A little something from Howard: TAKEAWAYS FROM THE WOMEN’S TOURNEY
The first weekend of the women’s NCAA Tournament is in the books, and as you’d expect once 32 games are played, we’ve learned quite a lot about the shape of both the season so far and what to expect over the next two weeks, when a champion will be crowned. Here are the biggest takeaways from the paring down of 64 teams to the Sweet 16, which resumes this Friday night, beginning with Notre Dame vs. Ohio State at 7:06 p.m. ET (all games air on ESPN and ESPN2).
Parity is real
Notre Dame v. Ohio State
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When Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team opened the season ranked No. 1 in the nation — ahead of even mighty UConn — an appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16 seemed a certainty.
After what the Fighting Irish went through to get to Rupp Arena, taking the next step might be significantly more difficult.
When the Notre Dame women’s basketball team took personality tests earlier this season, Lindsay Allen wasn’t surprised by her results.
Her color was green, an appropriate choice — not just because of the lime shade she and her Irish teammates wear on their fingernails during the NCAA tournament.
“Greens” are eminently disciplined, precise, logical and analytical. They aren’t overly expressive or dramatic. “Low-key” is the most fitting description.
“That’s Lindsay!” teammate Kathryn Westbeld said. “She’s that calm, cool, collected person we all enjoy being around on and off the court.”
“No question. We’re deeper, we’re more experienced, and we’re just better,” McGuff said. “I think we’re in a much different place this year. I like where we are, and I like the opportunity that’s in front of us.”
South Carolina v. Quinnipiac
Bruce Saulnier has been teaching in the School of Business at Quinnipiac since 1972, long before it was known as a university as opposed to a college, long before many of its current structures were built.
And he has been following the women’s basketball team nearly as long, rarely missing a home game — a season ticket holder, he says, “ever since they moved up to Division I and started selling season tickets.” The Bobcats hadn’t kept him up past midnight, though, until Monday.
“Stayed up past my bedtime,” said Saulnier, 70, as he noshed on a soup and sandwich in the student center. “Watched the game the whole way and it was just amazing. We’ve come a long way.”
“It’s honestly addicting,” Quinnipiac guard Adily Martucci said of the wins. “There is something about this tournament. You just want more and more and more. And we’re going to try to get some more.”
South Carolina point guard Tyasha Harris said before the SEC tournament final in early March that she expected to have a few jitters, considering she was playing for a championship. But they never showed up.
“I live for big moments,” she said, smiling. “I thought I would get nervous, but nothing came. I was ready to go get that ring.”
Ah, the life of a freshman. Much of what you encounter in college basketball is new. But depending on your personality and how your coaches and teammates respond to you, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It can be exciting.
Louisville v Baylor
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Probably the most anticipated regional semifinal matchup will be No. 1 seed Baylor versus No. 4 Louisville in Oklahoma City. Those teams met in 2013 in the same round on the same Chesapeake Energy Arena court, when Baylor was the defending national champion with one loss, and Louisville a No. 5 seed with eight losses. But the Cardinals upset the Lady Bears 82-81 in an epic game, and went on to the NCAA final.
Both coaches might downplay that 2013 game — Baylor’s Kim Mulkey almost certainly will — and the key players from that matchup are all graduated. But the fact that it’s in the same building, with the Lady Bears again as a No. 1 seed … it’s natural to look back on what happened then
Washington v. Mississippi State
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer and guard Blair Schaefer established the separation between father-daughter and coach-player nearly a decade ago when Blair was in seventh grade.
The coach watched from the stands as his daughter turned the ball over multiple times during an AAU game. She was nearly in tears at halftime. He said at that moment Blair had a decision to make — did she want him to talk to her as a coach or a father? She said a coach.
“Then stop turning that dadgum thing over,” he said.
I am pretty sure you’ve never been to my hometown, but there’s a chance you’ve driven past it and not even known. It’s called Forest, Mississippi. Five different highways crisscross through Forest — the biggest one, Interstate 20, runs west toward Jackson and east toward the Alabama border. The other four are state highways. People are always either coming or going in Forest, but hardly anybody ever stays. The population there is less than 6,000.
I know about the highways because since before I was born my dad has been a truck driver, cruising all over the South in one of those big 18-wheel rigs. My dad was on the road a lot when I was a kid, and when he was gone I’d always try to envision him driving his truck on those highways. I bet you’re thinking I’m really country —being from a tiny town with a big rig in our driveway — but oh well.
To this day, I’m really grateful to my dad for making it a priority to come to my basketball games
When the Washington Huskies Women’s Basketball Team made the Final Four as a #7 seed during last year’s NCAA Tournament it was seen as an aberration to many outside the program.
