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Guards key to advancement in women’s NCAA Tournament

It was a sweet night for guards in the regional semifinals of the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament.

Niya Johnson of Baylor, Lindsay Allen of Notre Dame, Leticia Romero of Florida State and Tiffany Mitchell of South Carolina all helped their teams advance Friday night into the final eight. The victories set up matchups between the top two seeds in both Oklahoma City and Greensboro.

Baylor and Notre Dame will have a rematch of last season’s regional final game that was played in South Bend, Indiana, which the Irish won on their home court. The other game will feature South Carolina and Florida State, both of whom have advanced farther then they have in a while.

Johnson had 16 assists and no turnovers in the Lady Bears’ win over Iowa. Allen had 24 points in the first 20 minutes of the Irish’s 81-60 win victory over Stanford. The first half offensive burst matched her career high. She finished with 28 points.

While both Notre Dame and Baylor cruised to relatively easy victories, Florida State and South Carolina needed last second stops to secure theirs.

Mitchell had the game-winning basket for the Gamecocks in their 57-55 win over North Carolina. South Carolina advanced to the regional finals for the first time since 2002.

“It was kind of emotional but we stayed the course and kept our heads,” Mitchell said. “We knew North Carolina was going to give us their best push and we knew they had runs in them, so we just had to answer them and just keep our head.”

Romero had a career-best 21 points and hit a key basket late to lift the Seminoles, who are making their first appearance in the Elite Eight since 2010.

“She has so much courage,” Florida State coach Sue Semrau said of Romero after the 66-65 win over Arizona State. “She really stepped up huge tonight.”

Here are other tidbits from the Sweet 16.

NO DEJA VU: For most of the game it looked as if North Carolina was going to knock South Carolina out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. But thanks to an unexpected 3-pointer with a little over a minute left by Olivia Gaines that bounced around the rim before dropping through the net to tie it and Mitchell’s game-winner, the Gamecocks were able to avoid another defeat to the Tar Heels.

STRONG IN DEFEAT: Samantha Logic did all she could to try and help Iowa win in her final game. It just wasn’t enough. The senior guard had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists. It was her second triple-double of the season. … Arizona State’s Katie Hempen also had a great game, scoring 22 points and hitting key 3-pointers for the Sun Devils.

SLIM MARGIN: The three combined points that South Carolina and Florida State won by was the closest margin of victory for two teams in the Sweet 16 in a region in the history of the NCAA Tournament. It beat the four points that Tennessee and Stanford won by in 2004.

QUOTEABLE: Notre Dame’s “Jewell Loyd is probably the (national) player of the year,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We were just dodging some bullets in the first half, and she picked it up in the second half.”

UPCOMING MATCHUP: The other four regional finalists will be decided on Saturday with top-seed UConn facing Texas and Louisville taking on Dayton in the Albany Regional. Duke and Maryland will renew their rivalry in Spokane along with Tennessee and Gonzaga.

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