A look at what could happen in the women’s NCAA Tournament
NEW YORK (AP) — For the first time in a long time there’s no clear-cut favorite to win the women’s championship. There are a half-dozen teams, including defending champion Notre Dame, that could be cutting down the nets in Florida on April 7.
Last year, the Irish needed last-second shots by Arike Ogunbowale to win their first title since 2001. Can they repeat?
Here’s one look at what could happen over the next three weeks where the top four seeds in each region will host the opening two rounds.
The bracket breakdown (winners in all caps):
(1) LOUISVILLE vs. (16) Robert Morris — Louisville coach Jeff Walz will be missing this game to serve a suspension for profane language directed at NCAA officials in the Final Four last year. The Cardinals won’t miss him.
(8) MICHIGAN vs. (9) Kansas State — Hallie Thome averaged 12.5 points and 6.1 rebounds and is 10 points short of moving into second all-time on the school’s scoring list. Coach Kim Barnes Arico has won at least one game in her previous six NCAA appearances.
(5) GONZAGA vs. (12) Little Rock — No team has gone through worse heartbreak over the past week, with Laura Stockton and Jill Townsend suffering season-ending injuries in WCC semifinals. The next day coach Lisa Fortier’s brother died of complications from muscular dystrophy. Look for the Zags to rally for the win.
(13) BOISE STATE vs. (4) Oregon State — The two schools haven’t met since 2000 and the Broncos are having a special season already with a school record 28 victories. Why not continue it a little longer and earn the team’s first NCAA win?
(6) UCLA vs. (11) Tennessee — Few teams have played better over the last month then the Bruins, who lost in overtime to Oregon at the Pac-12 Tournament. The Lady Vols were one of the last teams in the field and will have an early exit.
(3) MARYLAND vs. (14) Radford — It’s been 23 years since Radford last was in the NCAA Tournament. That same season it last played the Terrapins, losing by 39 points. Look for a little closer game this time around, but a similar result.
(10) BUFFALO vs. (7) Rutgers — Cierra Dillard is one of the most exciting players in the country and will help the Bulls win an NCAA game for the second straight season.
(2) UCONN vs. (15) Towson— The Tigers have their first winning record in a decade and are appearing in their first NCAA Tournament. It will be a short-lived trip.
LOUISVILLE vs. Michigan — The Cardinals won’t let senior Asia Durr lose her final home game.
BOISE STATE vs Gonzaga — The Broncos, led by Brayden Hodgins and Riley Lupfer, have too much firepower on offense for the injured Zags.
UCLA vs. Maryland — The Terps don’t lose often on their home court, but they haven’t played a team as athletic as UCLA this season at home.
UCONN vs Buffalo — There are few coaches better at taking an opponent’s best player out of the game then Geno Auriemma. Buffalo doesn’t have enough other offense besides Dillard to hang with the Huskies.
LOUISVILLE vs. Boise State — Sam Fuehring will have had some more time to recover from an ankle injury and will be the difference for the Cardinals against the Broncos.
UCONN vs. UCLA —Katie Lou Samuelson missed her chance to play the Bruins last season in a homecoming game in California because of an injury. She’ll make the most of her opportunity in the Sweet 16.
UCONN vs. Louisville — It’s rare when a team beats UConn twice in a season. Louisville already beat the Huskies once, the Cardinals won’t do it again in front of a spirited crowd. UConn advances to a record 12th straight Final Four.
1. NOTRE DAME vs. (16) Bethune-Cookman — The Lady Wildcats have a tall task in front of them playing the defending champs on their home court. Their first trip to the NCAAs will be a short one.
(8) CENTRAL MICHIGAN vs. (9) Michigan State — These two programs have ties with the two coaches: Michigan State’s Suzy Merchant starred at Central Michigan and CMU head coach Sue Guevara was an assistant for the Spartans.
(12) RICE vs. (5) Marquette — The Owls have the talent and size to pull off the upset.
(4) TEXAS A&M vs. (13) Wright State — Chennedy Carter is back and will lead the Aggies to the victory.
