NCAA Tournament – Sweet Sixteen Preview – Sunday’s For Showdowns

(Check back later Sunday for a UCLA-Stanford preview.)

(3) Michigan vs Notre Dame – 1:00 PM

To This Point:

Michigan have been frighteningly efficient to this point.  They ran right over Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the opening round before easing past Illinois State on Friday night.  When Michigan dumps you in a hole, you tend to stay there.  That’s why taking the lead after three minutes was so huge for the Wolverines, who barely let up in putting thirty-three shots on the board.  They’d put it away with two more goals to increase their lead to 3-0 just after the hour mark.  Just as impressively, the Wolverines held both Hannah Leinert and Rachel Tejada without a single shot on goal.  It’s the sign of a side peaking at the right time, though the pressure ramps up considerably from here on out.

It wasn’t quite the hammering some suspected it might be, but Notre Dame’s win over Western Michigan was comfortable enough in the end.  With Western Michigan trying to keep the Irish from breaking them down easily, Notre Dame found themselves controlling play early on but going into the half still on level terms with their MAC opposition.  Cari Roccaro would gave the Irish the much desired opener near the seventy minute mark as she snapped a shot off after Elizabeth Tucker’s throw-in.  Notre Dame were probably never going to lose if they went in front, and they held out for a well deserved 1-0 win, setting up a glamour tie against the host Wolverines.

Names To Know:

Nkem Ezurike (UM) (CF) – Canadian got a ton of help from her supporting cast on Friday but still managed to break the program’s all-time scoring record with a goal early in the second half.  Likely battle with Notre Dame center-back Katie Naughton could be one of the tournament’s best individual showdowns.

Holly Hein (UM) (CB) – May be on the shortlist of players who’ve most improved potential NWSL Draft stock after a tremendous senior season.  Got a goal in Friday’s matchup but will be tasked with helping keep the Notre Dame attack quiet on Sunday.

Katie Naughton (UND) (CB) – Helped erase Tejada and Leinert from the equation on Friday.  One of the nation’s best center-backs already but faces a huge test against Ezurike.  Already looks like a possible first-round pick in 2016, and stopping Michigan’s battering ram would only enhance her reputation.

Cari Roccaro (UND) (MF) – Does it all really.  Could be used up front to try and muscle her way through the Michigan defense or at center-back to give the Irish twice the power at the heart of the defense.  She’s a game changer in midfield though, where her versatility and tenacity makes her a nightmare for the opposition.

The Bottom Line:

This might be one of the hardest games to call in the Sweet Sixteen.  Both of these clubs are capable of beating just about anyone when at the height of their powers.  It hasn’t always happened that way though.  Michigan struggled with the likes of Butler midseason but looked to be the Big Ten’s in-form club going into the postseason, only to be bounced out by Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals in a shocking result.  The Wolverines have recovered well and have shown a versatility on offense that hasn’t always been there with Ezurike’s tenure at the club.  But the Wolverines also have been guilty of some wasteful finishing this season, and more of that will likely spell the end of their season.

The Irish almost always overachieve in this competition.  They lost a lot of games close this season, some of them through self-inflicted wounds, some through what many would call controversial calls.  There’s a lot of upside on Notre Dame’s roster, with the likes of Roccaro, Naughton, and Morgan Andrews all likely yet at their peak.  The veteran leadership is there too through Mandy Laddish and Elizabeth Tucker, but Michigan’s probably got the experience edge from A to Z on the roster.  Notre Dame has Randy Waldrum though, who’s conjured up gameplans to topple a lot of teams that have been favored on paper.  I trust his big game record and think the Irish will move on.

Prediction

(3) Michigan 0 – 1 Notre Dame

(1) Virginia Tech vs (4) Santa Clara – 1:00 PM

To This Point:

It hasn’t necessarily been champagne football from Virginia Tech thus far, but it’s been effective, in the sense that the Hokies have grinded their way to a pair of victories and a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.  Obviously, West Virginia proved a much tougher nut to crack in the second round after the Hokies had had their way with UMBC a week earlier.  VT ended up keeping he WVU offense quiet for the whole match, conceding just a single shot on goal, though they also only managed two on-target shots themselves.  They managed to nick it at the hour mark though, with Murielle Tiernan putting in the match’s only goal.

