Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a team game. It was individual performances, however, that stole the show on the first day of the second round in the NCAA women’s tournament.
There was a whole lot of chalk in the air Sunday, and most of the favorites won handily, too. Not that routs or expected wins aren’t exciting – OK, they usually aren’t. But when that’s the case, it allows impressive individual efforts to really stand out.
With South Florida hanging around for entirely too long, Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke took over the game in the third quarter and put defending champion South Carolina firmly in control. Caitlin Clark scored or assisted on all but two of Iowa’s 33 points in the second half. Elizabeth Kitley already had a double-double – the 55th of her career, tied for most in Virginia Tech history, for those keeping track – one possession into the third quarter. Alissa Pili stole Princeton’s soul.
The games will get tighter from here on out, so appreciate the spectacular singular efforts while you can.
Here’s a look at the winners and losers from Day 3 of the NCAA women’s tournament:
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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.
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 puttback 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.
The women’s game has grown enough that the NCAA needs to consider neutral courts for all three weekends of the tournament.