The top seeds in the women’s NCAA Tournament were paying attention to the major upsets on the men’s opening day.
While some of the women’s hosts had scares, the top teams survived the opening round.
Duke had the most trouble of any host, needing a 3-pointer in the final seconds to beat 13th seed Albany 54-52. The Great Danes were trying to become just the second 13-seed to ever advance through the opening round.
Fourteen was a lucky number on the men’s side with two 14 seeds pulling off upsets. Not so much on the women’s side. Since the women’s tournament expanded in 1994 to 64 teams, no 14 or 15 seed has ever won a game, falling to 0-172. Harvard remains the only 16-seed to ever win a NCAA Tournament game when the Crimson knocked off Stanford in 1998. The 16-seeds haven’t come within single digits since (and have never beat a top seed on the men’s side).
Both South Dakota State and American gave scares to No. 3 seeds Oregon State and Iowa, but fell short.
“We talked about it,” Baylor guard Niya Johnson said of the men getting upset by No. 14 seed Georgia State the day before. “We don’t want to go home, we don’t want this to end. We just try to come out there with energy.”
It wasn’t a complete sweep for the chalk as two 11 seeds won. Miami upset sixth-seed Washington and Gonzaga topped George Washington. Tenth-seed Arkansas rallied to beat No. 7 Northwestern as the other double-digit seed to advance.
No. 1 seeds South Carolina and Notre Dame cruised to easy wins in their openers. They both face teams in the second round who gave them trouble in the regular season. The Gamecocks will face Syracuse, whom they beat in the Junkanoo Jam over Thanksgiving weekend by four points. The Irish face DePaul, who took them to overtime early in the season.
Here are some of the things we learned on Friday:
REBOUNDING MACHINE: Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui B. fell one board short of matching the NCAA Tournament record in the Gophers’ 79-72 loss to DePaul. She had 22 boards to go along with 21 points. Cheryl Taylor of Tennessee Tech and Charlotte Smith of North Carolina each had 23.
RENEWED RIVALRY: Texas edged Western Kentucky 66-64 in a rematch of one of the early rivalries in women’s basketball. In 1985, Western Kentucky beat Texas on a buzzer beater that denied the Longhorns a spot in their own regional. Texas responded with an undefeated season the following year, beating the Lady Toppers 90-65 at the Final Four on the way to the championship.
Former Longhorns coach Jody Conradt reminded current Texas coach Karen Aston about all those old battles back in the day. The programs played for six straight seasons from 1985-90 but not since.
“We renewed that rivalry,” Conradt said, noting when she saw the draw, “I just started to smile that day. We haven’t played each other at all except when it’s gotten to crunch time.”
HOME COOKING: The women’s tournament went back to the top 16 teams hosting for the first time since 2003. The hosts went 8-0 on Friday.
BIG TEN, BIG TROUBLE: It wasn’t a very good opening day for the conference which put seven teams in the tournament. Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota all lost. Iowa was the lone victor for the conference which still has Maryland, Rutgers and Ohio State to play Saturday.
Here are some things to watch Saturday:
FIRST FAMILY: Undefeated Princeton plays the first game of the day and may have some special fans in attendance. Freshman Leslie Robinson’s uncle is President Barack Obama. Her aunt, first lady Michele Obama and her cousins came to see the Tigers play at American earlier in the season. Maryland has already said that fans should expect extra security at the game.
QUEST BEGINS: UConn will cap off the night with a 9 p.m. tip against St. Francis, Brooklyn. The Huskies have won two straight national championships and should breeze through the opening round against a team that became the 10th to enter the NCAAs with a losing record.
WELCOME BACK: North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell returns to the NCAA Tournament after missing last season while battling leukemia. The Tar Heels coach couldn’t attend her team’s games last season even though the Tar Heels hosted the first two rounds.
Hatchell said Friday, “Trust me, I don’t take it for granted.
“Not one bit,” she added. “I’ve been smiling for the last five or six months, I guess. Everything that I do, you would think it would be old to me, but no. It’s special.”
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