NCAA Tournament Elite Eight Preview

(Photo: Percy Anderson/UCLA)

Having started the NCAA Tournament with just five teams featuring Aussies, three remain alive as we head into the Elite Eight. Wins for UCLA and Stanford would see the two sides meet in the College Cup semi-finals, whilst Washington State look to keep a dream run going on the road at South Carolina.

Stanford (Beattie Goad)

Elite Eight: v BYU – 10am, Saturday November 30

Live on Stanford Live Stream

Stanford have won 16 games in a row since their sole loss of the season to Pepperdine in September, but their Elite Eight opponent won’t make it easy for the Cardinal to make it 17 on the trot. Whilst BYU play in the West Coast Conference, a slightly weaker conference than Stanford’s Pac-12, the Cougars have ridden roughshod over their entire schedule in 2019. Sitting on a 21-0-1 record, BYU are one of the few teams in the nation with a better record than Stanford, with wins over Santa Clara, Kansas, and Texas A&M among those victories. Stanford will certainly come into this game as favourites as they look to extend their 4-0 all-time record against BYU to 5-0, but this game shapes to be by far their toughest test of the NCAA Tournament to this point. The Cougars feature a trio of attackers that have combined for 48 goals this season, led by 20-goal striker Elise Flake, one of the deadliest forwards going around. Shutting Flake down, which not many teams have been able to do this season, shapes to play a large part in Stanford getting the win.

However, the Cardinal are led by the undoubted top player in the nation in Catarina Macario, who has not only banged in 30 goals but also assisted on 23 more this season. Backed up by the likes of Sophia Smith and Madison Haley, who have combined for 25 goals and 18 assists, Stanford have notched 93 goals in 21 games this season. With a defence that has shipped just 10 goals in 2019, Stanford look primed for a return trip to the College Cup and potentially a second national championship in three seasons.

Beattie Goad appears set for another cameo off the bench this weekend, and will look to add to her three goals and five assists for the season as the senior’s college career approaches its conclusion after four outstanding seasons.

UCLA (Rachel Lowe, Teagan Micah)

Elite Eight: @ Florida State – 6am, Saturday November 30

Live on ACC Network Extra (US Only)

UCLA have already beaten Florida State once this season, but that game was in Los Angeles. This time, the Bruins will travel to Tallahassee for a rematch against the Seminoles in a game with far more on the line than their non-conference game in late August. Since that game, Florida State’s three losses have all come against other teams that secured #1 seeds for the NCAA Tournament, falling twice to Virginia and once to North Carolina. However, whilst the Seminoles may have home ground advantage and the #1 next to their name, that hasn’t always translated to success in this tournament. Unseeded Washington State have already knocked off Virginia in the Round of 32, and UCLA come into this game with far more of a chance than the Cougars were given in that contest.

In fact, given the numbers posted by both teams this season, one could argue that on a neutral pitch, UCLA would be the favourites in this one. They have narrowly outscored Florida State this season, whilst conceding just 0.73 goals per game whereas the Seminoles have conceded a single goal per contest. In a weekend featuring three #1 v #2 matchups, this shapes as the tightest of them all.

Senior goalkeeper Teagan Micah shapes to be pivotal for the Bruins if they are to earn their way into the College Cup semi-finals for the second time in three seasons. The Matildas goalkeeper hasn’t always been required to perform heavy duties between the sticks this season, but when she has, Micah has regularly performed admirably. It will also be intriguing to see what role Rachel Lowe plays this weekend. The freshman has played extended minutes in UCLA’s dominant victories to this point, but how much action Lowe sees in a potential nail-biter remains to be seen.

Washington State (Aly Hay)

Elite Eight: @ South Carolina – 10am, Saturday November 30

Live on SEC Network Plus (US Only)

They’ve already beaten a #1 seed on the road in Virginia, and now Washington State look to repeat the dose against #2 seed South Carolina and reach the College Cup for the first time in program history. With just one loss this season and an SEC tournament title under their belt, South Carolina have continued their run of elite seasons in recent times, and are yet to concede a goal in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Gamecocks rank third in the nation in shutout percentage, keeping 17 clean sheets in 24 games so far this season.

Fortunately, Washington State’s attackers are in blistering form at the moment. With six goals across their last two games, the Cougars are hitting their straps at the perfect time to make a run at the College Cup. US Under-23 national squad member Morgan Weaver has tallied 3 goals and an assist in that time, whilst Makamae Gomera-Stevens has popped up with a goal and an assist of her own to help lead Washington State to this point. South Carolina won’t be an easy defence to penetrate, but the Cougars are in the kind of form that could see them keep this run of upsets going. Having Ella Dederick between the sticks helps too – there aren’t many goalkeepers out there that you’d prefer to have keeping you safe in a game where a clean sheet might be your only chance of securing victory without going to penalties.

There also aren’t many better goalkeepers around for a young backup to learn from, which is exactly what Aussie freshman Aly Hay continues to do as she prepares for a crack at the top job next season.

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