Santa Clara themselves have gotten all they can handle in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, just edging out Cal last week before slipping past Boston University on Friday.  The back-and-forth nature of the match against BU shouldn’t have been a shock considering how tough the Terriers have played everyone this year, but the Broncos still needed a goal in the final quarter of an hour from Morgan Marlborough to separate the sides.  The defense held up reasonably well, but the club’s inability to keep a clean sheet has to be a bit worrying considering the increasing difficulty of the competition.

Names To Know:

Jordan Coburn (VT) (CB) – Hokies’ defensive leader an unsung star on the backline for Tech.  Helped silence a very dangerous West Virginia attack on Friday and will need more to do the same against SCU on Sunday.  Figures to get matched up against either Morgan Marlborough or Julie Johnston depending on how Broncos line up.

Jazmine Reeves (VT) (CF) – Did little of note on the stat sheet against West Virginia but will surely benefit from facing a more forgiving backline on Sunday.  Bronco defense was shredded by ACC opposition at the beginning of the season and Hokies doing likewise probably depends on Reeves’ form.

Sofia Huerta (SCU) (RF) – Despite bigger names she shares the frontline with, Huerta really is the straw that stirs the drink for the Broncos.  A goal and an assist in the club’s second round win against BU and will need to be on form to help stretch the field against a gritty Tech team on Sunday.

Julie Johnston (SCU) (CM/CF) – Was unusually quiet on Friday against Boston U, not netting a single shot in ninety minutes.  Aerial ability might be more crucial on Sunday against the Hokies, a side that has profited from prowess in the air on set pieces this season.  Needs some big performances to seal her spot as #2 prospect in upcoming NWSL Draft.

The Bottom Line:

Give Santa Clara credit.  The Broncos have probably had one of the tougher paths to the Sweet Sixteen given the strength of their first two opponents, Cal and Boston University.  The defense is still not going to be suffocating anyone at this point of the season, but it’s at least been capable enough to keep SCU from needing to score a handful to advance.  Truthfully, I suspect that a high scoring game would swing in favor of Santa Clara, as the Hokies may have some talented frontrunners, but I’m not sure trading goals with the likes of Huerta, Morgan Marlborough, and Johnston would be sound for almost any team.  If they can get three or more, I feel that the Broncos have a great chance of moving right along to the Elite Eight next week.

At the end of the day though, it’s really hard to purge the picture of Santa Clara looking so woefully outmatched at the beginning of the season against two of the ACC’s top guns in North Carolina and Virginia.  Virginia Tech’s proven themselves as worthy of being lumped into that same class after a fantastic season and have looked calm and composed in coolly dispatching UMBC and West Virginia thus far.  Particularly impressive was how they shut off the Mountaineers who, despite being shorthanded, still packed plenty of goals.  Yes, Santa Clara’s improved as the season’s gone on, but the Broncos’ record against top teams, ones that aren’t going to bow to any mystic is very poor.  I think Tech beats the Broncos black and blue in a physical affair and shuts SCU’s down enough to walk away as deserved winners.

Prediction 

(1) Virginia Tech 2 – 1 (4) Santa Clara

(1) North Carolina vs (4) Texas A&M – 1:00 PM

To This Point:

These two sides have had some contrasting fortunes in the NCAA Tournament thus far outside of both advancing to this point.  The defending national champions haven’t had an ounce of trouble to this point, easing past Liberty last weekend despite not having the services of Crystal Dunn through a hamstring injury.  Dunn returned off the bench on Friday and had a goal and an assist in a half-hour’s work against an out of their depth Indiana side in the club’s 4-0 win.  Inevitably, it was little more than a training exercise for the Heels, who always looked comfortable, taking the lead near the break, adding another right after it, and then adding a few for good measure late.  All was not copacetic though, with starting forward Alexa Newfield knocked out by injury after just twenty-one minutes of play.

Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament has been played on a knife’s edge after two straight matches that have gone to extra time.  The Aggies managed to get out of College Station with a 1-0 win against Utah but weren’t as lucky in a pulsating game against Texas Tech on Friday night.  The Aggies would fall behind twice, equalizing on both occasions and driving it to penalties, where Jordan Day made a couple of saves to give A&M a shootout win and a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.  Annie Kunz and Shea Groom proved to be terrors for the opposition on Friday and will be crucial to the gameplan again.  The Aggies were hardly foolproof defensively, though with Janine Beckie causing some serious problems all night long.  I suspect even a club with as much firepower as A&M knows they’ll have to try and keep it tight if they’re to move on to the Elite Eight.

Names To Know:

Crystal Dunn (UNC) (AMC) – You know her name.  So does Indiana in all likelihood after a goal and an assist in thirty minutes.  Seems likely to get more minutes in this one after not missing a beat against the Hoosiers.  If she gets rolling, it seems unlikely the Aggies will be able to slow down a Tar Heel attack that has the momentum of a freight train when their talisman is on form.

Kelly McFarlane (UNC) (DMC) – One of the nation’s most improved players has an unenviable task in trying to keep either Shea Groom, Kelley Monogue, or both in check.  The Tar Heels’ 3-4-3 might put too much pressure on the senior to handle the bulk of the defensive work in midfield, meaning she might get a partner in the center of the park with UNC going 4-2-3-1.

Shea Groom (A&M) (AMC) – The total package, with a combination of versatility, athleticism, and technical skill to go with no small amount of creativity and craftiness in the attack.  If the Aggies can’t get her the ball and get her it often, their chances of walking away with an upset win deteriorate markedly.

Meagan Straight (A&M) (CB) – The crux behind a pretty intriguing tactical riddle.  Has excelled as a center-back this year but was previously one of the nation’s very best defensive midfielders.  Would A&M consider moving her back into midfield for one game to mark Dunn?  Shifting the center-back partnership to Rachel Lenz and Grace Wright would be a risk, but A&M may not have the luxury of playing it safe on Sunday.

The Bottom Line:

These two sides played out an unforgettable match a few seasons ago, with A&M fighting for an unbelievable win just a few days after having been throttled by Duke.  Some of the faces have obviously changed, with the stakes markedly higher in this meeting as well, with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line.  North Carolina hasn’t been pushed in the NCAA Tournament thus far, and it’s also been a while since the club faced a top team with Dunn still in the reckoning.  She looked no worse the wear despite playing just half an hour on Friday, though the injury to key offensive cog Alexa Newfield remains a worry.  I suspect Carolina won’t have too many problems creating chances against an A&M defense that looked susceptible to pace on the counter against Texas Tech.

The main question is whether Texas A&M will be able to do likewise.  The Aggies have plenty of weapons and created plenty against Texas Tech and perhaps should have finished things before penalties were necessary, such was their volume of opportunities.  There are numerous selection dilemmas for the Aggies, most notably if the club wants to roll with Annie Kunz from the start after her great showing from off the bench on Friday.  But pace may be desired more if UNC starts in the 3-4-3, with the Aggies needing speed to quickly counter back up the pitch and exploit space.  Kunz’s size and ability to hold up the ball might be more of a virtue when Carolina tries to shut up shop in the 4-2-3-1.  I get the feeling the SEC side is in trouble if they end up chasing the game, meaning they probably need to score first to stand a chance.  I think they’ll make it close but fall short against their non-conference nemesis.

Prediction

(1) North Carolina 2 – 1 (4) Texas A&M

Duke vs Arkansas – 1:00 PM

To This Point

It’s probably given their fans a few unsafe spikes in their blood pressure, but Duke has nonetheless done what Duke does at this time of year and advanced to the last sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.  After last week’s heart stopping adventure in the Rocky Mountains, the Blue Devils got the opener against Florida and then did just about enough to hold the Gators at bay to bag a priceless 1-0 win and their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.  No Blue Devil managed more than a single shot on goal, but Natasha Anasi was crucial on both sides of the pitch, scoring off a corner kick and keeping Savannah Jordan to just two shots on goal on the night.  The Blue Devils are now just one more win away from a somewhat unlikely trip back to the Elite Eight.

