Iowa’s Monika Czinano admitted she was pretty hyped while trying to get to sleep the night before the Hawkeyes opened the 2022 NCAA women’s tournament on Friday.
“I stared at the ceiling for a while,” Czinano said.
But once she was on court, Czinano looked well-rested and ready to go, as she went 6-for-6 from both the field and foul line. The No. 2 seed Hawkeyes set a school record for points in an NCAA tournament game in their 98-58 victory over Illinois State. They were one of the top-16 seeds who stepped on the gas and didn’t let up to get the first round started, along with the top-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks, Louisville Cardinals and Stanford Cardinal, the No. 2-seeded Baylor Bears and Texas Longhorns and the fourth-seeded Maryland Terrapins.
But it wasn’t just an opening day of chalk; three double-digit seeds triumphed as the No. 10-seeded South Dakota Coyotes and Creighton Bluejays and the No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles moved on. And Stanford junior forward Fran Belibi threw down the third dunk in NCAA women’s tournament history.
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Here’s a look at what stood out most on the first full day of women’s March Madness and a peek ahead at what to expect in Saturday’s games.
Follow this link for a complete look at Friday’s games, which are all on the ESPN family of networks. Visit this link to check your Women’s Tournament Challenge bracket. Through the first 16 games, 1,305 remain perfect.
Maryland’s season was full of injuries and inconsistent play, and the Terps suffered their earliest Big Ten tournament exit. What stood out in their bounce-back win Friday, and how do they match up with Florida Gulf Coast?
Diamond Miller steals the rock and lays it in to extend the Terrapins’ lead in the fourth quarter.
Voepel: We just never expect Maryland to struggle offensively, no matter what season it is. But they did in the Big Ten tournament final with a 62-51 loss to Indiana on March 4, which sent the Terps into the NCAA tournament on a sour note.
If we look at where the Terps’ offensive issues happened during Big Ten play overall, it was mostly against two teams they lost to twice: Indiana and Michigan. What we saw Friday in their 102-71 blowout against Delaware was the balance that is Maryland at its best: All five starters scored in double figures, and the team shot 59.4% from the field and 50% from behind the arc.
That version of Maryland is the team most expected to win the Big Ten this season. Now, we will find out if the Terps can keep it up against Florida Gulf Coast, one of the best mid-major programs in the country the last several years.
The No. 12 Eagles’ 84-81 upset over No. 5 Virginia Tech was a masterpiece in sticking to the game plan. Did the Eagles have anyone to slow down ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley? No, but they won anyway, allowing Kitley to get 42 points but limiting the rest of the Hokies.
The Eagles were outrebounded 40-29, but had just three turnovers, made 15 3-pointers and shot 46.9% from the field. They won all the categories they absolutely had to in order to win the game.
Will they be outrebounded by Maryland? Almost certainly. But they will try to win the 3-point battle (which can be a challenge against the Terps), and they will have to deal with Maryland’s greater variety of offensive weapons.
Karli Seay puts Virginia Tech out of reach with a late 3-pointer to advance the 12-seed Florida Gulf Coast.
Philippou: Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller burst out of the gates to start the tournament in a way we haven’t seen them do consistently this season. Partly to blame is that both dealt with injuries and/or illness at times this year, with Owusu missing five games and Miller missing 10. And while Angel Reese has taken a huge step forward for the Terps, Friday showed just how dominant Maryland can be, especially offensively, when Owusu and Miller are clicking. That trio combined for 62 of the Terps’ 102 points, which is likely music to Brenda Frese’s ears. Back in the starting lineup for the first time since early February, Owusu finished with a team-high 24 points on 10 of 14 shooting, to go along with six assists, while Miller was similarly efficient at 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 2-for-5 on 3s.
After the game, Frese proclaimed the clichéd yet true adage for this time of year: “It’s a new season. All anyone really remembers is March Madness and how you finish.” If a finally healthy, surging and balanced Maryland takes that to heart, the Terps could remind the world why everyone was so high on them this preseason.
As for Sunday, we have a team known for its run-and-gun style taking on another whose motto has been “all gas, no breaks.” Maryland has allowed opponents to shoot 34.5% on 3s this season, among the worst marks in the country, and FGCU just hit 15-of-38 from the arc to beat Virginia Tech. The Eagles will need to get hot from deep to have any chance of knocking off the Terps.
Creighton pulls away in the fourth quarter behind Morgan Maly’s 20 points to defeat Colorado 84-74.
What was your biggest surprise from Friday’s games?
Philippou: I think some folks were surprised that No. 10 seed Creighton, which was one of three Big East teams to earn at-large bids into the tournament, was able to pull away No. 7 seed Colorado of the Pac-12. The Buffaloes are typically a pretty good defensive team, but Creighton’s motion offense consistently gives opposing defenses a tough time.
“I think we guarded pretty effectively, all things considered,” Colorado coach JR Payne said. But if the Buffs were good at 98% of things defensively, she added, the Bluejays “live in that 2%.”
