The women’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 will have a mixture of old standbys to go along with some fresh faces.
It’s no real surprise that the four No. 1 seeds advanced to the regional semifinals in relatively easy fashion.
UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame and Maryland didn’t have too much trouble getting to the second weekend, marking the sixth straight season that the top teams advanced.
They’ll be joined by Dayton, which is making its first appearance in the Sweet 16 after upsetting Kentucky in thrilling fashion. Dayton isn’t the only lower seed to make it through to the next round.
Gonzaga, which has made a living lately of crashing the second weekend, did it again with an upset of No. 3 seed Oregon State. The Bulldogs have now reached the regional semifinals three times as an 11 seed in the past five seasons.
Their reward is a trip home to Spokane to play only three miles from campus against Tennessee.
The Atlantic Coast Conference continued to show it’s the deepest in the country, placing five teams in the regional semifinals. The Irish are joined by Louisville, Duke, North Carolina and Florida State. The five teams ties the ACC for the second most in the tournament, one behind the SEC, which had six in 1997 according to STATS.
No other conference is close with the Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC each having two teams left.
Here are some story lines to watch as the Sweet 16 approaches:
CHASING WOODEN: The top-ranked Huskies cruised through the first two rounds, winning by an average of 46 points to advance to the Sweet 16 for the 22nd consecutive season. UConn is now four wins shy of a third straight national championship and 10th overall that would tie Geno Auriemma with UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for most all-time in college basketball. A win over Texas on Saturday would give Auriemma 100 NCAA Tournament wins leaving him 12 behind Pat Summitt for most ever.
CONFERENCE RIVALRY RENEWAL: There won’t be any love lost in the other game in Spokane as Maryland and Duke face off. These two former ACC rivals didn’t play this season for the first time in a long time as the Terrapins bolted to the Big Ten last year.
“I think we both know each other. I’m excited to have them on a neutral court. But I think it will be fun,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “We don’t really look at the name of the team or the seed of the team. None of that matters to us. For us, it’s playing our best basketball. But obviously it’s a team we know really well, and they know us really well. Any team left, you’ve got to be able to come out and play your best basketball.”
REGIONAL REPLAY: Last season North Carolina ended South Carolina’s season in the Sweet 16. The two teams will play again in that same round, in Greensboro. The Tar Heels advanced to meet the Gamecocks after blowing a 23-point lead to Ohio State and hitting a shot with 0.6 seconds left to pull out the victory.
WELCOME BACK: Lisa Bluder has the Iowa Hawkeyes back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996. Iowa’s reward is a matchup with Baylor. This should be a great matchup of point guards with Samantha Logic of the Hawkeyes squaring off against Niya Johnson of Baylor.
Texas also makes its return to the regional semifinals for the first time in 11 years. Karen Aston’s team now has to find a way to stop top overall seed UConn, which has never lost to the Longhorns.
DOUBLE DUTY: Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina and Louisville all have a chance to win national championships this season on both the men’s and women’s side. UConn did it last season — the second time the Huskies have pulled off that feat.
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