(6) DEPAUL vs. (11) Missouri State — The Blue Demons are in the NCAAs for the 17th straight season and don’t plan on making it a quick visit.
(3) IOWA STATE vs. (14) New Mexico State — The Aggies are winless in five NCAA trips and will be hard-pressed to get that first victory after a stellar season.
(7) BYU vs. (10) Auburn — If it was a dance contest the Tigers would win hands down . Unfortunately, the Cougars have been playing great lately on the court.
(2) STANFORD vs. (15) UC Davis — The Aggies have been in the NCAAs twice since becoming a Division I program in 2007. They lost to the Cardinal in the 2011 tournament by 27 points.
NOTRE DAME vs. Central Michigan — The Chippewas reached the Sweet 16 last season. The Irish have too much talent to slip this early.
RICE vs. Texas A&M — Rice’s 6-foot-9 center Nancy Mulkey will be the difference for the Owls to reach the next round.
IOWA STATE vs DePaul — Bridget Carleton was the top player in the Big 12 this season and the Canadian star will get the Cyclones to the Sweet 16.
STANFORD vs Brigham Young — Few teams have had an answer for Alanna Smith this season. The Cougars won’t either.
NOTRE DAME vs. Rice— Jessica Shepard and Brianna Turner will be too much inside for the Owls, ending their great run.
STANFORD vs. Iowa State — Few people are better at game planning if given almost a week to prepare than Tara VanDerveer. That will be more than enough time for Stanford’s coach to stop the Cyclones.
NOTRE DAME vs. Stanford — Jackie Young might be the most versatile player on the Irish and she’ll be the reason they get back to the Final Four.
(1) BAYLOR vs. (16) Abilene Christian — The Wildcats are making their first appearance in the NCAAs after moving up to Division I a few years ago. Baylor will be too much for them.
(8) CALIFORNIA vs (9) North Carolina— Kristine Anigwe is a handful for any team, and the Tar Heels will have no match for the Golden Bears’ star center.
(12) BUCKNELL vs. (5) Florida State —The Seminoles’ 15-game win streak in the opening round will come to an end against a talented Bison squad that has earned the highest seed in school history as well as Patriot League history.
(4) SOUTH CAROLINA vs. (13) Belmont — The Bruins are in the NCAAs for a fourth straight year and hope to win for the first time. Coach Bart Brooks team will be challenged to do it against a talented South Carolina squad.
(6) KENTUCKY vs. (11) Princeton — Tigers center Bella Alarie will be one of the two best players on the court. The problem is the Wildcats have a lot more depth and have had some time to get healthy after losing in SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
(3) N.C. STATE vs. (14) Maine —The two teams met in the regular season and the Wolfpack came away with a 38-point win. The Black Bears are 18-4 since, including winning 14 straight. They’ll close the gap, just not enough to pull off the upset.
(10) DRAKE vs. (7) Missouri — Tigers star Sophia Cunningham played AAU basketball with nearly half of the Bulldogs’ roster. Drake will score enough to pull off the upset.
(2) IOWA vs. (15) Mercer —The Bears have won 17 straight games, running through the Southern Conference. Unfortunately, they struggled against Power Five schools, going 1-4 this season.
BAYLOR vs California — The Lady Bears have the size to match up with Anigwe with Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox. There isn’t enough other offense to keep Cal in the game.
SOUTH CAROLINA vs. Bucknell— Even though they aren’t at home, because of the men’s tournament, Gamecocks fans will travel well and give the team the boost it needs to get to the Sweet 16.
N.C. STATE vs Kentucky — Rhyne Howard is arguably the best freshman in the country this season, averaging 16.3 points a game. She will have many more NCAA Tournament games in front of her after the Wildcats fall just short in this one.
IOWA vs. Drake — The Hawkeyes are used to the Bulldogs style of play and will find a way to beat them for the second time this season.
