March Madness Odds: Women’s Final Four Underdogs Need Big Games From Star Players

Written By Derek Helling on April 1, 2021

In one of Friday’s women’s Final Four games, legal online sportsbooks around the country have a consensus spread. In the other, there’s a bit more variety from one operator to the next. For the favorites to cover in both games, they need to limit one key player.

Those two players are South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston and Arizona guard Aari McDonald. Both women not only drive their teams’ offenses but captain defensive efforts as well. Their impact is the biggest factor in determining the outcome.

The impact of Boston and the South Carolina defense against Stanford

When South Carolina tips off against top overall seed Stanford on Friday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN, it will do so as a 5.5-6.5-point underdog. The Gamecocks have reached the national semifinals with their defense, led by Boston.

SC hasn’t allowed an opponent to reach 70 points yet in the tournament. In the Elite Eight, the Gamecocks turned Texas over 15 times and held the Longhorns to just 23% shooting from the field. Boston helped limit Texas star Charli Collier to just 2-of-10 shooting from the field, and Collier didn’t attempt a free throw in the game.

Despite that, FanDuel Sportsbook bettors seem to like Stanford laying the points. According to FanDuel, 63% of the handle and 60% of the spread tickets back the Cardinal. As of Thursday afternoon, Stanford is a 6.5-point favorite.

The action on the late game is even more lopsided.

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McDonald’s service in women’s Final Four nightcap

Proving why she was the PAC-12 C0-defensive player of the year, Aari McDonald held Indiana guard Ali Patberg in check during the Wildcats’ Elite Eight contest. Patberg went just 4-for-11 from the field, including missing all three of her three-point attempts. McDonald’s containment of Patberg allowed the rest of the team to apply their energies elsewhere, restricting the Hoosiers to just 36.4% shooting and 53 points.

To beat UConn (9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN), Arizona will need McDonald to have another stellar defensive outing against Huskies guard Paige Bueckers. UConn is an enormous 13.5-point favorite, as the Huskies have reached the women’s Final Four for a 13th consecutive season.

Bettors should note that while the Wildcats have yet to allow more than 59 points in a game in this tournament, UConn is a very different challenge. Perhaps that’s why, according to FanDuel, 88% of the handle and 78% of the spread tickets are on the Huskies to cover the spread. Right now, 13.5 is the consensus line among major legal books.

The action on the total for that game is just as lopsided. In both of Friday’s contests, the ability of the underdogs to replicate their defensive successes isn’t getting a lot of love.

Stanford’s threes and UConn’s depth will determine totals

For Arizona vs. UConn, FanDuel reports 82% of wagers and 79% of the money is on the over. That total sits at 128.5, as of Thursday afternoon. The number is slightly different at other books, with William Hill Sportsbook currently sitting at 128. BetMGM Sportsbook currently offers up 127 points.

If McDonald is successful in stymieing Bueckers, that could mean a lot of disappointed bettors. In the Elite Eight, Bueckers accounted for 28 of the Huskies’ 69 points. Three of the six women who got onto the court for UConn combined for just nine points.

The Wildcats haven’t been offensive juggernauts themselves so far in this tournament, with a high score of 79 in the Round of 64. Just as the over depends on Bueckers having a typical performance in this game, bettors who take the over in South Carolina vs. Stanford need the Cardinal to be effective from distance.

Stanford is on pace to set a record for made threes in a women’s NCAA tournament, with 50 so far. That’s a convenient strategy for the Cardinal if they can continue to hit those shots. It would also lessen Boston’s impact by forcing her to step out to defend.

Totals for the Cardinal-Gamecocks bout sit at either 133.5 or 134. It will all depend on how productive Stanford is from deep.

To determine which way to bet these markets, March Madness bettors need to decide how dominant Boston and McDonald will be Friday.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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