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South Carolina vs. Stanford: Boston vs. Brink, plus two more storylines to watch

Stanford’s Cameron Brink and South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston battle for the ball during the 2021 Final Four. (Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)

No. 1 South Carolina, last year’s national champion, and No. 2 Stanford, the 2021 national champion, will square off Sunday in the most anticipated matchup of the women’s college basketball season.

Both of these squads have the potential to be cutting down the nets come April, so Sunday could offer fans a Final Four or championship game preview.

Here are three storylines to watch when these two powerhouses take the court at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.

Aliyah Boston vs. Cameron Brink

This game features two of the best bigs in college basketball in South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Stanford’s Cameron Brink.

Boston won last season’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards after leading South Carolina to a national title, and Brink played a key role in Stanford’s 2021 title run. Both are future pros and generational talents.

But the 6-foot-5 Gamecocks senior and 6-foot-4 Cardinal junior bring contrasting styles of play to the floor.

Their biggest similarity comes in their shot-blocking abilities. Last season, Boston averaged 2.4 blocks per game, while Brink recorded 2.6 per game. Though Brink’s stats were better, Boston holds the defensive advantage because of her poise. Brink has been foul-prone during her first two years with the Cardinal, so keeping her on the floor against Boston will be key for Stanford.

As for their offensive skills, Boston is more of a traditional big, doing her damage with her back to the basket or on offensive boards, while Brink has guard skills that allow her to catch and drive from the perimeter. In this game, expect Stanford to try and stretch the defense by bringing Brink outside. South Carolina, on the other hand, will likely challenge Brink inside, with the aim of sending her to the bench with foul trouble.

Roster depth

Both of these teams are blessed with depth.

That’s a gift, but it also means South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer have to spend the early part of the season tinkering with their lineups. There’s a good chance Stanford and South Carolina meet again in the postseason, and if they do, their rotations could look a lot different than they do Sunday.

This weekend, look out for the usual suspects – Brink and Haley Jones for Stanford, and Boston and Zia Cooke for South Carolina – but also be aware that any number of players could step up and make a difference.

In the starting lineup, Raven Johnson could have a breakout game for South Carolina. After being injured early last season the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2021 has been tabbed to take over the point guard spot from Destanni Henderson. For Stanford, Hannah Jump is off to a hot start, shooting 58% from beyond the arc and averaging a team-high 13.2 points per game.

Off the bench, both teams have elite post options as well. South Carolina has the luxury of trading Boston for 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso, while Stanford brings in No. 1 recruit Lauren Betts. And it doesn’t end there. Ashlyn Watkins, the No. 12 recruit in the country, has been getting key minutes for the Gamecocks – she made headlines with a dunk against Clemson – and Stanford forward Kiki Iriafen has gone from playing 6.5 minutes per game as a freshman to putting up 11.8 points per game in her sophomore season.

Efficient scoring

Stanford started the season shooting exceptionally well. So far, the Cardinal are hitting 55% of their field goals and 41% of their 3-pointers. Leading the way in efficiency is Iriafen, who ranks second in the country and has made 75% of her shot attempts so far. Betts isn’t far behind, making 72% of her attempts.

For South Carolina, Boston has scored on 71.4% of her attempts, and the post cohort is following suit. Cardoso (with less attempts) is at 82.4%, Watkins is shooting 70.6%, and Sania Feagin – another player who is making big strides from last season – is shooting 76.9%.

Both teams like to find high-percentage looks inside, and both squads do it with relative ease.

The defense in this game will be on another level compared to the teams South Carolina and Stanford have played thus far – though the Gamecocks faced No. 17 Maryland – so those numbers likely won’t be as high. Look for both sides to try and capitalize in other aspects of the game, like free throws or outside shooting to find some kind of separation. That could be the difference, but the Gamecocks and the Cardinal won’t shy away from their inside game, and it should be an exciting battle in the key.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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