Women's College Basketball
Is Stanford's stunning fall a sign of shifting basketball landscape?
Women's College Basketball

Is Stanford's stunning fall a sign of shifting basketball landscape?

Updated Mar. 20, 2023 3:00 p.m. ET

Ole Miss sent shockwaves through the NCAA Tournament late Sunday night when it pulled a massive second-round upset and beat Stanford on its home court, 54-49.

The Cardinal, which won the national championship in 2021, are the first No. 1 seed to miss the Sweet 16 since 2009 and are just the eighth No. 1 seed ever to lose in the first or second round of the women’s tourney.

The 8-seed Rebels, who pride themselves on defense, were suffocating. The Cardinal shot 32.7% from the field and missed too many layups. Haley Jones, who is projected to be a top-five WNBA draft pick in April, and Cameron Brink combined for 36 points and 21 rebounds, while the rest of their team had 13 points and 18 rebounds. The Cardinal never led the game but tied it 49-49 with 1:19 remaining on a Brink free throw. Stanford turned the ball over 21 times, including three times in the final 24 seconds, ending any hope of pulling off the win.

Stanford was a questionable No. 1 seed to begin with, earning it over Caitlin Clark’s Iowa team, which was awarded a No. 2 seed in the same region. The Cardinal didn’t win the Pac-12 either, losing the outright title to No. 2 seed Utah and then falling to No. 4 seed UCLA in the conference tournament semifinals.


Now, Ole Miss is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007 and will face the winner of Monday’s matchup between No. 4 Texas and No. 5 Louisville. While this is an exciting moment for coach Yolett McPhee-McCunin’s team, it also shows how the women’s game overall is growing, with more teams proving capable opponents to the regular powerhouses. There have been a few upsets in these early games, with No. 12 Toledo beating Big 12 champion and No. 5 seed Iowa State, as well as No. 9 South Dakota State and No. 10 Princeton reaching the second round.

"I think that the women’s tournament was very deep this year, deeper than it was last year, which is great to see," Jones said. "We hate to be the ones for it to happen to us — it leaves a fat, sore taste in the mouth. 

"I think there’s just a lot of depth throughout the tournament, and we knew it was going to be like this. It sucks that we have to be on the other side of it."

With Stanford out of the way, who will come out of the Seattle 4 regional? Do Clark and the Hawkeyes have an easier path to the semifinal? How far can the Rebels go? McPhee-McCunin, who has been in Oxford since 2018, has revamped the defense and made them a dangerous team. If they can fluster Stanford, they can do the same thing to other favored teams down the road.

"Everyone had a dream coming up," McPhee-McCunin told reporters after the game. "I’m a dreamer, and I try to be a dream merchant for my players.

"But like, how cool is it to take down someone that you admire [in Tara VanDerveer]? Like that was pretty freaking cool. I admire Tara, so I’ll never forget this."

Caitlin Clark didn't let Iowa fall this time

Well, that was a close call.

Caitlin Clark scored 22 points and added 12 assists and three steals as No. 2 seed Iowa narrowly beat No. 10 Georgia, 74-66, on their home court Sunday afternoon.

It was nearly deja vu for the Hawkeyes, who were upset by a different No. 10 seed at this point in the NCAA Tournament last year. That game had to be on the team’s mind as the Bulldogs kept things tight. 

In 2022, this same Iowa team (all five starters are the same three years running) lost at home to No. 10 Creighton, the tourney’s Cinderella who ended up advancing to the Elite Eight. Clark had a double-double in that game, but it wasn’t enough.

This time, she had more help. While Clark accounted for more than half the Hawkeyes’ offense, Monika Czinano had 20 points and nine rebounds, Gabbie Marshall scored 15 points, and McKenna Warnock added 14 points and eight boards.

Georgia turned the ball over twice in 37 seconds down two with 1:07 remaining. That’s when Clark, a front-runner to win player of the year, hit a jumper to give the Hawkeyes a bit of cushion. She then sank four free throws down the stretch after two Bulldog fouls in the final three seconds.

Now, the Hawkeyes can take a deep breath as they move onto the Sweet 16, where they will face the winner of Duke-Colorado in Seattle.

South Carolina continues to look unstoppable

For anyone who might have stepped away from their TVs for a couple of hours to get some fresh air on Sunday, your NCAA Tournament update is this: South Carolina is still dominating and still very much in the hunt to defend its national championship.

The No. 1 overall seeded Gamecocks took down No. 8 seed South Florida 76-45 at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, extending their current winning streak to 40 games, which dates back to last year’s SEC title game loss to Kentucky.

Zia Cooke led all scorers with 21 points, national player of the year candidate Aliyah Boston had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Laeticia Amihere added 10 points, six rebounds and a block.

While the final score and stat sheet would indicate that this was a typical South Carolina blowout, things were actually a little nervy to start. The Bulls led after the first quarter, making it just the seventh time this season that the Gamecocks trailed after 10 minutes.

Before the game, head coach Jose Fernandez said that his team would not be intimidated by the moment or the atmosphere, playing in Columbia in front of a rowdy crowd. USF beat Texas and Arkansas earlier this season when those opponents were nationally ranked, and played other NCAA tourney teams like NC State, Ohio State and Villanova. They also played UConn close last season, so this group knew what it was like to play in a big game heading into it.

"I look at it as they have all the pressure on them," Fernandez said before the game. "It’s March. Anything can happen. We’re going to do what we do and see what happens." 

The Bulls certainly tested the Gamecocks, attacking the glass, getting points in the paint, shooting 3s and generally seeming unafraid to go right at the reigning champs on their home court. In the first and second quarters, South Florida played physical and made it difficult for South Carolina to get anything going inside, holding them to 12 points in the paint when they average 44.5 points per game. South Carolina held a narrow 33-29 edge at the break.

Whatever glimmer of hope South Florida had that it might be able to hang around was quickly squashed in the third quarter.  

Legendary coach Dawn Staley showed off her depth and used different combinations to put the game away. She has her starting lineup of Boston, Cooke, Victaria Saxton, Brea Beal and Kierra Fletcher, but can tweak things slightly to add speed, size and shake things up as the game dictates. For example, Bree Hall came in off the bench and had seven points and six rebounds, including a team-high four offensive boards. She also hit a buzzer-beater to end the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter with the game already out of hand, Amihere had a monster block on the defensive end, got out in transition, called for the ball and made a layup to give her team a 22-point lead. 

South Carolina’s bench, which is ranked first nationally averaging 36.8 PPG, scored 30 points. As a team, they had 10 blocks, four of which came from Saxton, and outrebounded the Bulls 55-28, including 24 offensive boards. 

Other notable South Carolina numbers include 34 points in the paint, 17 second chance points, and holding the Bulls to 16 points in the second half.  

As Staley’s team marches on to its ninth straight Sweet 16, the question that’s been asked all season remains: Can anybody take down the Gamecocks?

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of "Strong Like a Woman," published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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