Welcome to the new version of Friday Five, which I think on typical weeks will be called Monday Mentionables; I absolutely love the Friday Five format, but I like it much better as an exercise for earlier in the week, so we’re switching things up!! (Progress not perfection; persistency not consistency, etc. etc.)
Okay, friends. No more time to waste. Let’s do this!!
1. Holy shit, I’m going to the Final Four tomorrow!!!
I truly can’t believe it!!!!! I’m headed to Minneapolis tomorrow morning bright and early and will be there until Monday afternoon. I’ll be honest — I’m still trying to figure out what the best (and most realistic) coverage plan is while I’m there; I’m working on wrapping up a couple of longer features I’ve been reporting during the first few rounds of the tournament, I’ve got a couple of feelers out for story possibilities while I’m there, and then I’m just going to …. see what happens?
I do know I’ll have at least one behind-the-scenes diary for paid subscribers only.
My main goal at the Final Four, and with all the in-person coverage I’m planning this year, is to bring you information you can’t get anywhere else; that’s a monumental challenge with so many phenomenal media members around covering the Final Four (a great problem to have!!!) but I think I’m up for the challenge.
I have a very important assignment for you now: IF YOU ARE AT THE FINAL FOUR PLEASE LET ME KNOW SO WE CAN SAY HI!!!!! I mean it. Don’t you dare not reach out. (firstname.lastname@example.org, or my DMs.)
Also, this trip is fully possible because of paying subscribers. Nobody is sending me to do freelance work. This is all for you.
On that note, it’s not a cheap trip, and there’s still time to get 19% off a Power Plays subscription forever:
2. I might never recover from that Elite Eight game between N.C. State and Connecticut.
So, here were the Elite Eight results:
No. 1 South Carolina d. No. 10 Creighton 80-50
No. 1 Stanford d. No. 2 Texas 59-50
No. 2 Connecticut d. No. 1 NC State 91-87 (2OT)
No. 1 Louisville d. No. 3 Michigan 62-50
On Friday night, Louisville and South Carolina will face off, followed by Stanford and Connecticut.
But OH MY HOLY GOD first we need to talk about UConn/NC State for a second, because what in the actual hell was that????? HOW GOOD WAS THAT GAME.
IT WAS SO GOOD.
It was also absolutely gut-wrenching for N.C. State, of course. The best thing you can read about the Wolfpack is from Mitchell Northam over at his Substack, “All in the Game.”
Northam truly sums up how much this group has changed N.C. State women’s basketball forever.
I grew up in North Carolina and live back there now, and I’ve never in my life had as many friends and family reaching out to me about women’s basketball as I did last night during the N.C. State/UConn game. What that Wolfpack team accomplished is absolutely paradigm-shifting.
Meanwhile, for the UConn perspective, this by Jackie Powell on Paige Bueckers’ big night is a must-read as well.
If you need me, I’ll be watching this on repeat until Friday. I know it didn’t win the game, but it’s still forever iconic.
3. Aliyah Boston and Deja Kelly floored me in Greensboro.
I must say, it is pretty cool to have elite women’s basketball come to an arena 10 minutes from my condo! I spent the weekend at the Greensboro regional, and the best game of the bunch by far was South Carolina’s 69-61 defeat of North Carolina in the Sweet 16.
The game was defined by the performances of Aliyah Boston, already a legend, and Deja Kelly, a legend in the making. Boston had 28 points and a season-high 22 rebounds, and scored all 13 of her team’s fourth-quarter points in the victory.
I loved how UNC head coach Courtney Banghart described Boston after the game:
She's generational in that way with how her body has transformed. She's powerful and strong. She has kind of dancer footwork. She's relentless.
She's an excellent -- I wish she was old enough to go to the pro. I would be sitting in the front row celebrating her to be drafted because I think I've seen enough. I had one chance, and I've seen enough of Aliyah Boston, but mad respect for just a really good kid too.
While I’m at it, please go ahead and read Katie Barnes on Boston, and also study this phenomenal graphic.
In person, Boston is somehow even more dominant and versatile than she looks on television, and I was taken by the way her down-to-earth, easy-going, yet self-assured personality shone through in press. She lives up to the hype, and then some.