“I think a lot of people wanted to think that was a fluke,” Washington head-coach Mike Neighbors said. “I heard that a lot during the offseason. That it was a fluke year, blah, blah, blah.”
Although Washington went on to win 108-82 to advance to the Sweet 16, star guard Kelsey Plum admitted defeat on the dance-off. “When they really started going at it,” Plum said, “the girl from Oklahoma did some crazy stuff.”
Osahor attributed that to the lineup on the court. “They were very fortunate that Aari [freshman guard Aarion McDonald] was in the game because if she wasn’t, it would have been over,” Osahor said.
She also appreciated the message the friendly competition sent.
UCLA v. UConn
“[UConn is] a great team; they obviously have our respect,” Close said after the Bruins, the No. 4 seed in the Bridgeport Regional, routed No. 5 Texas A&M, 75-43, Monday at Pauley Pavilion. “But my team has my respect and I need to lead them the same way that we’ve done it all year long.”
Up next for the Huskies is No. 4-seed UCLA, a team that was ranked 15th at the end of the season and that UConn hasn’t played since 2014. If UConn wins that game, it’ll have 110 straight wins, moving it clear of Penn State’s 109 consecutive wins in women’s volleyball in 2007-10 — acknowledged as one of the longest winning streaks in collegiate sports history.
Both streaks are over twice as long as the next-longest streak by any other entity in their sport.
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Maryland v. Oregon
The school did, in fact, get its usual NCAA allotment of 100 tickets. That’s been the allotment for schools in the women’s basketball tournament for years, although typically schools are given the opportunity to purchase more, which Maryland has usually done. (Their regional request has been about twice the 100-ticket allotment in recent years.)
Bridgeport, though, features a smaller venue — Webster Bank Arena seats just 7,881 fans. And with Connecticut’s women’s team in the midst of a historic win streak and certain to be playing regional games in Bridgeport, the arena sold out of inventory on March 9, four days before the brackets were even unveiled.
Maryland fans, of course, were not about to buy tickets at four different regional sites in early March, just in case.
“The Pac-12 and the season prepared us for this moment,” Graves said after Oregon handed the Blue Devils their first home loss of the season. “Duke is a great team, there’s no question about it. But so is Oregon State, who we had to play twice. So is Stanford, who we had to play three times. They’re both two seeds. Washington we played a couple times, and they were a three seed. UCLA was a four seed.
“I think that’s what made these guys better. They couldn’t take a night off.”
Oregon State v. Florida State
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For seniors Sydney Wiese and Gabby Hanson, their desire to face Florida State is finally going to be a reality.
“There are some schools that when you’re in college you want to play them and somehow you hope that you will,” Wiese said.
Semrau’s message throughout the tournament – really, since the end of the regular season – has been about the “now.”
“It’s so easy to spend way too much energy on the wrong things,” Semrau said. “We have to spend energy on focusing on our film today. We have to put energy in our practice today. We don’t have time or space for anything else.”
Stanford v. Texas
Janie McCauley/AP: Travel challenges just part of NCAA Tournament for Stanford
Nadia Fingall took her three-hour economics final Wednesday while stationed in the hotel dining room. Erica McCall and Briana Roberson were set up in different conference rooms for their psychology exams.
Brittany McPhee and Karlie Samuelson each had chemistry finals — biochemistry for McPhee, organic for Samuelson.
When the charter plane for Sweet 16-bound Stanford never arrived Monday night in Manhattan, Kansas, because of a parts issue, Tara VanDerveer and her staff decided the best course would be to head to the next game destination without a trip first to the Bay Area. The coach checked with a few players and the plan was a go: onward to Lexington, Kentucky.
The season-opening loss for Texas at Stanford in November seems so long ago that the five newcomers for the Longhorns no longer seem like freshmen.
Joyner Holmes, a guard, is one of those top recruits who had more fouls (four) than points (three) in the 71-59 loss to the Cardinal in Palo Alto, Calif. She enters the rematch with the Cardinal on Friday night in the Sweet 16 averaging 12 points and 8.2 rebounds.
The last game of a season, no matter when it occurs, invariably leads to a question about the next season.
Monday night was no exception. Moments after Tennessee’s 75-64 loss to Louisville in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, UT coach Holly Warlick was asked: “What is the message for the offseason with the No. 1 recruiting class coming in?”
Said Warlick: “These kids know what they’re getting into. It’s Tennessee. You’ve got to be on your A game every game.”
That also could apply to the season that had just ended, short of the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009.
At times, her teams were unbeatable. At their worst, they were still a threat to reach the NCAA Tournament and advance. But if you learned nothing from Nancy Fahey’s 31 years coaching Division III basketball, know this: She, and her teams, never ducked a challenge.
Now, Fahey will be taking on another challenge: Division I basketball.
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