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Women’s NCAA tournament semifinal preview: Wisconsin vs. Boston College

The soaring Eagles seek to upset the Badgers in St. Charles.

Wisconsin forward Emily Clark
David Stluka c/o Univ. of Wisconsin Athletic Dept. Communications

Who: SB Nation No. 1 Wisconsin (32-2-4) vs. No. 4 Boston College (28-5-5)

When: Friday, March 17, 2017 (6:00 p.m. ET)

Where: St. Charles, MO (The Family Arena)

How to Watch: NCAA.com Streaming

The Frozen Four kicks off early Friday evening with the first semifinal finding WCHA champion and tournament favorite Wisconsin taking on Hockey East champion Boston College.

Wisconsin has topped the SB Nation poll all year long. The potent Badgers have the nation’s top scoring offense, averaging 4.11 goals per game. Junior forward and Patty Kaz Top-10 finalist Annie Pankowski and senior forward Sarah Nurse are tied for second in the country in goals scored (25) just behind Clarkson’s Cayley Mercer. Wisconsin is deep on the attack - the Badgers have six double-digit goal scorers and nine players with twenty or more points. UW is a combined +516 on the year.

As good as the Badgers are on offense, they are an even better defensive team, backstopped by Patty Kaz Top-3 finalist and multiple NCAA record-holder Ann-Renée Desbiens. As a team, Wisconsin only allows 0.84 goals per game and Desbiens somehow tops that. The senior is 28-1-4 on the year with a .963 SV% and 0.69 GAA. The top pairing in front of her are talented senior defenders Mellissa Channell and Jenny Ryan and the Badgers are nation’s top penalty killing team (92.2% kill).

When Wisconsin gets rolling, watch out. The Badgers steamrolled CHA champion Robert Morris 7-0 in the quarterfinal and hung eight on both Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth earlier this year. All told, Wisconsin beat five of the other seven tournament teams, including sweeps of second-seeded Clarkson and seventh-seeded Cornell during the regular season.

Boston College started the year a bit unevenly, but has only lost twice since Thanksgiving. The Eagles repeated as Beanpot champions and were far and away the best team in a slightly down Hockey East.

On offense, while BC only has one player in the top 20 points scored nationally, senior forward Andie Anastos, the Eagles have five players in the top 35. Sixth in country in scoring offense, averaging 3.42 goals per game, the Eagles have the country’s best power play, converting at nearly 26%.

BC is also very strong on the kill (91.3%) and boast the fifth-ranked scoring defense, allowing just 1.55 goals per game. Defender Megan Keller, the Hockey East Player of the Year and the nation’s leader in points scored by a defender, anchors the Eagles defense, which is backstopped by goaltender Katie Burt (26-5-5, .933 SV%, 1.55 GAA).

Boston College’s stunning 6-0 quarterfinal win over St. Lawrence should put the Badgers on notice. Four different Eagles tallied goals in that game, including two each by forwards Kenzie Kent and Makenna Newkirk.

This should be a thrilling matchup between two balanced and deep teams. Boston College will look to keep Wisconsin from jumping out ahead early and the Eagles have the firepower to stay close with the Badgers.

Wisconsin is certainly the favorite coming into the weekend, but the talent gap between the semifinalists is not that wide. The Eagles’ defense will have to come up big, however, as Desbiens has not allowed more than two goals in a game all season long.

Prediction: Wisconsin 3, Boston College 1.

Pick Record for the Season: 12-7-4