NCAA women's tournament winners, losers: Post players shine, Virginia Tech makes history
The Madness has come to the women’s tournament.
It’s not a 16 seed upsetting a No. 1, or a little-known school knocking off a powerhouse. It’s close, however, and it speaks volumes about the growing depth of the women’s game.
For just the fifth time since 1994, and first time since 2009, a No. 1 seed was knocked out before the Sweet 16. Eighth-seeded Ole Miss also sent top-seeded Stanford to its earliest exit from the tournament since 2007.
“Just an incredible amount of gratitude,” Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said after her team’s 54-49 win. “We’ve been waiting for a big one. … For our team to do this, I’m just full of gratitude.”
There was debate whether Stanford should have been a No. 1 seed after dropping its regular-season finale and then losing in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament. Ole Miss also was probably underseeded, having taken South Carolina to OT during the regular season.
Still, to see the Rebels beat Stanford – on the Cardinal’s home court, no less – shows how deep the women’s game has become. The days of the early rounds being gimmes for the top seeds are over.
Even Stanford fans have to admit that’s a good thing.
Here’s a look at the winners and losers from Day 3 of the NCAA women’s tournament:
SUNDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS: All the action from the women's and men's tournaments
WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT: Scores and schedules of all the games
It was a big day for the bigs.
There might as well have been a “This space belongs to” label on the paint for as monstrous as the performances by LSU’s Angel Reese, Utah’s Alissa Pili and Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley were. Stanford's loss would have been far more lopsided if not for Cameron Brink's spectacular effort.
Brink had 13 rebounds and seven blocks -- three on just one play! -- and she almost single-handedly got Stanford back into a game it trailed by 13 midway through the third quarter. But Brink didn't get enough help offensively or, quite frankly, from Stanford's coaching staff.
LSU had a 32-20 advantage in the paint over Michigan, and it was largely because of Reese. She had a whopping 24 rebounds, 14 of which were on the offensive glass, and six blocked shots. She scored a team-high 25 points, too in the Tigers' 66-42 romp.
Of Pili’s 10 rebounds, none were bigger than the ones she had on Princeton’s next two possessions after paring what had been a 13-point Utah lead to two. With Pili prowling in the paint, the Tigers couldn’t get good looks to tie or take the lead, allowing the Utes to hold of for a 63-56 win.
Kitley had a double-double – the 55th of her career, matching Virginia Tech’s all-time record. Though South Dakota State had an 8-point advantage in the paint, 38-26, it had only eight second-chance points. Of Kitley’s 14 boards, nine were on the defensive glass, helping the Hokies surge to a 72-60 win.
Despite playing at home for the first two rounds, many thought Notre Dame would be ripe for an upset given the loss of point guard Olivia Miles. Senior center Lauren Ebo had other ideas.
Ebo turned in a spectacular performance in the Irish’s 53-48 win over 11th-seeded Mississippi State, finishing with 10 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks in 31 minutes. Five of her 18 rebounds were offensive, none bigger than her board and putback with 4:38 to go that gave Notre Dame the lead again. And her free throw with 35 seconds to play gave the Irish a 49-45 lead and made it a two possession game.
Welcome back to the Sweet 16, Hokies. It’s been a while.
Virginia Tech reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for just the second time in program history, and first since 1999, with its victory over South Dakota State.
“To be able to get this group, this program to this level is very, very special,” Hokies coach Kenny Brooks said. “It’s very gratifying to be able to get to this point.”
It’s already been a historic season for the Hokies. The win over South Dakota State was Virginia Tech’s 29th this year, most in team history. The Hokies won their first ACC tournament title – in their first appearance in the game, no less – and were rewarded with a No. 1 seed, their best ever in the NCAA tournament.
“It means a lot to be a part of it because Hokie Nation is very special,” Brooks said. “Wonderful people have come through here in all different sports and to be able to contribute to it means a lot.
“We have so many wonderful programs,” he added. “When we can come out and do our part, it’s very gratifying.”
Dawn Staley never misses an opportunity to educate.
The South Carolina coach wore a Cheyney State jersey Sunday, a sartorial shoutout to the only HBCU team to make a Division I Final Four. Despite being Division II at the time, Cheyney State played in the inaugural NCAA women’s tournament in 1982 and made it all the way to the championship game before losing to Louisiana Tech.
That team was coached by Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer, who Staley has often praised for both her impact on the game and for opening the door for other Black coaches.
“Cheyney State was the only HBCU to make it to a Final Four and for them to be led by Coach Stringer, who opened doors that now I walk through, it was truly an honor to wear this jersey and to represent them,” Staley said after the game.
The No. 44 jersey belonged to Yolanda Laney – “not this jersey,” Staley clarified – who is also from Philadelphia. In fact, one of the basketball league’s Staley played in growing up was started by Laney.
A friend sent Staley the jersey, she said.
“I like the jersey, I like what it stands for, I like that it's Coach Stringer,” Staley said.
Cheyney State has additional meaning for Staley because it’s where John Chaney began his college coaching career. Chaney was Temple’s men’s coach when Staley was hired by the Owls and he served as a mentor.
Georgia ball handling
If you come at the queen, you best not throw away the ball.
Georgia gave Caitlin Clark and Iowa all it could handle on the Hawkeyes’ home floor, and had Iowa teetering on the brink with 2:17 to play after UGA hit a 3 to get within two, 68-66. Iowa missed its next shot and UGA had a chance to tie or take the lead — but then the Bulldogs turned it over on back-to-back-to-back possessions.
Four turnovers in the final 3:38, including those three in a row, directly correlated to UGA’s scoring drought the last 2:17 of the game and ultimately, Iowa’s 74-66 win. The second turnover in that string was the worst, as Clark turned it into two points for the Hawkeyes. Georgia finished with 18 turnovers, which Iowa turned into 17 points.
It's understandable why the NCAA continues playing the first two rounds at campus sites. The crowd at Cassell Coliseum was so raucous, Virginia Tech players said they could feel the building shake. The decibel level at Carver-Hawkeye Arena had to have registered on a seismograph machine. The arenas at LSU and South Carolina were packed.
But is it fair in the NCAA tournament, when it's lose and your season is over?
You can make the argument that Georgia would have beat Iowa if that game was played on a neutral court. Princeton might have had a better shot late against Utah if playing anywhere else. And there's no way Stanford would have been within 10 points of Ole Miss had the game not been on the Cardinal's home floor.
The women's game has grown enough that the NCAA needs to consider neutral courts for all three weekends of the tournament.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dawn Staley, Virginia Tech among NCAA women's tournament Day 3 winners