Top moments (and surprises) from the NCAA Women’s Tournament so far

The top positions roll, but so do some double-digit positions in the first round of the women’s tournament.

While the first day of the NCAA women’s tournament was mostly chalk, the second day of the first round saw its fair share of setbacks and comebacks. Much has gone as planned for the top seeds, but the biggest surprises have come from teams from the middle of the pack who have shaken up the group a bit.

Here’s an overview of some of the key moments and storylines.

Roll top seeds – even with some restrictions

So this wasn’t exactly one surprise. But it’s still worth noting: all eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds won by at least 20 points. There were a few moments where teams seemed rusty or needed time to get going. But in general? These title contenders all seemed poised to make the deep runs expected of them.

The largest margin of victory went to No. 2 Iowa, who appeared to have complete control over No. 15 in Southeast Louisiana, winning 95-43. The Hawkeyes were led by Caitlin Clark – who else? – with 26 points and 12 assists. (Most of the latter were for her target of choice, Monika Czinano, who scored 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting.) The only team to score in the triple digits was No. 2 Utah, who passed No. 15 Gardner- Webb on the strength of Alissa Pili, who posted a season-high 33 points.

Two of the No. 1 seeds played without a starter. Stanford’s leading rebounder and shot blocker, Cameron Brink, was sidelined with a non-Covid illness. Despite the Cardinal’s enviable profundity, Brink’s absence from the post was noticeable, especially early on. (Coach Tara VanDerveer said she’s day-to-day.) Meanwhile, Indiana played without All-America forward Mackenzie Holmes, who is suffering from a sore knee. Lilly Meister made her first career start in her place and Alyssa Geary filled in from the bench. “I thought they both did a great job,” said Hoosiers coach Teri Moren. “They showed up today and we will continue to need them. Mack won’t be able to play for 40 minutes. She hasn’t been able to do that all year. The experience they both got today was really good.

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Double-digit seeds make noise

There have been a number of upsets in these first two days: No. 10 Princeton, No. 10 Georgia, No. 11 Mississippi State, No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast and No. 12 Toledo all advanced to the second round.

The most surprising of these was Toledo, who had to overcome No. 5 Iowa State and his dynamic scoring threat, Ashley Joens. The fifth-year senior’s 21.5 points per game ranked 10th in the nation this season. But her shot was unusual here – 5-of-19 from the field – and Toledo capitalized on it to cause the upset. Quinesha Lockett of the Rockets led all scorers with 24.

Perhaps the least surprisingly was Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles’ three-point heavy offense has made them a statuesque darling and a popular upset pick. (They also won last year as the No. 12 seed.) FGCU dominated the second half, maintaining a comfortable lead over No. 5 Washington State.

And the most intense? Princeton, who got past No. 7 NC State with this awesome shot from Grace Stone:

Come back big

No. 3 Ohio State trailed by 16 points. No. 9 Miami trailed 17. And No. 7 Baylor was 18 down. All three came back and won. It was the first time in tournament history that two big comebacks had been made on the same day, let alone three.

The Buckeyes shot 50% from the field in the second half to seal their comeback. They were anchored by Big Ten freshman of the year Cotie McMahon, who finished with 18 points and five rebounds, and senior Jacy Sheldon, who made her first start in six weeks after a leg injury. Miami, meanwhile, battled No. 8 Oklahoma State to the last second before escaping with the win. And Baylor relied on his three-point shot to close the gap to No. 10 Alabama. The Bears were 14-of-28 from outside the arc, led by Ja’Mee Asberry, who had seven threes as part of her 26-run effort.

No Olivia Miles, no problem

The day before the tournament, Notre Dame announced it would officially be without injured point guard Olivia Miles. That represented a huge loss for the Fighting Irish: Miles leads the team in rebounds, assists and steals. (She’s a few tenths of a point away from also being the leading scorer.) But No. 3 Notre Dame looked fantastic in an easy win over No. 14 Southern Utah. With four starters finishing in double digits, it was a look at how well this offense can run even without Miles, particularly Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld.

Don’t overlook Laeticia Amihere

Every member of South Carolina’s No. 1 starting five (deservedly so) gets a lot of attention. But the best team in the country also has a damn good bench. That is emphasized by Laeticia Amihere, who took the lead among South Carolina’s scorers with 11 points on Friday.

“I’ve never coached anyone so determined,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said of Amihere before the game. “I’ve often just, you know, wondered what she would have been like as a starter, as a four-year starter, and I don’t like that she hasn’t started her career. But she never gave us any problems with it. She all trusted that this was the best decision for her and the team.”

With her height, her versatility and her goal-scoring prowess, Amihere has shown that she can influence the game just as well off the bench. Friday was a perfect showing.

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