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Top Moments (and Surprises) of the NCAA Women’s Tournament

Top Moments (and Surprises) of the NCAA Women’s Tournament

The top seeds are rolling, but so are some double-digit seeds in the first round of the women’s tournament.

While the first day of the NCAA women’s tournament was mostly chalk, the second day of the first round saw its fair share of upsets and comebacks. Much has gone as planned for the top seeds, but the biggest surprises have come from middle-of-the pack teams that have shaken up the bracket a bit.

Here’s a round-up of some of the top moments and story lines.

Top seeds roll—even with some limitations

So this wasn’t exactly a surprise. But it’s still worth noting: All eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds won by at least 20 points. There were a few moments when teams appeared rusty or needed time to hit their stride. But overall? These title contenders all looked ready to make the deep runs that are expected of them.

The biggest margin of victory went to No. 2 Iowa, who looked fully in control over No. 15 Southeastern Louisiana, winning 95–43. The Hawkeyes were led by Caitlin Clark—who else?—with 26 points and 12 assists. (Most of the latter were to her favorite target, Monika Czinano, who scored 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting.) The only team to score into the triple digits was No. 2 Utah, who breezed past No. 15 Gardner-Webb on the strength of Alissa Pili, who put up a season-high 33 points.

Two of the No. 1 seeds were playing without a starter. Stanford’s leading rebounder and shotblocker, Cameron Brink, was sidelined with a non-Covid illness. Even with the Cardinal’s enviable depth, Brink’s absence in the post was noticeable, particularly early on. (Coach Tara VanDerveer said she’s day-to-day.) Meanwhile, Indiana played without All-America forward Mackenzie Holmes, who is nursing a sore knee. Lilly Meister made her first career start in her stead and Alyssa Geary filled in off the bench. “I thought both of them did a tremendous job,” Hoosiers coach Teri Moren said. “They showed up today, and we're going to continue to need them. Mack is not going to be able to play 40 minutes. She hasn't been able to do that all year. The experience both of them got today was really good.”

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Double-digit seeds making noise

There have been a number of upsets in these first two days: No. 10 Princeton, No. 10 Georgia, No. 11 Mississippi State, No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast and No. 12 Toledo all advanced to the second round.

The most surprising of these was Toledo, who had to overcome No. 5 Iowa State and its dynamic scoring threat, Ashley Joens. The fifth-year senior’s 21.5 points per game were 10th in the nation this season. But her shooting was uncharacteristically off here—5-of-19 from the field—and Toledo took advantage to pull off the upset. The Rockets’ Quinesha Lockett led all scorers with 24.

Perhaps the least surprising was Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles’ three-point-heavy offense has made them a stathead darling and a popular upset pick. (They won last year as a No. 12 seed, too.) FGCU dominated the second half and maintained a comfortable lead over No. 5 Washington State.

And the most intense? Princeton, which made it past No. 7 NC State with this killer shot from Grace Stone:

Coming back big

No. 3 Ohio State was down 16 points. No. 9 Miami was down 17. And No. 7 Baylor was down 18. All three came back and won. It was the first time in tourney history with two comebacks this big on the same day—let alone three.

The Buckeyes shot 50% from the field in the second half to seal their comeback. They were anchored by Big Ten freshman of the year Cotie McMahon, who finished with 18 points and five rebounds, and senior Jacy Sheldon, making her first start in six weeks after battling a leg injury. Miami, meanwhile, battled No. 8 Oklahoma State down to the last second before escaping with the win. And Baylor relied on its three-point shooting to close the gap with No. 10 Alabama. The Bears were 14-of-28 from beyond the arc, led by Ja’Mee Asberry, who had seven threes as part of her 26 point effort.

No Olivia Miles, no problem

The day before the tournament, Notre Dame announced it would officially be without injured point guard Olivia Miles. That represented a huge loss for the Fighting Irish: Miles leads the team in rebounds, assists and steals. (She’s a few tenths of a point shy of being its leading scorer, too.) But No. 3 Notre Dame looked fantastic in an easy win over No. 14 Southern Utah. With four starters finishing in double figures, it was a look at how well this offense can run even without Miles, particularly Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld.

Don’t overlook Laeticia Amihere

Every member of No. 1 South Carolina’s starting five (deservedly) gets plenty of attention. But the best team in the country has a damn good bench, too. That’s highlighted by Laeticia Amihere—who tied for the lead among South Carolina scorers on Friday with 11 points.

“I've never coached anybody that comes with that much determination,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said of Amihere before the game. “I often just, you know, wondered what she would have been like as a starter, as a four-year starter, and I don't like that she hasn't started in her career. But she never gave us any issues with it. She all trusted that this was the best decision for her and the team.”

With her length, her versatility and her scoring ability, Amihere’s shown that she can affect the game just as much off the bench. Friday was a perfect display.


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