BAYLOR vs South Carolina — The Lady Bears’ interior play will be a big problem for the Gamecocks, who will have no answer for the 6-8 Brown and the 6-6 Cox.
N.C. STATE vs. Iowa — Former President Barack Obama has the Wolfpack reaching the regional final . Who am I to go against him?
BAYLOR vs. N.C. State — The Wolfpack had a special season despite being plagued by injuries. Would have loved to see these two teams match up if the Wolfpack had been completely healthy as Baylor reaches its first Final Four since 2012.
(1) MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. (16) Southern U — Led by first-year head coach Carlos Funchess, who spent 13 seasons at Southern as an assistant, the Jaguars are in the NCAAs. It will be a short stay, ending a great season.
(8) SOUTH DAKOTA vs. (9) Clemson — The Coyotes earned their first Top 25 ever last month and will get their first NCAA Tournament win against a Clemson squad that had a remarkable turnaround this year under coach Amanda Butler.
(5) ARIZONA STATE vs. (12) Central Florida — Offense will be hard to come by with these two talented defensive teams. The Sun Devils will have just enough to get to the second round.
(4) MIAMI vs. (13) Florida Gulf Coast —The first-round game will be a chance for FGCU to gain a measure of revenge for a 62-60 loss to Miami at the 2017 NCAA Tournament. That game was also a 4 vs. 13 matchup. This might be the best game of the first round, but unless the Eagles can hit double-digit 3s they’ll fall short again.
(11) QUINNIPIAC vs. (6) South Dakota State —The Bobcats will try and make history, becoming the first double-digit seed to win three straight years. They are one of eight programs to have done it in consecutive years. To do so, they’ll have to slow down the high-powered Jackrabbits’ offense that is averaging 80 points a game. Quinnipiac has the second-best scoring defense in the country, giving up just 50.5 points a game. Defense beats offense in the tournament.
(3) SYRACUSE vs. (14) Fordham — The Rams are back in the tournament for the first time since 2014. They’ll still be looking for their first NCAA win after playing the Orange.
(10) INDIANA vs. (7) Texas — The Hoosiers sneaked into the tournament as one of the final teams and will stick around a little while longer.
(2) OREGON vs. (15) Portland State —Freshman Desirae Hansen’s last-second shot got the Vikings to the NCAAs. It will be tough for them to get past a really talented Ducks team that’s had time off to recover from a loss in the Pac-12 Tournament title game.
MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. South Dakota — Teaira McCowan is one of the best centers in the country and the Coyotes have no answer for her. Few teams have had one.
MIAMI vs. Arizona State — The post play of Emese Hof and Beatrice Mompremier will be too much for the Sun Devils in this grind it out game.
SYRACUSE vs. Quinnipiac — It will be a matchup of the Strautmane sisters. The 6-foot-2 Digna has started every game for Syracuse, averaging 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. Paula has started all 32 games for the Bobcats, averaging 9.3 points. Younger sister Digna will have bragging rights after the matchup.
OREGON vs. Indiana — Sabrina Ionescu will be way too much for the Hoosiers to handle.
MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. Miami — The Hurricanes are the only team in the country to beat two No. 1 seeds in Notre Dame and Louisville. They’ll come close but fall just short of beating a third one.
OREGON vs. Syracuse — A rematch of one of the most entertaining games in November that saw the Ducks rally from six-down in the final two minutes to win by two. They’ll have a little easier time this time around.
OREGON vs. Mississippi State — Ruthy Hebard will get the Ducks to the Final Four for the first time in school history as the two teams meet for the second time this season. Oregon will remain perfect against the Lady Bulldogs.
NOTRE DAME vs. UConn — The Huskies beat the Irish early in the season and the Irish will get revenge, beating UConn for the second straight season in the Final Four.
BAYLOR vs. Oregon —The Lady Bears haven’t faced many teams this season as talented as the Ducks, but once again the size of Baylor will provide too much for the Ducks.
NOTRE DAME vs. Baylor — Last season it took two miraculous shots for the Irish to win the title. They’ll have a little easier time this time around.