Arkansas’ dream season continued in earnest on Friday, as they stifled the Saint John’s (NY) attack and nicked a goal themselves to pick up their second NCAA Tournament win in just their first appearance in the competition.  The Lady Razorbacks were able to hold their opponents just three shots on goal, while also holding national scoring leader Rachel Daly without an on-target effort, though Amy Marron had three herself.  Claire Kelley’s strike from range would be enough in the end though in a game in which chances were at a premium.  Colby Hale’s side didn’t come out unscathed though.  Dangerous attacker Jeriann Okoro only lasted nine minutes before being forced off with an injury, while midfielder Tyler Allen was sent off late after her second bookable offense, meaning she’ll miss Sunday’s game.

Names To Know:

Natasha Anasi (DUKE) (CB) – Back in the headlines after holding Jordan in check in defense and scoring the game’s only goal to down Florida on Friday.  Blue Devils will be hoping it doesn’t come down to her netting off a set piece on Sunday, but her defensive contributions will be crucial again.  Faces another imposing task against Lady Razorbacks’ Ashleigh Ellenwood.

Toni Payne (DUKE) (RF) – Rookie attacker has exceeded lofty expectations and looks like a cornerstone for the future for the Blue Devils.  She might be the club’s most important player in the present too, with the Lady Razorbacks potentially more vulnerable to pace as opposed to a more brute force approach.  Could put her name in lights with a strong showing on Sunday.

Ashleigh Ellenwood (ARK) (CF) – Big forward is the centerpiece of the offense for good reason despite just a single shot on goal against the Red Storm in the second round on Friday.  Probably needs to make a big impact for another Arkansas upset, though she’s facing a difficult time of it against the physical and experienced Natasha Anasi.

Cameron Carter (ARK) (GK) – Rookie has played all but ninety minutes this season and has occasionally been called upon to stand on her head to keep the Lady Razorbacks in things.  Has played beyond her years and may need to perform like a veteran in between the pipes again on Sunday against a Duke side replete with attacking options.

The Bottom Line:

Make no mistake, Arkansas has done very well thus far to get to this point, but they face a steep task on Sunday.  Never mind the opposition, the Lady Razorbacks figure to be down two starters, with Allen definitely out through suspension and Okoro looking doubtful after being injured early on Friday.  In retrospect, Arkansas got a perfect draw on Friday against Saint John’s (NY), a side with an almost equal amount of inexperience at this stage of the competition.  That’s very much not the case on Sunday against a Duke side who’ve seemingly lived at this stage of the competition for half a decade.  Arkansas certainly has a chance for the upset, but their margin for error is very slim indeed.

Duke hasn’t been clear favorites for a long while, and you wonder if it’s a role they’ll be able to thrive in, though they’ve also got the bonus of the home crowd at their back.  The offense still isn’t exactly the most consistent attack in the nation, but Kelly Cobb has at least shown signs of turning back into the player that had so much potential as a rookie here before injuries threatened to wreck her career.  Anasi again figures to be key as the leader at the heart of the defense, while you also get the feeling that Kaitlyn Kerr may be overdue for some November heroics.  Duke never really makes it easy, but I think they’ll get over the line on Sunday, though not before some huffing and puffing.

Prediction

Duke 1 – 0 Arkansas

Boston College vs Illinois – 2:00 PM

To This Point:

It’s been a wild and fulfilling ride for both of these sides, who are one step away from shock Elite Eight appearances.  Boston College expectedly beat Northeastern in the opening round after perhaps getting a gift with that matchup but were not done any favors by being sent to Lincoln to play Big Ten double winners Nebraska on Friday.  Someone should have told that to BC though, as they absolutely throttled the Huskers, shredding the Nebraska defense.  The Eagles put up an absurd thirty shots on their opponents, while getting goals from four different scorers, including McKenzie Meehan, who netted her nineteenth of the season.  The club still gave up twelve shots themselves, but that’s an afterthought most of the time when you score four times.

