N.C.A.A. Women’s Tournament: What to Watch as the Round of 32 Starts

The second round of the women’s N.C.A.A. tournament has arrived, and with it a slightly more manageable schedule of games. The first round had a slew of impressive individual performances and some emotional, closely fought games, but in the round of 32 — for some teams at least — the real work begins.

The long shots have been replaced by really strong teams playing with total certainty that they can challenge anyone. Hopefully for fans, they will.

Of the eight matchups happening Sunday, here are four worth making sure you tune into.

All times are Eastern.

Utah vs. Texas | 5 p.m. | ESPN

Find out whether the oppressive defense of Texas or Utah’s 3-point-driven offense prevails.

No. 2-seeded Texas got off to a relatively sluggish start in the tournament compared with some of its fellow second-seeded teams. Its opponent, No. 15 seed Fairfield, didn’t just hang around — it outscored the Longhorns in the third quarter. Texas’ defense has been its calling card, and yet it struggled to contain the Stags early.

That showing might make seventh-seeded Utah feel a little more optimistic heading into its second-round matchup with Texas. The Utes put on a show in their first-round game against Arkansas, dropping 92 points in large part by making 15 out of 31 3-point shots. Sophomore Kennady McQueen can take credit for six of those, but she’s just one of six different Utah players who hit from behind the arc in the first round.

Dive Deeper Into the N.C.A.A. Tournaments

  • A Catalyst for Change: A viral video by Oregon’s Sedona Prince led to a gender equity review in college basketball. Did the fixes go far enough?
  • ​​Throwback Big Men: In an era that prioritizes 3-pointers, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe and Illinois’s Kofi Cockburn are reminders of what the game used to be.
  • Returning to the Big Stage: After years away from the tournament, these women’s teams made history before taking the floor.
  • A Scout at Heart: Omar Minaya, a former Mets general manager, is a proud dad at Providence games. But he’s also watching for pro talent.

Utah and Texas could not approach basketball more differently, so their game will be an interesting strategic battle. Can the Longhorns lock down all those sharpshooters, or will the Utes beat their higher-seeded foes with a barrage of deep balls?

Florida Gulf Coast vs. Maryland | 3 p.m. | ESPN

Watch one of the tournament’s only true remaining underdogs.

Florida Gulf Coast was a popular first-round pick for those crafting their brackets. Now, the 12th-seeded Eagles have the unenviable task of staying competitive in the round of 32. Kierstan Bell and her team will have to find an answer for one of the tournament’s most explosive offenses, the No. 4-seeded Maryland Terrapins, who scored 102 points in their opening game.

The Eagles made a splash in the first round with their prolific 3-point shooting, but Maryland is dangerous everywhere on the court. Guard Katie Benzan hit five 3-point shots in the Terrapins’ opening game while her teammates Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller each had more than 20 points, mostly from inside the arc. Maryland didn’t perform to expectations during the regular season, but this game gave fans a timely glimpse of just how prolific its offense can be.

To outmatch the Terrapins, the Eagles will have to hit a healthy percentage of those dozens of 3-point shots they take while also clamping down on defense.

Only four No. 12 seeds have ever won a second-round game in the N.C.A.A. women’s tournament. Bell will likely need a statement game, plus support from guards Kendall Spray and Karli Seay. But no one who saw the Eagles’ first round game would count them out.

Kansas vs. Stanford | 9 p.m. | ESPN

Scope out Stanford in competition with a skilled, enigmatic Kansas team.

The Cardinal won so decisively on Friday that they dunked on a hapless No. 16 Montana, both figuratively via the 78-37 final score and also, for the third time in N.C.A.A. women’s tournament history, literally. During the second quarter, Francesca Belibi turned a block into a powerful drive and one-handed slam dunk, a highlight that prompted her Stanford teammates to feign fainting on the bench.

Belibi, a junior forward, has been known for her dunking ability since high school. In 2020, she became the first player since Brittney Griner in 2013 to dunk in women’s college basketball; now, Belibi and Stanford own another chunk of the history books.

“My teammates have been getting on me because I haven’t dunked yet this year,” Belibi told ESPN after the game. “I kind of saw the opportunity and figured I might as well try.”

Kansas might prove tougher to dominate, though. The No. 8 seed is trying to make the most of its first tournament bid since 2013, and beat Georgia Tech after a slow start in the first round without too much difficulty. The Jayhawks have had an up-and-down season, with a few surprise wins punctuating predictable losses. They beat fourth-seeded Oklahoma in the final game of the regular season, for example, and then promptly lost to them in the Big 12 tournament.

They’ll give the Cardinal an interesting test, though — plus, maybe the dunking floodgates have opened.

Miami vs. South Carolina | 3 p.m. | ABC

Two conference tournament runners-up with very different résumés face off.

Eighth-seeded Miami was never expected to be a runner-up in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, just like No. 1 seed South Carolina was never expected to be a runner-up in the Southeastern Conference. The crucial difference, though, is why: The Hurricanes were underestimated while the Gamecocks were assumed to be invincible.

Now these two teams with parallel trajectories will compete. Miami will try to keep riding the same “no one believes in us” mentality that took them through the A.C.C. tournament and a double-digit first round win over South Florida. The Gamecocks will try to keep playing with ease in spite of the overwhelming expectations they and their fans have for the postseason — expectations that took a brutal blow in the SEC tournament.

Miami will try to once again draw on its depth to challenge the top overall seed. Ten different Hurricanes players scored on Friday, meaning even if they get into foul trouble trying to guard Aliyah Boston and Destanni Henderson, they should be able to tap a number of different players as backup. For its part, South Carolina will have to assert its dominance over a team that has recently racked up upset wins by playing fearless basketball.

Coach Dawn Staley recognized that the Gamecocks are facing a “very hot Miami team.”

“They’re stroking the ball pretty good, they’re sharing the ball, they’re linked up, they got players that can apply a lot of pressure to the ball and be disruptive,” she said on Saturday. “They’re playing extremely well, we have to somehow disrupt that.”

Remy Tumin contributed reporting.

Related Articles

Back to top button