Another epic day of NCAA Tournament basketball. Let’s get into it.
Let’s hear it for the no. 10 seeds
Creighton got the day started with the biggest upset of the weekend so far, upending No. 2 Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. National player of the year candidate Caitlin Clark was held to her lowest point total (15) of the season as the Bluejays turned on the clamps defensively, something no one expected in a matchup of two top-15 offenses.
The blueprint for underdogs is generally to build an early lead and hold on late, and Creighton followed the script early. What was especially impressive for the Bluejays is that they lost the lead in the fourth quarter but had the composure, led by former Hawkeye Lauren Jensen, to rally against the home team and secure the win after trailing late. Creighton’s reward is a date against No. 3 Iowa State.
No. 10 South Dakota didn’t need any crunch-time heroics. The Coyotes were in control from the jump, building an 11-0 lead as No. 2 Baylor was scoreless through the first seven minutes. The Lady Bears turned the ball over on six of their first eight possessions, looking nothing like the world-beaters that had dominated Hawai’i two days prior. They trailed the entire game, never getting closer than four after that opening stretch in the 61-47 loss.
Baylor had won 67 straight non-conference home games and 17 straight home NCAA Tournament games. Per ESPN, this is the first time since 2016 that two or more top-two seeds exited during the first weekend of the tournament. The victory for South Dakota is also the eighth by a double-digit seed, a tournament record.
The Coyotes played the part of a dutiful Cinderella by slowing the pace and keeping the ball in the half court. Each team had 67 total possessions, exactly in line with South Dakota’s season-long average — which ranks 306th out 356 Division I teams — and the Coyotes limited the Lady Bears to zero points in transition.
Offensively, South Dakota couldn’t contend with Baylor’s twin towers of NaLyssa Smith and Queen Ego inside, but the Coyotes worked their advantage on the perimeter. They took fewer threes than Baylor, but found better shots, draining eight from long range. As a result, South Dakota advances to face the winner of No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 11 Villanova next weekend.
Five big winners from Day 3
Not all the top seeds struggled Sunday, as five teams laid absolute waste to their opponents en route to the Sweet 16. No. 4 Maryland was up first, stomping out No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast. The two teams played even through the opening period until the Terrapins began to create separation in the second.
Diamond Miller was the first to get going with nine points in the second quarter. Angel Reese took the baton after halftime and had a perfect third period from the field for 10 points of her own. Miller added eight in that frame as Maryland took a 19-point lead into the final quarter, comfortably winning 89-65. The Terrapins may not have played up to their potential during the regular season due to injuries, but they are rolling now.
No. 1 South Carolina was up next, taking a different approach to its domination. The Gamecocks put on a defensive clinic against the No. 8 Hurricanes, showing that their record-setting defensive performance in the first round against Howard was no fluke. Miami was limited to 15 points through the first three quarters, shooting an astounding 5-of-31 from the field during those 30 minutes while committing 19 turnovers. The Hurricanes finally found some scoring in the fourth, but it was too little too late.
The tournament’s top seed left a little to be desired on offense, as Miami threw heavy doubles and even triples at national player of the year frontrunner Aliyah Boston. Boston, who entered the game with a consecutive double-double streak of 25, only had six points in the first three quarters. The South Carolina backcourt of Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson instead carried the scoring load early, while Kamilla Cardoso brought the Gamecocks home in the fourth. And have no fear, Boston’s free throws with 1:19 to play gave her a 26th straight double-double.
I don’t even know what to call this but watch Victaria Saxton here:
Destanni Henderson navigates the full court and then cuts off of the double by Boston & Saxton. . . but then Saxton just SEALS TWO to get Boston a deep catch. pic.twitter.com/pc2Zlsh49U
— Evin Gualberto (@evin_gual) March 20, 2022
Although Baylor disappointed, it was still a good day for the Big 12 as both No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Iowa State handily defeated the opposition. The Longhorns won each of the first three quarters, clinically putting away No. 7 Utah with a balanced attack. Aaliyah Moore led the way with 21 points and three other players joined her in double figures: Aliyah Matharu (14), Joanne Allen-Taylor (12), and Rori Harmon (11). The Utes only got ten points off their bench compared to 41 for the home team, as Texas cruised to a 78-56 win.
The Cyclones got off to a fast start against No. 6 Georgia, building a 23-7 lead after the first quarter, all the more impressive since they trailed into the first quarter of their opening-round game. There was no such letdown for Iowa State Sunday, led by Lexi Donarski’s 20 points. Emily Ryan and Ashley Joens chipped in 15 and 12, respectively, with Ryan’s two first-quarter triples critical to establishing the early advantage.
Finally, in the night cap, the defending national champs looked to be in a barn burner with No. 8 Kansas, and the two teams were tied at 33 eight seconds into the second half. From there, Stanford turned on the jets. Lexie Hull outscored the Jayhawks by herself, 14-13, over the remainder of the period, and the Cardinal had a 24-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to erase any doubt. Stanford only had one more shot attempt than Kansas in the third quarter, but the team’s sterling shooting gave the Jayhawks no hope.
Survive and advance
Wins don’t have to be pretty or dominant to get a team through, and No. 1 Louisville had a perfectly competent 68-59 win against No. 9 Gonzaga to punch its ticket to the second weekend. The three-headed monster of Hailey Van Lith, Kianna Smith, and Emily Engstler were all in double figures again, joined by Olivia Cochran with 11 of her own. When the starters were in, good things happened for the Cardinals, but the second unit couldn’t hold on. Better minutes management for Louisville in the second half proved to be the ticket, as there weren’t any bench-heavy lineups to hemorrhage points. The Cardinals didn’t ned the night with the same margin of victory as their fellow No. 1 seeds, but they will be joining them in the Sweet 16.
Three players who stood out
Lexie Hull, Stanford: Hull finished with a career-high 36 points on 14-of-21 shooting, including 6-of-11 from three. She filled out the rest of the box score with six rebounds, six assists, and three steals, almost singlehandedly spearheading Stanford’s game-breaking run in the third quarter against Kansas. On the court with Pac-12 player of the year Haley Jones and defensive player of the year Cameron Brink, it was Hull who stole the show.
Diamond Miller and Angel Reese, Maryland: Once again impossible to distinguish within the collective dominance of the Terrapins — each of them had at least 20 points and nine rebounds, and in limited minutes, thanks to the team’s dominance of FGCU. Stanford vs. Maryland will be appointment viewing in the Sweet 16.
Lauren Jensen, Creighton: The Iowa transfer who sunk her former team, in her former home arena, with the biggest shot of the tournament. 19 points never tasted so good.
The Tara VanDerveer three-point watch
105 more 3-pointers today, combined with 175 yesterday brings our total to 537.