Illinois also scored four goals but had it nowhere as easy against Portland in their second round matchup.  The Illini found themselves down 2-0 and then 3-1 but promptly won two penalties in the last twenty-two minutes, disputed by more than few, to send the match into extra time.  Near the end of the first half of extra time, Illinois would seal a famous victory in utterly bizarre fashion, when some miscommunication on a restart after a foul let Megan Pawloski swoop in and steal the ball, squaring for Jannelle Flaws, who could scarcely miss.  Portland argued that the play hadn’t actually been restarted, instead with the ball being tapped forward to where a free kick should have been taken, but their protests fell on deaf ears, sending Illinois on to the last sixteen.

Names To Know:

Vanessa DiBernardo (ILL) (AMC) – Really, they’re just a different team with her in the lineup.  Went the distance against Portland in the last round, showing no ill effects of sprained knee that cost her much of the season.  Scored twice, including once from the spot and continues to be a terror from range with her shooting.  If BC gives her an inch, she’ll take a mile.

Jannelle Flaws (ILL) (CF) – It’s safe to say that Portland and Amanda Frisbie more specifically did not have the answer for Flaws, who had a ridiculous fourteen shots, seven shots on goal, and two goals on Friday.  Flaws netted the winner in extra time and generally looked like a woman possessed for much of the win.  Looks odds on for the unofficial DI Golden Boot now.

McKenzie Meehan (BC) (CF) – Hey, Illinois isn’t the only team with a deadly center forward.  Meehan’s emerged as one of the ACC’s most dangerous players and upped her goal total to nineteen in the bludgeoning of Nebraska on Friday.  Runs hot and cold, like most of her team, but when she’s hot she’s a supernova and more than capable of firing her side into the last eight.

Casey Morrison (BC) (CB) – Reputation has taken a bit of a battering after some of her side’s more fitful defensive efforts the past few seasons.  Did just about enough to keep a high powered Nebraska at bay on Friday though.  If she can keep Flaws quiet, she’ll again be one of the nation’s hottest center-back prospects going into her senior season next year.

The Bottom Line:

You might get a migraine from trying to mull this one over.  These sides have been brutally inconsistent but have shown what they’re capable of over the past few weeks.  Both displayed a ton of explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball on Friday, each registering at least twenty-four shots on the day against clubs that had at least won a share of their league title.  Illinois in particular were tremendously impressive in beating back a two-goal deficit and prevailing in extra time.  The defense definitely didn’t show that well, but Jannelle Flaws was irrepressible, while Vanessa DiBernardo’s impact was felt as well.  Trying to outgun Boston College is a dangerous game, but Illinois might just have the arsenal to do it.

The Eagles put up one of the second round’s most impressive displays in making the Big Ten double winners look plainly average.  The razor sharp duo of McKenzie Meehan and Stephanie McCaffrey cut the Nebraska defense to ribbons, while the supporting cast did its part as well, with Gibby Wagner, Lauren Bernard, and Hayley Dowd all scoring.  Dowd in particular was a terror off the bench and could be a big X-Factor if this one gets attritional, as Illinois doesn’t really have a comparable option off the bench.  But inconsistency has plagued the Eagles for years, but especially the last few seasons.  It’s all in whether you trust BC to put up another performance like Friday’s when they square off against Illinois.  I don’t, and I think DiBernardo will inspire her side to a third win in this year’s Big Dance.

Prediction

Boston College 2 – 3 Illinois

(1) Virginia vs Wake Forest – 5:00 PM

To This Point:

Virginia has barely broken a sweat thus far in two games in getting to this point, dominating a Georgetown short on ambition on Friday night.  The Cavs kept Georgetown in their shell for much of the match, holding the high powered Hoyas to just a single off-target shot in ninety minutes.  UVA’s attack didn’t exactly vivisect their opponents, but they still got the job done in the end, with Morgan Brian finishing just after the half-hour mark.  Still, putting just two shots on goal in the second half might be a bit concerning, even against a Hoya side hell bent on defense.

