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Women’s Final Four: U-Conn. knocks off Stanford, joins South Carolina in title game

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 4/1/2022 Glynn A. Hill, Sally Jenkins, Cindy Boren
Connecticut's Nika Muhl, right, and Paige Bueckers are headed to the national title game. (Eric Gay/AP) © Eric Gay/AP Connecticut's Nika Muhl, right, and Paige Bueckers are headed to the national title game. (Eric Gay/AP)

The NCAA women’s basketball tournament will usher in a new champion.

Connecticut knocked off defending NCAA champion Stanford, 63-58, in the Final Four on Friday in Minneapolis. The Huskies, searching for their 12th national title but first since 2016, will face South Carolina in Sunday’s championship game after the Gamecocks held off Louisville, 72-59, in the first semifinal. South Carolina is looking for a second title after winning its first in 2017.

Three No. 1 seeds (South Carolina, Stanford and Louisville) were joined by a No. 2 seed (Connecticut) as the last teams standing from the field of 68 as March Madness reached the national semifinals, and the 40th anniversary of the first NCAA women’s Final Four.

Follow along for live updates, analysis and highlights from March Madness.

What to know about the Final Four

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11:10 PM: U-Conn., Stanford stay tight through three quarters

The night’s second Final Four contest remained a tight affair through the third quarter. Stanford twice took the lead but Connecticut wrestled away the advantage and leads 39-37.

Haley Jones helped guide Stanford to those leads, netting a pair of free throws to go up by one with less than two minutes left in the quarter. But Christyn Williams sank a three-pointer to put U-Conn. back on top.

By: Glynn A. Hill

11:08 PM: Analysis from Sally Jenkins, Sports columnist

Stanford has been a good three-point team all season — shooting above 35 percent — but not so much in the late rounds of this tournament. Against Maryland, the Cardinal went 6 of 21; against, it was Texas 3 of 17; and tonight, so far, it is just 2 of 13. Entering the fourth quarter, Stanford was just 11 of its last 51 from three. Which suggests that if they’re going to repeat as champions, they’re going to have to do it from the inside out with Cameron Brink.

10:41 PM: Analysis from Sally Jenkins, Sports columnist

Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer has pledged to give $10 for every three-pointer made in the NCAA tournament to Ukrainian relief, and asked others to match. So far she’s on the hook for $7,560 and has helped raise over $216,000. No doubt she would like her team to hurt her a little more in the pocket book — the Cardinal shot just 1 of 4 from three-point range in the first half.

10:37 PM: Halftime: Connecticut 27, Stanford 26

Paige Bueckers began to find a rhythm, Evina Westbrook made three triples and Connecticut finally began to settle in during the second quarter, taking a one-point lead into the intermission.

After both teams spent the first quarter plagued by imprecision, the second gave way to greater offensive output. Bueckers has scored at a steady clip, recording eight points and assisting three more scores. Westbrook made three three-pointers over a four-minute span.

U-Conn. will enter the third quarter in moderate foul trouble. Starters Aaliyah Edwards, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Azzi Fudd each have two fouls.

Haley Jones helped the Cardinal generate enough offense to complement its defense. She had eight points and seven rebounds. Cameron Brink added eight points, four rebounds, one block and one steal. Stanford, which shot 36.7 percent, holds a slight edge over U-Conn.’s 36.4 percent.

Speaking to ESPN about the first-half shooting woes, Jones said: “It’s not nerves, we’re just not hitting.”

By: Glynn A. Hill

10:29 PM: Analysis from Sally Jenkins, Sports columnist

You hope every young player in America, male or female, is watching Stanford and U-Conn. for the definition of what it means to be “fundamentally sound.” It’s not just about knocking down shots — it’s about how you play when your shot’s not falling. How do you cope with a cold hand and unforgiving rim? Do you shoulder-curl? Or do you keep working for answers off the ball, in every cut, pass, crash and sprint, until your nose almost bleeds — or in the case of Lexie Hull, literally gushes? “We’re taking the right shots, we just gotta hit ‘em,” Haley Jones said, as the game went to halftime with U-Conn. holding the one-point lead, 27-26.

