guard Raven Johnson, the Gamecocks don’t experience any drop-off when they go to the bench. It also means they don’t have to worry about foul trouble, a luxury Iowa doesn’t have.

Pick: South Carolina

The matchup between Virginia Tech's Elizabeth Kitley and LSU's Angel Reese will be one to watch. (G Fiume/Getty Images)

LSU vs. Virginia Tech

When it comes to personalities, there aren’t two teams more different than LSU and Virginia Tech. The Tigers find motivation through trash talk and celebrations, while the Hokies prefer to keep their heads down and play basketball. The fact that both teams are here speaks to how important it is for coaches to let their players be themselves. When they embrace personalities, it allows their players to thrive.

When it comes to production, however, LSU and Virginia Tech have similar makeups. They both rely on an elite guard/post combo to power their offenses. For LSU, that’s Angel Reese and Alexis Morris, and for Virginia Tech, it’s Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore.

Reese averages 23.2 points and 15.7 rebounds per game, while Kitley averages 18.2 points and 10.7 rebounds. This post matchup could be the best of the tournament. As for the guards, Amoore contributes 16.3 points and 5.0 assists per game, while Morris averages 14.9 points and 4.1 assists.

Like in the South Carolina-Iowa matchup, I expect someone other than the stars to step up. It could be a player like Flau’jae Johnson for LSU, who has had a remarkable freshman campaign, or 3-point specialist Cayla King for Virginia Tech.

The 3-point line is going to be key in this game, as the Hokies like to shoot from long range. Amoore set the record for most makes in the first four games of the tournament with 20. King, meanwhile, averages 8.1 points per game, with 6.6 of those coming from beyond the arc. The Hokies are 20th in the country in 3-point makes, while LSU is 249th (out of 361) when it comes to defensive 3-point rate, meaning the Tigers allow a lot of points from deep.

Pick: Virginia Tech

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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