Wake Forest go into this one off an extremely impressive showing against Penn State in a 1-0 second round victory.  Most felt that the Demon Deacons would have to win a defensive stalemate to advance, but though the score emphasized that mindset, Wake actually outshot Penn State on the evening.  Riley Ridgik continued to be an effective option up top, while Sarah Teegarden’s bomb from distance proved the difference.  Aubrey Bledsoe only needed four saves, and the defense was amazingly effective against PSU’s Maya Hayes, holding the senior star without a shot.  You get the sense it isn’t going to be as easy on Sunday.

Names To Know:

Morgan Brian (UVA) (AMC) – Has blossomed into the player most thought she could develop into as a youth player.  Was handed the keys to the offense and has responded accordingly, taking the club on her back and scoring the winner against a stubborn Georgetown team.  Probably hoping the forwards can be a little sharper in front of goal against their league rivals.

Emily Sonnett (UVA) (CB) – Doesn’t often get mentioned in the grouping of the nation’s best center-backs, but the recognition is probably coming after two great seasons to begin her college career.  Helped keep Georgetown off the board with zero shots on goal on Friday.  Steady as ever, Sonnett will try to cool off the red hot Riley Ridgik on Sunday.

Riley Ridgik (WF) (CF) – Didn’t seem like a prime candidate for a center forward before the season but has certainly grown into the role as the season’s gone along, getting into double digits in goals.  Faces a tough assignment against Sonnett on Sunday but is capable of some spectacular strikes as evidenced by some of her goals this season.

Aubrey Bledsoe (WF) (GK) – Didn’t get worked as heavily as most might’ve thought on Friday, but UVA might make up for lost time on Sunday.  As much as any keeper in the country, she’s got enough talent to turn a game on its head.  Is a hell of a penalty stopper as well, though that probably isn’t going to be in the forefront of Wake’s minds at the opening whistle.

The Bottom Line:

These two met before in the regular season when Wake Forest had just lost Katie Stengel for the season.  It didn’t go well for the Demon Deacons.  Clearly trying to find an identity without their offensive talisman, Wake put just one shot on goal on the board, hardly a vote of confidence in their chances on Sunday.  The Demon Deacons have definitely found their feet since, but they’re still decided underdogs going into the rematch in Charlottesville.  Wake’s defense coped well with a PSU that was great on paper but which was stifled rather surprisingly.  Simply put, Wake doesn’t have the firepower to dig themselves out of a deep hole.  Any multi-goal deficit is likely a death sentence.  But Wake knows all the pressure is on Virginia, and the longer it stays level, the tighter the Cavs might get.

Virginia will go into this one with a ton of confidence though, and not just because of their NCAA Tournament form to this point.  Morgan Brian ran the show effectively in midfield in their first meeting, while Gloria Douglas’ pace proved troublesome as well.  The center forwards didn’t really have their best showing against Georgetown on Friday, so they’ll probably be wanting some redemption on Sunday against their own league rivals.  Virginia’s biggest enemy at this point might be themselves.  They’ve been here.  A lot.  Now it’s just a matter of keeping their head and taking care of business on the road to Cary.  Can Wake use what they’ve learned and cause a gigantic upset?  I’m skeptical, and I think this second encounter will look a lot like the first.

Prediction

(1) Virginia 2 – 0 Wake Forest

(2) UCLA vs Stanford – 7:00 PM

To This Point:

Contrasting fortunes really. UCLA drew Kentucky for their second round matchup for the second straight season after breezing past San Diego State in the first round by a 3-0 count. The Bruins didn’t really have too many problems in brushing aside the Wildcats on Friday either, winning by three goals once more. Caprice Dydasco netted her first two goals of the season from her full-back spot, while Sam Mewis chipped in with assists on her side’s first two goals. The Bruins needed seventy minutes to make it a multi-goal lead, but they still looked comfortable throughout and got to rotate fresh legs in to a great degree.

It’s been nowhere near as easy for Stanford to get to this point. The Card edged past Cal State Fullerton in the opening round but got another difficult task on Friday, being matched against defensive stalwarts South Carolina. Stanford’s defense held up pretty well, holding the Gamecocks to just a single shot on goal but themselves struggled to find a decisive goal. Chioma Ubogagu was again a force in the attacking midfield role, with three of Stanford’s four shots on goal. She also picked out a clearance and saw her shot tipped in by Taylor Uhl early in extra time to net the Card a rematch against the Bruins on Sunday night.