10:07 PM: First quarter features poor shooting, narrow U-Conn. lead

Despite the majesty of Friday’s second Final Four matchup — the wins, the titles and the stars between them — the first quarter between the Huskies and Cardinal offered mostly misses. After 10 minutes, Connecticut leads Stanford 12-9.

Both teams had 12 misses but U-Conn. had the better shooting percentage (35.3 to 26.7). They’ve combined to shoot 0 for 6 from behind the three-point line. Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd lead UConn with four points each. Cameron Brink and Haley Jones also have four apiece for the Cardinal.

By: Glynn A. Hill

9:54 PM: Analysis from Sally Jenkins, Sports columnist

It’s not often you catch U-Conn. shooting just 25 percent over a five-minute stretch. Stanford has shot 11 percent over the same five minutes.

9:52 PM: Connecticut leads early, with neither team shooting well

Despite the fast pace, Connecticut and reigning champion Stanford are playing through a low-scoring first quarter during which neither team has shot well. UConn leads 4-2 halfway through the first quarter.

The Huskies have made 2 of 8 shots with field goals by Paige Bueckers and Christyn Williams. Stanford star Cameron Brink has the team’s only points on 1 of 5 shooting. That bucket is Stanford’s only make despite 9 shots (11.1 percent).

By: Glynn A. Hill

9:22 PM: Aliyah Boston dominates, South Carolina moves on to championship game

South Carolina's Aliyah Boston. (Eric Gay/AP) © Eric Gay/AP South Carolina's Aliyah Boston. (Eric Gay/AP)

South Carolina will play for a second national title after dominating Louisville in a 72-59 win during the first of Friday’s Final Four matchups.

South Carolina allowed Louisville a brief second-quarter lead but took control before and after the halftime break, suffocating the Cardinals’ attack and receiving another otherworldly performance from star Aliyah Boston, who recorded her 28th consecutive double-double with 23 points and 18 rebounds.

The Gamecocks guards complimented Boston, finding open shots and draining three-pointers as Cardinals defenders consistently gravitated toward Boston, who nonetheless owned the paint despite regular double and triple teams.

Destanni Henderson (11 points) nailed a pair of three-pointers early in the second half to help South Carolina take control early in the third period. Zia Cooke, who struggled to make shots from deep in recent games, sank 2 of 5 from distance and scored 10 points. Brea Beal, whose indefatigable defense helped limit Louisville and star Hailey Van Lith, added 12 points.

South Carolina erased Van Lith, Louisville’s most reliable scorer in recent games, holding her to nine points. Forward Emily Engstler picked up the slack, guiding the Cardinals to their second-quarter lead and leading the team in scoring (18 points) despite fouling out halfway through the fourth quarter.

By: Glynn A. Hill

9:20 PM: What to watch for in Stanford-U-Conn.

Paige Bueckers played like the 2021 national player of the year in U-Conn's victory over N.C. State in double overtime. (Elsa/Getty Images) © Elsa/Getty Images Paige Bueckers played like the 2021 national player of the year in U-Conn's victory over N.C. State in double overtime. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Final Four in Minneapolis

No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 2 Connecticut

9:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN

Winner faces: The South Carolina-Louisville winner in the championship game Sunday

It isn’t easy to throw a pity party for Connecticut, which is appearing in the Final Four for a ridiculous 14th straight year, but Stanford presents a formidable obstacle. The Cardinal, the defending national champion, advanced with a 59-50 victory over Texas and is averaging 73.9 points per game — 19.3 more than U-Conn gives up per game. Cameron Brink leads Stanford (32-3) in both scoring and rebounding with 13.4 points and 8.1 boards, respectively.

U-Conn. advanced to the Final Four with a thrilling 91-87 victory over No. 1 North Carolina State in double overtime, but it came at a cost. Dorka Juhász, the 6-foot-4 forward, suffered a broken and dislocated wrist in the game, which means Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa will have to step up. What the Huskies do have, though, is Paige Bueckers, who is once again looking like national last year’s player of the year after missing much of the season with a knee injury. She caught fire in the second half and overtime, finishing with 27 points (15 in the OTs) and seemingly willed the Huskies to win. Not that she needs one, but there will be something of a home court advantage for Bueckers, who is from Minnetonka, Minn.

