Leslie tells Boston she knows her pain, to keep her head up

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Aliyah Boston’s tearful reaction to missing a putback that would have put South Carolina in the national championship game had people reaching out on social media supporting the sophomore.

Lisa Leslie could relate to the pain of the moment.

“Keep your head up (hashtag)aa_boston I missed a game winner my sophomore year and thought it was the end… only to find out…it was only the beginning! Beast Mode! See you back on top Champ,” the Hall of Famer wrote Friday night on Twitter.

Leslie, a three-time MVP and eight-time All-Star, congratulated both Stanford and South Carolina on an “awesome game.” With Boston’s putback attempt bouncing off the back rim, Stanford held on for a 66-65 win in the national semifinal.

Former South Carolina All-American A’ja Wilson was at the Alamodome. She is in San Antonio for a USA Basketball women’s national team training camp. Wilson offered up an encouraging reminder after the painful loss.

“The future is so bright for the babies,” Wilson wrote.

HEY REF

The NCAA women’s basketball committee has revealed the 11 officials who will work the Final Four and championship game of the tournament.

The names were released Thursday, the first time the group had been announced the day before the national semifinals.

“It’s long overdue with officials being such an integral part of the game,” said Penny Davis, the NCAA coordinator of officials. “They deserve the same accolades for their hard work and to be honored for this achievement. It goes in alignment with our strategic plan. Growing officiating is part of that. This helps humanize us and recognize and honor the work they’ve done getting to this elite stage.”

Included in the group is Dee Kantner, who will be working in her 24th Final Four and Maj Forsberg, who will be an official in the Tokyo Olympics this summer

The officiating assignments for each semifinal game Friday night, as well as Sunday night’s national championship game, will be announced an hour before each game. Brenda Pantoja, Eric Brewton and Gina Cross worked the South Carolina-Stanford semifinal, and Kantner, Charles Gonzalez and Pualani Spurlock handled the UConn-Arizona game.

Davis said the chosen officials were evaluated for every game in the tournament for mechanics, signals, play calling, accuracy, rules enforcement and points of emphasis. Davis said that each game has nearly 200 decision points.

The basketball selection committee has the final say on who officiates the final games based on recommendations from Davis and her staff.

ROAD TRIP!

Chuck and Karen Autrey drove 12 hours from Tucson, Arizona, to San Antonio to watch their Wildcats play in the Final Four for the first time.

Both are fully vaccinated and missed watching Arizona play in person this season, so when tickets became available they didn’t hesitate.

“We’re going on a road trip,” Chuck Autrey said. “It’s time to break out.”

They remembered Arizona coach Adia Barnes when she played at the school and wanted tickets once she was hired as head coach. They had been longtime season ticket holders for the men’s program and had traveled to every Final Four the men had played in.

“If she coaches as well as she was a player, she’ll be a winner,” Chuck Autrey said.

FEMALE POWER

ESPN has a female producer for the Final Four for the first time in the history of its production of the tournament with Kerry Callahan taking over this year. Callahan has been at the network for 20 years, starting out as a production assistant and working her way up to this point.

“This event has always been important to me and it’s been something I’ve been a part of for a long time,” She said. “It’s been a goal of mine to get to and produce this championship with this event.”

Callahan has been in San Antonio since the start of the tournament even when the announcers were working remotely.

“That was challenging,” she said. “Our production was here, but the announcers were remote. Things like the first two days being triple headers for production crews, and we were switching announcing crews between games. That’s not the norm.”

Callahan started at ESPN in 2000 and has started producing the early rounds and regionals for the past decade.

MORE AWARDS FOR BUECKERS, CLARK

Good friends and competitors Paige Bueckers of UConn and Caitlin Clark of Iowa are sharing an honor as the Tamika Catchings Freshman Player of the Year.

The U.S. Basketball Writers Association announced the awards Friday. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer won her second USBWA coach of the year award for the second time in her career and 32 years after her first.

B ueckers won The Associated Press’ women’s player of the year award Wednesday and has led the Huskies to their 13th straight Final Four. Clark led the nation in scoring averaging 26.7 points a game and led Iowa into the Sweet 16 where Hawkeyes lost to Buecker’s Huskies.

The USBWA will announce its Ann Meyers Drysdale National Women’s Player of the Year Award on Sunday before the national championship.

PURPLE & GOLD TRIBUTE

No. 3 UConn freshman Aaliyah Edwards is easy to spot on the court with her long purple and gold braids flying around as she fights for every rebound or battles for position under the basket.

But her hair is not just a style statement.

It’s a tribute to her late brother Jermaine, who helped teach her the game and shared a love of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. Jermaine, who also played college basketball, at St. Lawrence College in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario, died suddenly in 2017 at the age of 27.

“I always know that he’s above watching over me,” Edwards said. “Mentally, I kind of think to myself like, ’What would he say in this scenario or what would he think about what I’m doing for this game,” she said.

WOMEN’S HOOPS HISTORY

Stanford will be playing for another piece of history Sunday on a very special anniversary.

Sunday is the 125th anniversary of the first collegiate women’s basketball game between Stanford and California in 1896 in San Francisco. Stanford won that game before the sport was discontinued in 1899 reportedly for the students’ health.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said that date has been brought to her attention, and she’s seen pictures of the uniforms and the ball.

“So we’ve come a long way,” VanDerveer said. “But we also know that we have a long way to go.”

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AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg and AP Sports Writers Pat Eaton-Robb and Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.

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More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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