The final round of Sweet 16 games was humming along as expected and then Ohio State goes and throws everything into chaos. Chaos, I tell you! Even if UConn had looked decidedly un-UConn-like during the regular season, dropping consecutive games for the first time since 1993, the 11-time national champions had seemed to be rounding into form recently.
Then they ran into the buzzsaw that is the Ohio State defense.
The Buckeyes harassed UConn into 25 turnovers (more on this in a bit) and generally made life miserable for the Huskies, who will miss the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005. UConn’s NCAA record of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances is also toast.
“The problem with streaks is the longer they go, you’re closer to it ending than you are to the beginning of it,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s not like when will it happen? It’s just a matter of time.”
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Here’s a look at the other winners and losers from Saturday’s games:
It’s going to be months before Notre Dame can think of Diamond Miller and not shudder.
Maryland didn’t need a last-second 3 from Miller to beat the Irish this time because the senior did enough damage in a 2-minute spurt in the third quarter. With the score tied, Miller had the assist on Lavender Briggs’ 3-pointer, converted a three-point play, made a free throw and had the block that set up Shyanne Sellers’ layup.
Just like that, the Terps had a nine-point lead and Notre Dame never threatened again.
Miller finished with 18 points, 14 of them in the second half, five rebounds, four steals, two blocks and two assists.
“I think we were just more aggressive. The first half they slowed us down. They did a great job by doing that,” Miller said. “The fact they were able to slow us down really affected my game and maybe Shy’s, as well. But in the second half, when we started running and just sprinting the floor, I think that really helped us and got us going into a pace that we like.”
This was the second time this season Miller crushed Notre Dame’s hopes. When the teams met in December, Miller made a 3-pointer with a second left to give the Terps the win over then-No. 7 Notre Dame and then famously shushed the crowd in South Bend, Indiana.
Beal’s draft stock might have gone up a few notches.
There’s no doubt the South Carolina senior will hear her name called in next month’s WNBA draft. She’s one of the best defenders in the game, and has been a key to South Carolina’s dominance the last few seasons.
But Beal’s performance against UCLA is a reminder she can score, too. And she doesn’t need a whole lot of time to be effective in doing so.
Beal scored all 10 of her points in the first half, when South Carolina opened an insurmountable 10-point lead over the Bruins. She also had two assists and a steal in the first 20 minutes. She didn’t play in the fourth quarter, but still finished with seven rebounds and four assists.
“Brea has been our utility player. She gives us what we need at any given time,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “You come into our program, and you’re asked to be — not even asked, it just happened and developed into her being a fourth or fifth option of our offense, when she came in scoring the most points in the state of Illinois. That’s a huge feat.
“It took her time to just really relax and see where she could find spots to be effective. Now that she’s a senior, she sees it,” Staley said. “We’re very, very comfortable with her being out on the floor, and we’ll miss her dearly.”
Cotie McMahon’s mom
Of the close to 18,000 fans in Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday afternoon, no one was having more fun than Stacey McMahon-Tweedie, the mom of Ohio State superstar freshman Cotie McMahon.
While her daughter was carving up UConn’s defense to the tune of 23 points, McMahon-Tweedie was telling everyone about it. She yelled and cheered the entire 40 minutes, often drawing laughter from the crowd around her. Some highlights:
—When UConn opened up a 10-2 lead and Ohio State called a quick timeout, McMahon-Tweedie stood up and hollered to the UConn bench, “Oh, it’s about to be on, Geno!” (The Buckeyes went on a 17-0 run shortly after.)
—Before the Buckeyes took control, McMahon-Tweedie stood up and shouted, “I’ll be the only one cheering, I don’t care, I believe!”
—When the officials whistled Ohio State for a questionable foul, instead of screaming at the refs, she led the OSU cheering section in a “Ball don’t lie!” chant as UConn missed free throws.
She danced and sang through the entire game, a smile stretched across her face. Her daughter was smiling too, because isn’t knocking off one of the best programs of all time fun? Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said afterward that he’s never seen someone play with so much joy.
It’s clear where she gets it.
It was impossible to watch UConn and Notre Dame lose and not wonder “What if?” What if Paige Bueckers, the national player of the year two years ago, hadn’t blown out her knee last August? What if Notre Dame hadn’t lost Dara Mabrey in January? Or Olivia Miles in the regular-season finale?
Odds are the games would have unfolded quite differently.
The Huskies missed Bueckers’ points – she averaged 20 a game as a freshman, the last time she was fully healthy – but more than that they missed her steadying presence. UConn turned the ball over a whopping 25 times against Ohio State, and no way that happens if Bueckers is running the floor.
Miles was Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer and Mabrey its fourth. Leading scorer Sonia Citron continued to shoulder the load while freshman Cassandre Prosper stepped up big, but the Irish were stretched too thin to keep up with Maryland down the stretch.
“I’m just really proud, proud of my team,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “No one expected us to be here. We’re going to come back a stronger, better team because of this.”
Notre Dame and UConn might want to consider some extra ball-handling drills in the offseason.
Each team had 25 turnovers – 25! – in losses to Maryland and Ohio State, respectively.
“It has been the issue all season long,” Auriemma said. “A lot of unsure ball handlers, a lot of unsure decision-makers. My fault for not making it a little bit easier on them.”
Bad as their turnovers were, the Irish and Huskies can take comfort in the fact they weren’t the worst ever in the NCAA women’s tournament. Not even close. Twenty teams have had 32 or more turnovers in a single game in the tournament, led by Stephen F. Austin’s 39 against top-seeded Maryland in 1989.
And in the ‘verdict is still out’ category:
What a wacky Elite Eight for the 21-year Maryland coach. The Terps are still playing … and so are three former Maryland transfers who left after last season: Taylor Mikesell at Ohio State (who detoured to Oregon after Maryland), Ashley Owusu at Virginia Tech and Angel Reese at LSU.
But Freese didn’t just lose players to the portal — she gained them, too. Maryland is also loaded with transfers, including Briggs (Florida), Brinae Alexander (Vanderbilt), Abby Meyers (Princeton) and Elisa Pinzan (USF).
Clearly, coach wins at recruiting.