By: Cindy Boren

9:10 PM: Analysis from Sally Jenkins, Sports columnist

Did you ever feel South Carolina was threatened in this game? You didn’t, did you? That’s because the Gamecocks never really felt a threat from Louisville either — not any more than a boa constrictor feels threatened in mid-smother and swallow. They held the Cardinals to a dozen points under their average and just five assists, and the minute there was a struggle they just squeezed all the breath out of them. And this was the 30th time South Carolina held an opponent to under 60 points this year in 36 outings.

8:48 PM: Analysis from Sally Jenkins, Sports columnist

Louisville has counted heavily — heavily — on points off turnovers all year. Almost 22 points a game worth. South Carolina is in the driver’s seat with about five minutes to go, and with some care of the basketball and their usual emphasis on rebounding, they ought to be able to let the air out of this one.

8:42 PM: Louisville enters final frame trying to close nine-point gap

South Carolina leads Louisville, 57-48, after three quarters.

Louisville, which trailed by as many as 15 points in the quarter, cut the lead to six on a Mykasa Robinson jumper with 27 seconds on the clock. Kianna Smith, who scored close to half of her 14 points in the quarter, helped the Cardinals draw close.

But with four seconds left, Aliyah Boston scored a layup and drew a foul. Boston completed the three-point play and Emily Engstler, who committed the foul, enters the final quarter with four.

By: Glynn A. Hill

8:24 PM: Destanni Henderson finding stroke from deep, Gamecocks back in control

South Carolina’s guards have come alive, with Destanni Henderson drilling two of three three-pointers in the quarter to give the Gamecocks a 51-38 lead at 4:34 in the third quarter.

Perhaps the most notable development of the second half is Emily Engstler’s foul trouble. She picked up her third of the game nearly three minutes into the quarter. Engstler’s contributions were critical in the first half, helping the Cardinals take a second-quarter lead and keep pace with a South Carolina team that dominated the first quarter.

By: Glynn A. Hill

8:14 PM: Analysis from Sally Jenkins, Sports columnist

The column that jumps out from the halftime box score: free throws. The two teams combined to shoot just five in the entire first half. Gamecocks are 2 of 3, and the Cardinals are 0 for 3. This will make the Gamecocks hard to hold. They finished the regular season ranked sixth in the nation in free throw attempts, with 688 (making 465).

8:11 PM: Halftime: South Carolina 34, Louisville 28

Louisville's Emily Engstler and South Carolina's Aliyah Boston go after a loose ball during the Women's Final Four in Minneapolis. (Charlie Neibergall/AP) © Charlie Neibergall/AP Louisville's Emily Engstler and South Carolina's Aliyah Boston go after a loose ball during the Women's Final Four in Minneapolis. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Emily Engstler fueled Louisville’s second-quarter comeback, compiling an impressive first-half stat line as the Cardinals battled South Carolina to a six-point halftime deficit.

Engstler had 10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block. Louisville’s star scorer Hailey Van Lith didn’t net a bucket until the final 1:43 in the half.

South Carolina, which controlled the first frame, responded to Louisville’s 12-0 scoring streak with its own 11-2 run to recapture the lead it briefly surrendered during the second quarter.

Louisville tried to stifle Naismith Player of the Year Aliyah Boston under the rim with consistent double and triple teams. She’s still en route to her 28th straight double-double with 8 points and eight rebounds. She’s also been able to record four assists.

South Carolina has also seen solid contributions from its bench and starting guard Brea Beal, whose defense (two blocks, one steal) caused Louisville problems in the first quarter, and has helped limit the Cardinals’ attack.

By: Glynn A. Hill

7:49 PM: Cardinals’ run forces Gamecocks’ response

A 12-0 Cardinals run gave Louisville its first lead of the game. They’re tied 24-24 with South Carolina halfway through the second quarter.

