The right side of the NCAA women’s tournament pool are the haves and have nots after the first day of Sweet 16 action.
No. 1 UConn and No. 2 Baylor have 14 championships between them in the River Walk Regional Finals (Monday, 7 pm ET, ESPN).
No. 3 Arizona and No. 4 Indiana, who got the biggest upset of the tournament, will meet in the Mercado final (Monday, 9 pm ET on ESPN). Each of them are playing their first Elite Eight in the show’s history, guaranteeing a Final Four contender for the first time. The Hoosiers won the 2018 WNIT championship and Arizona won the 2019 WNIT title.
Big Ten performs on the national stage
From the first tip of the day to the biggest surprise of the tournament so far, the Big Ten teams put on a dazzling show on Sunday. Although only No. 4 Indiana made its way to Elite Eight, the other two teams gave fans some of the best games from both tournaments.
The No. 5 Iowa stayed about 10 points behind UConn in the first game of the day, which says something about how the Huskies can turn a game into a blowout. He had the nation’s attention with Paige Bueckers’ freshmen showdown against Caitlin Clark and a tipping time nearly two hours before the men started their day.
It was a game that brought together basketball players and fans from all areas of the sport. UConn ultimately won, 92-72, to reach his 15th consecutive Elite Eight and a meeting with No. 2 seed Baylor.
Those who stayed enjoyed one of the best games of the tournament. No. 6 Michigan led No. 2 Baylor into overtime and was one possession away from upsetting the reigning national champions. It was her first trip to the Sweet 16
“I actually thought we had them there for a while,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the 78-75 loss. “We persevered very much this season and had the opportunity to beat the national champions tonight.”
But it was No. 4 Indiana that got the conference W in a surprise from No. 1 NC State. The Hoosiers are in their first Elite Eight with a double-digit effort from the five starters.
From WNIT Champions to Elite Eight
Arizona is not wasting its opportunity. The Wildcats are back in the tournament for the first time since 2005, although they would have easily ended that streak last season if the tournament had been played.
They are now in their first Elite Eight in the show’s history with a 74-59 win against No. 2 Texas A&M. It was the standard trio of seniors Aari McDonald and Sam Thomas and junior Cate Reese that paved the way for head coach Adia Barnes. Barnes was on the last Arizona team to reach the Sweet 16 and returned home to slowly build the show to fame.
McDonald, a likely first-round pick in the WNBA draft next month, scored a season-high 31 points and said in the postgame interview that he was doing anything to avoid going home. She is the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year and it showed.
The team hit 13 3-pointers and forced Texas A&M to 19 turnovers. The Aggies survived tight games in the first two rounds and could have caught up with a defense that could continually clamp down.
UConn is more of a No. 1 recruit
It’s understandable and fair that the Sweet 16 showdown between No. 1 UConn and No. 5 Iowa was billed as a showdown between the top two recruits in the 2020 class. UConn’s Paige Bueckers has been phenomenal on the biggest stage this year. season and Caitlin Clark is a scoring machine for the Hawkeyes. Seeing their first meeting in a high-risk situation was special.
Obviously someone else was going to have to step up for the winning team. And that person was Huskies guard Christyn Williams, the number one pick in the class of 2018. She has had a tough time at UConn and last season Geno Auriemma called her “unbeatable.” When the coaching staff gave him adjustments or instructions, he would do it a few times and then go back to his style. The Huskies weren’t terrible last season, but they weren’t winning against other ranked programs, either.
That fed her, she said Saturday.
“I really did my best to listen to every little thing that he was saying and do it,” Williams said. “Because the coach has been a coach for years and he knows what he’s talking about. Look where I am now.”
Williams scored 27 points and was instrumental in the second quarter with 12 points and a tight defense over Clark, who received kind words from Auriemma after the game.
“Today she looked like the Christyn Williams we saw when we were recruiting her, a girl who can shoot from anywhere,” Auriemma said. “She was protecting one of the toughest players to defend in America. I thought this is the best game Christyn Williams has probably played in her career. There’s no question about that.”
It wasn’t just Williams. Freshman Aaliyah Edwards, the 23rd overall recruit and No. 3 at her position, burst onto national radars in the first quarter. The 6-foot-3 center scored an early six points, an unsurprising start for many, but not for the larger audience watching on NBC. UConn is on track to clinch a national title next week and for the next three years with this group.
Sunday Sweet 16 schedule
All times are ET.
1 pm: No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 5 Georgia Tech, ABC (Hemisfair)
3 pm: No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 5 State of Missouri, ABC (Alamo)
7 pm: No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 6 Oregon, ESPN (Alamo)
9 pm: No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 6 Texas, ESPN (Hemisfair)
What to expect at Sweet 16
DISCOMFORT ALERT: No. 6 Oregon has the best chance of a surprise on Sunday’s board. Oregon entered the tournament on a losing streak, but turned it around with strong performances against South Dakota and Georgia. Sedona Prince (6-7), who has 34 points from two games, and Nyara Sabally (6-5) are a problem for opponents on the downside.
It’s the defense that paved the way for the Ducks, which will be a problem for No. 2 Louisville. The Cardinals have had the opposite tournament to Oregon: They came hot, but they had problems. All eyes will be on Dana Evans, the Louisville senior who has brought this program to a degree close to ACC, but is falling lately. If the Cardinals can’t advance to the perimeter, it could be a long night.
POINTS AND DRAFTS: How many points can Maryland score in Texas? The Terrapins have not struggled in the tournament thus far and won with 98 and 100 point starts. They have had contributions from all sides and two bench players led the team in scoring in the second round.
Texas will be a more challenging contest and has found ways to win without major tournament contributions from Charlie Collier, a 6-foot-5 center who will likely be the top pick in the WNBA draft next month. She only had five points on three second-round shooting attempts against UCLA.
Celeste Taylor (24 points), Kyra Lambert (17), Joanne Allen-Taylor (16) played a full 40 minutes and led the Longhorns to a 35-14 lead at halftime and a 71-62 victory. Can they keep up with the Maryland machine and find a way to turn them off like they have with Baylor?
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