What did that look like for Creighton? The Bluejays shot 50.9% from the field, including 8-for-19 (42.1%) on 3s, and knocked down 18 of 20 free throws. Creighton has a host of offensive threats who can hurt you, and on Friday, Molly Mogensen (16 points) and Morgan Maly (20 points) did the bulk of the damage.
I’m intrigued to see how Creighton-Iowa pans out on Sunday. They are both excellent 3-point shooting teams, though Creighton typically plays at a more deliberate pace compared to transition-heavy Iowa. The teams regularly scrimmage each other in the preseason, so they are familiar with each other.
Voepel: South Dakota beating Ole Miss didn’t come out of nowhere. The Coyotes had lost only one game since November, and that was at rival South Dakota State on Feb. 5. Their other four losses were all against Power 5 teams in the first month of the season. South Dakota was a dangerous No. 10 seed.
But the surprise was that the Coyotes didn’t just beat the Rebels, they dominated the game 75-61, shooting 55.8% from the field and holding Ole Miss to 39%. And in the battle of centers, South Dakota’s 6-2 Hannah Sjerven had 20 points on 7 of 7 shooting from the field, while Ole Miss’ 6-5 Shakira Austin went 3 of 16 for nine points, her lowest point total since scoring nine in a loss to Georgia on Jan. 30.
It was Ole Miss’ first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007, and Friday’s performance was a disappointment for a program that has made great strides the past two years. As for Austin, she is still expected to be a high first-round WNBA draft pick in April, but this game should motivate her about what she needs to do to keep improving as a pro.
A number of records — both program and NCAA tournament marks records — were broken Friday. Even though they were set in blowouts, is there anything to glean from them?
Voepel: The first round is usually a mixed bag, and this year is no exception. Teams like South Carolina and Stanford looked like giant bulldozers, and several other teams dominated as well.
It can be hard to judge how well a team or individual looks if the competition doesn’t really stand a chance, but we can gather a few nuggets from the blowouts. South Carolina’s defense was suffocating against Howard; the Bison had to fight like heck for all 21 points they got (they scored the fewest points in an NCAA tournament game). That’s exactly what Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley wants to see: No mercy defensively.
Louisville forced 26 turnovers in beating Albany, and Stanford’s defense was similarly impressive against Montana State (the Cardinal led 23-0 before the Bobcats scored). Iowa outscored Illinois State 34-2 in transition and made 12 3-pointers, a lethal combination. Baylor looked like Baylor with NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo both getting double-doubles.
Of those teams, Iowa and Stanford came into the NCAA tournament off conference tournament titles, while South Carolina and Baylor lost their league finals and Louisville fell in the quarterfinals. All of them looked really sharp on Friday.
Philippou: My main addendum to this is that we need to have not just more dunks in women’s college basketball, but more dunks in women’s NCAA tournament games! You know Stanford is feeling it when Belibi decides to throw it down, as she did midway through the second quarter against Montana State to put the Cardinal up 31-6. It was just the third dunk in the history of the women’s tournament after Brittney Griner and Candace Parker did it for Baylor (2013) and Tennessee (2006).
In all seriousness, Belibi’s 12-point, 13-rebound double-double is a good sign for the Cardinal, regardless of whether any dunking was involved.
Rebecca Lobo says a healthy Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd make the Huskies a serious national-championship contender.
Which game most intrigues you on Saturday’s schedule?
Voepel Friday was good for the Big 12, which went 4-0 with victories by No. 2 seeds Baylor and Texas, No. 3 Iowa State and No. 8 Kansas; the Jayhawks’ last trip to the tournament was in 2013.
Two more Big 12 teams are in action Saturday, with No. 4 seed Oklahoma hosting IUPUI (10 p.m. ET, ESPNU) and No. 9 Kansas State against No. 8 Washington State (11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2). Both games have some intrigue. As we wrote Friday, IUPUI is a really tough No. 13 seed for the Sooners to face. And how will the Cougars handle Wildcats center Ayoka Lee?
Meanwhile, the SEC took a couple of bumps on Friday with Ole Miss and Arkansas falling, albeit the latter was not an upset. How good will LSU, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida look Saturday? Can Kentucky maintain the momentum that got them a surprising SEC tournament title?
Philippou: Mechelle talked about how dominant the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds looked Friday, so I’ll be looking to see how the likes of NC State, UConn, Michigan, LSU and Indiana look. NC State is coming off a nice run in the ACC tournament, and Elissa Cunane is expected to be fine after tweaking her ankle in the final. As for the second-seeded Huskies, Geno Auriemma has been pleased with Paige Bueckers’ progress in practice since the Big East tournament, so I’ll be looking to see how assertive and aggressive she plays, and how many minutes she ends up taking the floor.
The status of LSU’s Alexis Morris is still uncertain going into the Tigers’ game against Jackson State, and I’m eager to see if the last week off did any good for Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes as she works her way back from injury.
Kentucky-Princeton tops my list of games to watch. Could the Wildcats’ historic run through the SEC tournament be in peril facing off against a stingy Princeton defense?