Helping lift Louisville is its defense and transition attack. It’s also offered a far more aggressive effort on the boards, snatching rebounds to end Gamecocks’ possessions and earn second-chance points. In the absence of Hailey Van Lith’s production, Emily Engstler (game-high 10 points) has powered the Cardinals on both ends of the floor.

South Carolina, which does have strong frontcourt depth, has started to collect fouls. Starting forward Victaria Saxton has two.

By: Glynn A. Hill

7:39 PM: Analysis from Sally Jenkins, Sports columnist

Here is the problem for Louisville. The task is not just to stop South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Destanni Henderson once. They’re going to have to stop them TWICE.

In the Sweet 16, South Carolina scored 26 of its 69 points on second-chance opportunities. Holding the Gamecocks to one-and-outs for a full 40 minutes is a very big ask of any defense. Of course, one answer to that is to force turnovers and deny them even the first shot.

7:37 PM: Louisville chips into early deficit, trails 17-10 after first quarter

Louisville, still struggling to decode South Carolina’s stifling defense, has found momentum — and points — overcoming an early deficit to challenge a Gamecocks team that had its way in the early minutes of the game. Louisville did so penetrating the paint, which South Carolina typically controls through star Aliyah Boston.

Louisville’s star, Hailey Van Lith, entered the Final Four matchup as the first player in program history to score at least 20 points in four consecutive games. But she’s been unable to get going through 10 minutes, missing both shots and surrendering three turnovers.

By: Glynn A. Hill

7:24 PM: South Carolina jumps out to early 11-2 lead

South Carolina took charge early on, maneuvering through Louisville’s press to jump out to a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes. Louisville hasn’t found great looks and players haven’t gotten their shots to go, making 1 of 6 from the field.

South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, the Associated Press player of the year, has cleaned the boards as she’s done all year. She has four rebounds — two on each end of the floor — as South Carolina has outrebounded the Cardinals 9-1.

By: Glynn A. Hill

7:05 PM: Analysis from Sally Jenkins, Sports columnist

Dawn Staley won 10 gold medals of various sorts for USA Basketball as a player, and in her final Olympic appearance in 2004, she was the right hand of national team coach Van Chancellor, who accurately predicted back then that she would make a great head coach in her own right. Among Staley’s chores was to help Chancellor roust players on to the practice floor from the locker room, where Chancellor complained they spent too much time “trying to look pretty, and that’s just a coldhearted fact.” When the United States won the gold medal, the players tossed their acknowledged leader Staley into the air. “They seem to think I’m some kind of lightweight,” she said. Even then, Staley was lobbying for more resources for her sport. “It’s a point we’re trying to prove,” she said. “If we can beat the very best in the Olympics, why can’t our rich country embrace it in the form of a profession?”

6:50 PM: What to watch for in South Carolina-Louisville

South Carolina's Aliyah Boston, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, is also the Naismith Player of the Year. (Elsa/Getty Images) © Elsa/Getty Images South Carolina's Aliyah Boston, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, is also the Naismith Player of the Year. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Final Four in Minneapolis

No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 1 Louisville

7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN

Winner faces: The Stanford-Connecticut winner in the championship game Sunday

Led by Aliyah Boston, winner of the Naismith Player of the Year award and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, South Carolina advanced to the semifinal with a lopsided 80-50 victory over Creighton, with Boston scoring a team-best 19 points. South Carolina (33-2) is in the Final Four for the second straight year after losing, 66-65, to Stanford in 2021. South Carolina has been winning with defense, a good thing to have this time of year. The Gamecocks lead the country in opponents’ field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage and points per play. They’re the country’s best defensive rebounding team, too.

Louisville (29-4) beat Michigan, 62-50, behind Hailey Van Lith’s 22 points to advance to the semifinal. She has been carrying the team, becoming the first Louisville player with four consecutive 20-point games in the NCAA tournament. Louisville, however, needs Emily Engstler to regain her scoring touch if it is to advance to the final. The Cardinals have score 70 or more points only twice in the tournament.