Names To Know:

Sarah Killion (UCLA) (DMC) – May get the unenviable assignment of trying to slow down the rejuvenated Chioma Ubogagu. Of course, she’s one of the nation’s best midfielders, so she may just be up to the task. Has done a fabulous job of showing she’s not just a blunt instrument by being a strong offensive contributor as well this season. Could be a first-round pick in the 2015 NWSL Draft at this pace.

Abby Dahlkemper (UCLA) (CB) – Doesn’t get as much credit as some of her brethren in the ACC, but Dahlkemper’s been the heart of the Bruin defense for three seasons. Likely gets the tough assignment of shutting down Taylor Uhl, but she did so successfully in the regular season meeting, holding the forward without a shot.

Chioma Ubogagu (STAN) (AMC) – Has thrived as Stanford’s best attacking option since moving back into the attacking midfield role in the 4-3-3. Hypnotic dribbling ability and passing ability has made her the perfect midfield triggerwoman, as she’s caused all sorts of problems over the last few games for opponents. Killion’s a difficult opponent though.

Jane Campbell (STAN) (GK) – Rookie keeper has endured an up and down season since taking over for Emily Oliver in goal. Two clean sheets in the NCAA Tournament thus far have to be good for confidence however, and the Card are going to need another big performance on Sunday night if they’re to pull of the upset against their great rivals.

The Bottom Line:

UCLA enter as favorites, but the Bruins aren’t guaranteed to advance by any means considering the regular season meeting between these two was more than a little competitive. The Bruins looked like having blown it again after Lo’eau LaBonta netted a late equalizer, but Stanford were burned on the break in extra time, with Lauren Kaskie netting the winner. The Bruins have seldom looked unconvincing since and have breezed through their NCAA Tournament matches so far. Neither Darian Jenkins nor Taylor Smith enjoyed their best matches in the regular season meeting, meaning the midfield might have to prove their superiority if the Bruins are to advance.

How Killion deals with the powerful Ubogagu might go on to decide how this one goes. Stanford’s looked improved since they inserted Ubogagu into the midfield, but Paul Ratcliffe might be wary considering how little Taylor Uhl provided in the first meeting between these sides. Stanford created multiple chances in the first meeting and have the weapons to create problems, but they also probably don’t have the better defense in this matchup, meaning a high-scoring affair isn’t in their best interests. Look out for Courtney Verloo, not just from open play, but also from set pieces, as the senior has the quality to settle games from dead ball situations. In the end though, I just think it’s UCLA’s year out West, and I feel the Bruins will do just enough to edge a tense game in Westwood.

Prediction

(2) UCLA 1 – 0 Stanford

2 thoughts on “NCAA Tournament – Sweet Sixteen Preview – Sunday’s For Showdowns

  1. VaFan

    One factor is many of these games is going to be weather. It’s cold and windy in the mid-Atlantic and isn’t likely to get above freezing in many locations. Santa Clara might have the biggest problem, since right now it’s 21 and windy in Blacksburg. We’re not in California anymore.
    And UVa has the misfortune of being bumped to after-dark by their men’s match (don’t get me started).

    Reply
  2. Soccer fan

    Can not fault any of your choices although several could go either way. If I differ at all it would be with the Michigan/ND, VaTech/Santa Clara and Illinois/BC games. It is definitely time for Tech to step up and prove their 4-2 win over UVA was no fluke. But, most teams know how to control Reeves and that really slows them down offensively. Illinois will go as far as DiBernardo can physically take them. Remember one injury to her and that will be the end of their tournament. Notre Dame is a team of high profile players who haven’t really produced as a team and their keeper is shaky at times. Early goal by Michigan and then you will see real bunkering. Lastly, Sonnett’s game against Tech proved she has a long way to go before being put in any elite status. Her pace usually saves her but when confronted with equal speed her actual defensive prowess was exposed.

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