The Sweet 16 is set, and while many of the same names remain, there are some new faces in the bunch. Most of the fat has been trimmed, and we’re down to only the premier of the sport left. Let’s discuss what we learned through the women’s tournament’s first weekend:
The cream rises to the top
This has been a wild year, with teams at the top losing in upsets we hadn’t seen much of from this sport lately. There have been a few upsets that have shaken up the Sweet 16, like Missouri State getting out of the first weekend as a No. 11 seed, South Dakota State upending Syracuse and UCLA taking out Maryland, but all the serious favorites for a national championship are still alive.
Some of the higher seeds have struggled to reach this point, but others haven’t. Baylor, Notre Dame, Louisville, Mississippi State and Oregon rolled through their respective two games, and Connecticut and Stanford advanced with relative comfort, too. It seems we’re on a crash course for the titans to duke it out for the 2019 crown.
But some cream struggles
There were scares, though. Iowa needed late-game heroic to outlast No. 15 seed Mercer in the first round, 66-61, then was in a fight with Missouri in the second round for much of the game before pulling away late. No. 13 seed Florida Gulf Coast gave Miami (FL) a real scare in the first round but ultimately didn’t have enough in the tank to complete the upset. Oregon State needed overtime to escape No. 13 seed Boise State in its opening tournament matchup. There were other near-upsets that never were, and while only winning matters in the end, healthy competition is always a good sign.
Missouri State is your Cinderella
With 20 points each from guards Danielle Gitzen and Alexa Willard and 15 more via guard Elle Ruffridge off the bench in a career-high performance, the Bears upset No. 6 seed DePaul in the first round, 89-78. For as dominant as the guard play was, Missouri State’s job on the glass meant just as much, outrebounding the Blue Demons 42-31.
The win came after Missouri State upset Drake in the Missouri Valley Tournament Championship for the auto bid, and the Bears carried that same momentum into the second round, playing a road game at No. 3 seed Iowa State for a Sweet 16 birth. Willard went for another 17 and hit some big shots, and Missouri State weathered Bridget Carleton’s 31 points to win 69-60 and advance to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2001 and fourth trip all-time.
Stanford is next up for Missouri State, and the Cardinal will certainly be the toughest test yet. But these guards are playing like they have a Final Four on their mind, and this team has tons of momentum in its favor. It’ll be a tall mountain to climb, but it’s March. Who knows?
Bad season to be a No. 3 seed
We entered the second round with all four No. 3 seeds alive. We finished the weekend with only one standing.
Only North Carolina State held off its opponents, handling Maine, 63-51, before dispatching Kentucky, 72-57, for the program’s second-straight Sweet 16. Maryland, Syracuse and Iowa State didn’t have the same fortune, all falling in the second round in their respect upsets.
For the Terps, it was UCLA that did them in. Maryland couldn’t stop forward Michaela Onyenwere, who dropped 30, or guard Kennedy Burke, who had a double-double on 19 points and 11 rebounds, in its 85-80 loss. The Terps entered the game ranked 23rd in the country in three-point percentage, but the Bruins held them to 1-of-13 from deep (8 percent), well below their 36.7 percent season average. UCLA’s defense clamped down in the final period when it needed it most, forcing Maryland into tough shots and holding the home team to only nine points in the fourth quarter after giving up 71 in the first three periods combined.
Syracuse lost the battle on the glass to South Dakota State, 40-32, in its second-round loss to the Jackrabbits, and didn’t come close to its season average of 77.2 points per game. South Dakota State overtook the Orange in the second half and didn’t look back, riding a 20-point performance from guard Madison Guebert and guard Macy Miller’s 11-point, 10-board double-double into the program’s first-ever Sweet 16.
Last season was equally as bad to be a No. 3 seed, with three of the four being eliminated in the second round, too. UCLA was the only one to survive to the Sweet 16 and made it to the Elite Eight before falling one-win short of the Final Four. NC State will aim to meet and exceed what the last season’s lone survivor accomplished.