By: Cindy Boren

6:40 PM: Women’s basketball players have quickly figured out how to earn NIL money

Stanford's Haley Jones has NIL deals with Bose and Black-owned Uncle Funky’s Daughter hair-care line. (Young Kwak/AP) © Young Kwak/AP Stanford's Haley Jones has NIL deals with Bose and Black-owned Uncle Funky’s Daughter hair-care line. (Young Kwak/AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Paige Bueckers posted a video of herself dancing to Lil Yachty’s “Coffin” on TikTok that has garnered 2.6 million views. The star Connecticut guard has nearly 1 million followers on Instagram and recently gifted each of her teammates with new sneakers through a partnership with StockX.

South Carolina all-American Aliyah Boston has a deal with Bose, and the Most Outstanding Player of last season’s NCAA tournament, Stanford’s Haley Jones, is on the Beats by Dre roster.

As the Final Four descends on Minneapolis with some of the biggest names in the game competing for the national title, women’s basketball continues to be the surprise winner in the first year of college athletes being allowed to cash in on their name, image and likeness. The sport ranks second to football in total compensation, according to a study by NIL company Opendorse, as marketers have found immense value in these women with massive reach through their social media endeavors.

I cannot tell you how many times we heard: ‘Women will get nothing. Women will be on the back burner,’ ” said Corey Staniscia, director of external affairs at Dreamfield, an NIL engagement platform. “Everything that the naysayers said, none of it has held true.”

Women’s basketball has been a marketer’s dream. Staniscia argued that NIL may be the largest emerging market in the United States, with hundreds of thousands of athletes as potential clients across the country.

Read the full story

By: Kareem Copeland

6:33 PM: Analysis from Sally Jenkins, Sports columnist

Your ESPN host Nikki Fargas played a little known but critical role in the 2008 Final Four as an assistant coach to Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, during a 47-46 victory over LSU in a grim defensive struggle settled at the buzzer. Tennessee, led by the great Candace Parker, trailed by a point with just 7.1 seconds left. Scouting the game at the press table was Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer, whose team had already made the final. VanDerveer said, “Watch, Tennessee’s going to pull another rabbit out of the hat.” And she was right.

In the huddle, Fargas grabbed Summitt by the wrist and said, “Have Candace bring the ball up the court.” Her thinking was the LSU defense would flood to Parker and open a shot for someone else. It was a nervy, counterintuitive call — if it didn’t work the entire world would hammer Summitt for taking the final shot out of player of the year Parker’s hands. But she went with it.

Parker indeed drew the defense — and she rifled a pass into the post, where Alexis Hornbuckle elevated for a putback as the horn went off. Game over. Tennessee went on win the title over Stanford.

6:30 PM: For South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, true equity is about more than swag bags

South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley has her team back in the Final Four. (Gerry Broome/AP) © Gerry Broome/AP South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley has her team back in the Final Four. (Gerry Broome/AP)

South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley sees the future of women’s basketball with the keen eyes of a Hall of Fame point guard.

Much as she did during her college, Olympic and pro playing career, Staley is able to size up the entire field and spot openings to exploit with the goal of putting her team — in this case, her sport — in the best possible position.

As the NCAA trumpets strides in gender equity during this women’s tournament, Staley acknowledges the modest gains of letting women use the trademarked “March Madness” brand and providing players with gift bags as pricey as what the men are given. But she said significant progress won’t occur until the NCAA changes how it sells women’s broadcast rights and distributes revenue.

“The signage is nice. The branding is nice. The swag bags — all of that — that’s nice,” Staley said this week. “But let’s get down to the meat and potatoes of being treated like a sport. If we really want to invest in women and invest in our championship, now is the time. Now is the time for change because we’re as hot as we have been in a long time.”

Read the full story

By: Liz Clarke

6:20 PM: At a milestone women’s Final Four, better isn’t good enough

Stanford's Tara VanDerveer watches her players during a practice before the women's Final Four. (Eric Gay/AP) © Eric Gay/AP Stanford's Tara VanDerveer watches her players during a practice before the women's Final Four. (Eric Gay/AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — As she told old stories, Tara VanDerveer glanced at three of her Stanford players. Sitting on the dais with their coach, they nodded and giggled and nodded again, acknowledging the seriousness of her message but amused by how times have changed.

