COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The NCAA Tournament is just hours away from tipping off across the country and 64 teams will take their shot at capturing this year's national championship. Here's a quick look at the four teams playing in Colonial Life Arena this weekend.
The Golden Bears enter the NCAA Tournament with a 21-10 record under coach Lindsey Gottlieb.
As a No. 7 seed, they've only beaten one ranked team this season. Still, Cal ended the regular season in fifth place. Cal is led by 6-foot-4 junior Kristine Aginwe. The three-time all-conference selection leads the Golden Bears in scoring (16.7 ppg), rebounds (8.8 rpg), and blocks (39). In the backcourt, Mi'Cole Cayton leads the charge. The 5-foot-9 guard is the team's second-leading scorer averaging 13 points per game.
Cal is making its 13th NCAA Tournament appearance. This is the Golden Bears' sixth tournament berth in seven years and they're looking to make the most of it.
"Honestly, I feel like we've just been practicing really hard and we've been trying to do everything to get here," Aginwe said. "So, now that we're here, we're just trying to keep going."
The Cavaliers are making their first appearance since 2010.
As a No. 10 seed, Virginia boasts an 18-13 record after falling to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. Under the leadership of Joanne Boyle, Virginia finished seventh in the ACC standings with sophomore Dominique Toussaint leading the way. The 5-foot-9 guard is the Cavaliers' top scorer averaging 11.7 points per game.
Also helping UVA get to this point is sophomore Felicia Aiyeotan. The 6-foot-9 center from Nigeria is the top rebounder for the Cavs averaging seven per contest.
Virginia is making its 25th NCAA Tournament appearance. Their last Final Four berth coming in 1992. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley led the Cavaliers to three consecutive Final Fours including the 1991 National Championship game.
"Although it's taken longer, I guess our process is our process here," Boyle said. "We have this great group that came in last year, a group of four incoming freshmen and we had a group of juniors and, slowly but surely, they started building on that. Now, we're here and there's a lot to be said about all the hard work that's gone into that process and all the credit goes to this team for their willingness to buy into the culture and want to be united and understand that they came to Virginia for a reason and that is to rebuild this program and get it back on track."
North Carolina A&T State
The Lady Aggies enter the tournament with some momentum thanks to a 72-65 overtime win over Hampton nearly a week ago to claim their bid.
The MEAC champions have a 23-8 record and are making their fourth appearance in the tournament. Leading the way for North Carolina A&T State are a pair of guard averaging double figures. Redshirt sophomore C'Corlea Foy is the team's top scorer with 12.9 points per game while senior Kala Green isn't far behind with 11.5 points per contest.
Friday's game for the Aggies will mark the third time this season they will face an opponent from the Southeastern Conference. In each of those games, the Aggies lost by 10 points.
"This game for us, playing a team that won a national championship, is really a measuring stick for us, for our culture, and the things that we pride ourselves," said N.C. A&T State head coach Tarrell Robinson. "It's going to help my young women get better and, obviously, help our seniors as they go out if they're able to do something special, which is upset this team."
The Gamecocks enter the tournament with arguably the biggest target on their backs.
The defending national champs own a 26-6 record after capturing the SEC Tournament title by handing Mississippi State their first loss of the season. Carolina is led by SEC Player of the Year and Wooden Award finalist A'ja Wilson. The former Heathwood Hall standout averages a double-double for the Gamecocks with 22.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
In total, the Gamecocks have three players who average double figures in scoring (Wilson, Alexis Jennings, Tyasha Harris).
Carolina knows they'll get their best shot from every team they play because they are the defending champions, but being last year's tournament winner isn't something that head coach Dawn Staley intends to use as motivation for her players.
"I can't use that because we are so much different than we were last year," Staley said. "What we can use is what we did in the SEC Tournament. That's facts. That's what they lived, how they performed, what they experienced. We draw on those experiences to say, if you put those three games together, that's probably what makes a national champion -- to be able to play different styles in those three games. So, I'm looking forward to the postseason and seeing this team perform in the postseason."