Sweet 16 recap: Recent WNIT champs No. 3 Arizona, No. 4 Indiana guarantee first-time Final Four team

Cassandra Negley
·Writer
·7 min read

The right side of the NCAA women's tournament bracket is the haves and the 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 final (Monday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

No. 3 Arizona and No. 4 Indiana, which earned the largest upset of the tournament, will square off in the Mercado final (Monday, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN). They are each playing in their first Elite Eight in program history, guaranteeing a first-time Final Four contender. The Hoosiers won the 2018 WNIT championship and Arizona won the 2019 WNIT title.

Big Ten shows out on national stage

From first tip of the day to the largest upset of the tournament so far, the Big Ten teams put on a heart-stopping show on Sunday. Though only No. 4 Indiana broke through to the Elite Eight, the two other teams gave fans some of the best games of either tournament.

No. 5 Iowa kept within about 10 points of UConn in the first game of the day, which is saying something with the way the Huskies can turn a game into a blowout. It had the nation's attention with the freshmen showdown of Paige Bueckers vs. Caitlin Clark and a tip time nearly two hours before the men started their day.

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It was a game that brought together basketball players and fans alike from all areas of the sport. UConn won in the end, 92-72, to reach its 15th consecutive Elite Eight and a meeting with No. 2 seed Baylor.

Those who stuck around were treated to one of the best games of the tournament. No. 6 Michigan took No. 2 Baylor to overtime and was a possession away from upsetting the reigning national champions. It was their first trip to the Sweet 16

“I actually thought we had them for a period of time there,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the 78-75 loss. “We persevered through a tremendous amount this season and had an opportunity to beat the national champions tonight.”

But it was No. 4 Indiana that got the W for the conference in an upset of No. 1 seed NC State. The Hoosiers are in their first Elite Eight with a double-digit effort from all five starters.

From WNIT champs to Elite Eight

Arizona is not wasting its shot. The Wildcats are back in the tournament for the first time since 2005, though they would have easily ended that skid last season if the tournament were played.

They're now in their first Elite Eight in program 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 led 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 program to prominence.

McDonald, a likely first-round WNBA draft pick next month, scored a season-high 31 points and said in the post-game interview she was doing anything to prevent going home. She's the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year and it showed.

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The team hit 13 3-pointers and forced Texas A&M into 19 turnovers. The Aggies survived tight games in the first two rounds and it might have caught up with them against a defense that could continuously clamp down.

UConn is more than one No. 1 recruit

Christyn Williams.
Christyn Williams, a No. 1 recruit in the 2018 class, led the Huskies in the Sweet 16. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

It's understandable and fair that the Sweet 16 matchup 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 largest stage this season and Caitlin Clark is a scoring machine for the Hawkeyes. To watch their first meeting in a high stakes 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 No. 1 recruit in the 2018 class. She's had a rocky time at UConn and last season Geno Auriemma called her "uncoachable." When the coaching staff gave her adjustments or instruction, she would do it a few times then revert back to her way. The Huskies weren't terrible last season, but they also weren't winning against fellow ranked programs.

That fueled her, she said Saturday.

"I really just try my best to listen to every little thing that he was saying and to do it," Williams said. "Because Coach has coached for years and he knows what he's talking about. Look where I am now."

Williams scored 27 points and was pivotal in the second quarter with 12 points and lockdown defense on Clark, who received kind words from Auriemma after the game.

"Today she looked like the Christyn Williams that we saw when we were recruiting her, a kid that can make shots from everywhere," Auriemma said. "She was guarding one of the toughest players in America to guard. I thought this is the best game that Christyn Williams has probably played in her career. No question about that."

It wasn't only Williams. Freshman Aaliyah Edwards, the No. 23 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 for a national title next week and in the three years to come with this group.

Sunday's Sweet 16 schedule

All times are ET.

1 p.m.: No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 5 Georgia Tech, ABC (Hemisfair)

3 p.m.: No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 5 Missouri State, ABC (Alamo)

7 p.m.: No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 6 Oregon, ESPN (Alamo)

9 p.m.: No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 6 Texas, ESPN (Hemisfair)

What to watch for in Sweet 16

UPSET ALERT: No. 6 Oregon has the best chance at an upset in Sunday's slate. Oregon came into the tournament on a losing skid, but turned it around with strong performances against South Dakota and Georgia. Sedona Prince (6-7), who has 34 points over two games, and Nyara Sabally (6-5) are a problem for opponents down low.

It's the defense that's led the way for the Ducks, which will be a problem for No. 2 Louisville. The Cardinals have had the opposite tournament of Oregon: they came in hot, but have struggled. All eyes will be on Dana Evans, the Louisville senior who has keyed this program to a near ACC title but is slumping as of late. If the Cardinals can't get going on the perimeter it could be a long night.

POINTS AND DRAFTEES: How many points can Maryland score on Texas? The Terrapins have had no issue in the tournament so far and won with outings of 98 and 100 points. They've had contributions from all over 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 No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft next month. She had only five points on three shot attempts in the second round against UCLA.

Celeste Taylor (24 points), Kyra Lambert (17), Joanne Allen-Taylor (16) all played a full 40 minutes and led the Longhorns to a 35-14 halftime lead and 71-62 win. Can they keep up with the Maryland machine and find a way to shut them down like they've done to Baylor?

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