But I was probably most awestruck by Deja Kelly, simply because my expectations weren’t as high going in, and I haven’t watched her as closely. The sophomore guard had 23 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in the Sweet 16 loss; she’s just one of those players that is ELECTRIC on the court. She’s so smooth, and her footwork and midrange game is jaw-dropping. (I mean that literally.)
“She's just fearless,” Banghart said. “The way she prepares, the way she -- I mean, we watch film a lot together, and she lets me speak the truth to her. So if she's dribbling too much or if she's not letting it leave her hands, she makes an immediate adjustment, and she lets me help her in game as well.
“Her poise -- this is a bunch of sophomores running around, and that takes an enormous amount of poise and toughness. Deja was big all tournament.”
4. Dawn Staley collects confetti.
I’m compiling some of my favorite presser moments from March into a super newsletter for after the tournament, but there are a couple of Dawn Staley moments I just have to share.
First, I’m absolutely obsessed with this drive-by hit on A’ja Wilson.
Q. I know we saw some of your coaches maybe struggle being able to cut the net down. They've been able to do this a couple of times, but the point being you guys is you have been able to get here so many times, but yet this is the first time in program history that you guys have been able to reach the Final Four in back-to-back seasons. I know it might not seem like the biggest thing right now, knowing how far this program has come to be able to continue to achieve firsts, even though you've been able to achieve so much over the last couple years. How special is it knowing how far this program has come?
COACH STALEY: It's huge. It's huge. And A'ja Wilson has never been able to do back-to-back Final Fours. So she's gotta give credit to this team.
And here’s A’ja’s response:
The NBS Sports Hour @NBSSportsHour.@_ajawilson22 #MarchMadness | #Gamecocks https://t.co/6GydHwfTBU
Their relationship is my favorite.
Finally, I asked Dawn about a video Mitchell Northam posted of her stuffing confetti into her hoodie pockets during the celebration after the Creighton win.
Q. Coach, you've been here, been to the Final Four before. You're very open about how this isn't the final destination. But as you're putting that confetti into your hoodie, as you're savoring those moments, what's going through your mind, and why is it important to really feel that confetti?
COACH STALEY: I mean, it's important because, you know, we are dream merchants for young people. The young people on our team, they want to win. They want to win. They want to go to Final Fours. They want to win national championships. They want to win SEC tournament championships, SEC regular champions. They want to win the Bad Boy Mowers championship in the Bahamas. They want to do all of that.
And we are creating lifelong memories. And I think confetti is just a tangible thing as reminders of what you've accomplished. And I've been a confetti collector for every like championship that we've had. And it is just a constant reminder of going to get it, you know, going to get it, creating these great experiences for our players and our coaches and everybody in our program, because we work really hard.
And it's really hard to get to a Final Four, really hard. So I'm just happy that we're able to do it, and I'm going to keep collecting it.
I love her so much.
5. Okay, I need to take a second to acknowledge Ash Barty’s retirement.
The 25-year-old tennis legend, who is the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, announced her retirement via an Instagram video last week, and like most of the world, I was absolutely shocked.
But goodness was it great hearing her talk about how happy and fulfilled she feels from her career. As much as I am going to miss her on the tennis circuit, I’m grateful that she’s once again doing things her own way, and teaching us all a valuable lesson about self-assuredness on her way out.
Of all her quotes about retirement, the ones that stuck with me the most were the ones about defining “success” for herself.
6. I’m so, so ready for the Iga Swiatek Era.
With Ash Barty gone, 20-year-old Polish player Iga Swiatek captured the No. 1 ranking in Miami this week. And my goodness, what a special moment it was.
Goodness, #1ga is a phenomenal hashtag and headline!! HERE FOR IT.
Also, if you don’t follow her on Twitter yet, please remedy that right away. This was her tweet the day after capturing the No. 1 ranking:
7. Congrats, Boston Pride!
Look, I’ve been awful at following anything that’s not basketball over the last month, and I promise I will remedy that soon, and also learn to multi-task more efficiently.
But for now, a quick congratulations to the Boston Pride, who defeated the Connecticut Whale 4-2 on Monday night to win their second straight PHF Isobel Cup Championship.
I’m so glad to see they’re celebrating in style.
Okay friends, I better go finish packing. I’ll be back with more soon FROM THE FINAL FOUR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!