To the young women, the tales must have sounded like a parent talking about walking five miles to school, uphill both ways, in the snow. VanDerveer was not exaggerating, however. Her coaching career began as an unpaid assistant at Ohio State. When Idaho offered her $13,000 to be a head coach in 1978, she thought she had made it. When Ohio State called two years later, she declared, “I’m not going unless they pay me $20,000.” A friend told VanDerveer there was no way the Buckeyes would make such a commitment. VanDerveer held firm and got her deal.

At this women’s Final Four of milestone anniversaries — 40 years since this event became a thing, 50 years since Title IX became a law — VanDerveer tapped into the sport’s evolution to frame the ongoing fight for gender equity.

“When I first went to Idaho, we didn’t have practice gear, and it was so different,” VanDerveer said. “It was just so different. When I played, I bought my own shoes. We laundered our own uniforms. Just getting all the little things — fighting for resources of being in the big gym, having a weight room, having a trainer. It’s night and day, and our team can’t relate to it at all. They would have no idea what it was really like.”

Read the full story

By: Jerry Brewer

6:10 PM: How the NCAA women’s Final Four was born

LEFT: Rutgers defeated Texas in the 1982 AIAW women's basketball championship. RIGHT: Forward Ann Pendergrass helped Louisiana Tech defeat Cheyney State, 76-62, in the first NCAA women's championship in Norfolk in 1982. © Bryant/AP LEFT: Rutgers defeated Texas in the 1982 AIAW women's basketball championship. RIGHT: Forward Ann Pendergrass helped Louisiana Tech defeat Cheyney State, 76-62, in the first NCAA women's championship in Norfolk in 1982.

It took more than the stroke of a pen to grant women’s basketball players the chance to compete on equal footing with men. Their struggle continues to this day, as video of glaring disparities in the treatment of male and female athletes during last year’s NCAA tournaments attests.

The NCAA didn’t stage its first women’s basketball championship until 1982 and, only then, after trying for nearly a decade to scuttle Title IX, the federal law signed by President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 barring discrimination based on sex at institutions receiving federal funds. (The NCAA has staged its men’s basketball tournament since 1939.)

After exhausting all legal avenues for invalidating Title IX, the NCAA changed tack and announced in 1981 it would stage national championships for women in a handful of Division I sports.

The move was a direct challenge to the female-led Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which governed women’s college sports at the time. And it forced schools to choose sides in a battle over the future of women’s sports.

Read the full story

By: Liz Clarke

6:01 PM: The women’s Final Four, packed with powerhouses, should be a basketball delight

Paige Bueckers helped lead Connecticut past N.C. State and into the Final Four. (Frank Franklin II/AP) Paige Bueckers helped lead Connecticut past N.C. State and into the Final Four. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

Lower seeds delivered heroic performances in this year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Double-digit seeds won nine games, with No. 10 South Dakota scaring Michigan in the Sweet 16 and No. 10 Creighton toppling Iowa and Iowa State to advance to the Elite Eight.

In the end, though, chalk prevailed, as we suspected. Three No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four, where they’ll be joined by No. 2 seed Connecticut, which needed double overtime to edge No. 1 North Carolina State in a thrilling regional final Monday night. That means, for the fourth time in the past five tournaments, the Final Four features exclusively No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.

Seeds aside, the powerhouse Final Four participants will arrive in Minneapolis as four of the five most efficient teams in women’s college basketball, per analytics site Her Hoop Stats. South Carolina is 44.5 net points per 100 possessions better than an average team, according to the site — the highest net rating in the nation — followed by Stanford (39.7, third), Connecticut (37.7, fourth) and Louisville (35.8, fifth). (N.C. State, which had the misfortune of meeting Connecticut in Bridgeport, Conn., ranks second.)

And so four of the most talented teams in the country will face off for the national championship, beginning with the semifinals Friday and concluding with the title game Sunday. Here’s a deeper look at what makes this quartet so special.

Read the full story

By: Neil Greenberg

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