Women’s N.C.A.A. Tournament: What to Watch on Day 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the first round of the N.C.A.A. women’s tournament, with a densely packed slate of games and more than a few chances to make history. Once again, the games will be aired across ESPN’s networks as well as, in the cases of Connecticut and Tennessee’s first round games, on ABC (at 1 and 3 p.m., all times Eastern, respectively).

Below you will find a guide to some of the names you will be seeing, the upsets you should watch for, and some advice to help manage squeezing in as much tournament action as possible, even if you have just one television.

Seek out the lower-seeded stars.

The tournament can be an excellent showcase for the kinds of players that women’s basketball powerhouses can regret not recruiting more aggressively.

Dyaisha Fair grew up in Rochester before committing to the University at Buffalo, a team that has become perennially fun-to-watch in the postseason under coach Felisha Legette-Jack. Fair has seized the opportunity, and was awarded an honorable mention when the A.P. announced its All-Americans earlier this week. The prolific scorer will lead the push to upset No. 4 Tennessee, one of women’s basketball’s most venerated programs.

Ameshya Williams-Holliday was recruited by a powerhouse, Mississippi State, but playing with the Bulldogs didn’t stick. It was only this season, her first at Jackson State, that Williams-Holliday realized the potential she was recruited for — not just leading her team to its second consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship, but earning a S.W.A.C. Player of the Year award in the process. The Lady Tigers will attempt to topple the No. 3 Louisiana State Tigers, and spoil Kim Mulkey’s first tournament game as L.S.U. head coach.

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.

Kansas State came onto sports fans’ radars earlier this season thanks to Ayoka Lee, a junior center who broke the Division I single-game scoring record in a victory over Oklahoma by scoring 61 points in just 35 minutes on the court. It was not an uncharacteristic performance from the 6-foot-6 Lee, who has turned Kansas State into a contender with her efficient scoring and dominant defense — but the fact that her record-setting game came in an upset of an A.P. ranked opponent should make No. 8 Washington State a little nervous. When the stakes are high, Lee has shown that she can meet the moment.

It’s all about the underdogs.

If you’re looking for underdogs to root for, nine teams playing on Saturday have never won an NCAA Division I tournament game. Central Florida, American, Jackson State, the University of Massachusetts, Charlotte, Mercer and Washington State will all be looking for their first tournament wins — in the case of No. 8 Washington State and No. 7 Central Florida, they are actually in good position to make program history.

Two schools are playing in the tournament for the first time: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and Longwood. I.U.P.U.I had won a bid to the 2020 tournament before it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, so 2022 will be their first time actually playing in the tournament.

Watch out for these upset-ready schools.

The last time Villanova made the women’s tournament was in 2018, and that year they pulled off a first-round upset in overtime as a No. 9 seed. This year, though the 11th-seeded squad has a much tougher spot on the bracket, they’ve also shown how high their ceiling is. Led by Division I’s second-best scorer Maddy Siegrist, the Wildcats toppled a depleted Connecticut during conference play. Villanova will need to muster everything they used in that victory if they’re going to beat Brigham Young and their star Shaylee Gonzales.

Stephen F. Austin was two points away from its first tournament win in two decades last year, when it ultimately fell to Georgia Tech in overtime. This year finds them in the exact same position: seeded No. 12, and trying to beat an Atlantic Coast Conference team. The Ladyjacks will be fielding one of Division I’s better defenses as they attempt to pull off the upset and find redemption for sophomore Avery Brittingham, who missed a last-second, game-tying tip shot in 2021.

The Missouri State Lady Bears likely have a fondness for the No. 11 seed they’ve earned. In 2019, the only other time they were seeded No. 11, the Lady Bears made it to the Sweet Sixteen. This year, they barely made it into the bracket at all after having to beat Florida State in the First Four games — but now that they’re officially part of the 64-team field, they have a shot to upset Ohio State and make it to the Sweet Sixteen for the third straight year.

Connnecticut, led by its star Paige Bueckers, right, opens against Mercer on Saturday.Credit…David Butler Ii/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

A road map to the second day of the tournament.

Once again, the first round slate begins with an appealing 8-9 matchup (all times Eastern): the aforementioned Ayoka Lee and No. 9 Kansas State trying to get past Washington State (11:30 a.m., ESPN2). Tune in for the second half before flipping to B.Y.U. versus Villanova (1 p.m., ESPNEWS). If it’s not close, check in on Connecticut (1 p.m., ABC) and see how Paige Bueckers is responding to Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.

Two games with upset potential will overlap in the next window. Head to ESPNU to catch Missouri State versus Ohio State around 3 p.m., and when that game is at halftime, switch to Buffalo versus Tennessee on ABC. Those games should provide the best competition until Kentucky versus Princeton (yes, another 6-11 matchup — in case you’re sensing a theme) starts at 4 p.m. on ESPN.

The schedule rounds out with three solid 5-12 games: first Oregon vs. Belmont (which won its first tournament game last year) at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN2, and then Stephen F. Austin versus North Carolina and Massachusetts versus Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNEWS and ESPN2, respectively.

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