The 16 teams left standing in the NCAA women’s tournament include many of the usual suspects and a few surprises too.
Brittney Griner and her undefeated Baylor Lady Bears slammed their way through the first two rounds. So did Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies, who advanced to the second weekend for the 19th straight year with a record-setting performance.
Pat Summitt and her Tennessee Lady Vols are still around, too. The Lady Vols seniors are desperately trying to make one more Final Four run for their Hall of Fame coach, who announced in early August that she has early onset dementia. This Tennessee senior class is trying to avoid becoming the first not to make it to the Final Four during their time at the school.
Notre Dame and Stanford are hoping for a return trip to the Final Four. The Irish are looking to avenge their loss last year in the national championship game. The Cardinal are trying for a fifth-straight trip to the national semifinals.
If all four top seeds make it to the Final Four it would be the first time since 1989 that it’s happened.
There are a few surprises and fresh faces left. Eleventh-seeded Gonzaga and Kansas advanced, marking the first time two 11-seeds made it to the regional semifinals in the same season. St. Bonaventure, Georgia Tech and St. John’s all are making their first appearance in the round of 16.
The Red Storm needed a last-second shot in the opening round and then had to beat Oklahoma on its home court to advance, much to the joy of President Barack Obama, who picked St. John’s to reach the Final Four in his women’s bracket.
“I’m excited to still be dancing,” St. John’s coach Kim Barnes Arica said.
Next week’s matchups that begin Saturday:
—No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 4 Penn State and No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Gonzaga in Kingston; No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 4 Georgia Tech and No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Kansas in Des Moines; No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 5 St. Bonaventure and No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 3 Texas A&M in Raleigh; and No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 5 South Carolina and No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 St. John’s in Fresno.
Like their male counterparts, 14 of the 16 teams still playing come from the power conferences. Only the Zags and Bonnies are outside the BCS. It may not be a huge shock that Gonzaga is still playing. The Zags, who made a run to the regional final last year, had the pleasure of playing at home in the first two rounds again. They first upset No. 6 Rutgers and then third-seed Miami.
Kansas is a bit more of a surprise. The Jayhawks were one of the final teams into the NCAA tournament after losing six of eight to end the regular season. They’ve made the most of their stay so far. They knocked off former Big 12 rival Nebraska in the opening round and then ousted Elena Delle Donne and third-seed Delaware.
Now the Jayhawks are in the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since 1998.
“When I was in the locker room, I told my teammates to pinch me,” junior Aishah Sutherland said.
St. Bonaventure coach Jim Crowley is making the most of his first trip to the NCAAs. The fifth-seeded Bonnies had to survive the mid-major pod by knocking off Florida Gulf Coast in overtime and NCAA darling Marist in the second round.
“We’re the new kids to the party,” Crowley said. “That’s pretty cool.”
So was Grinner’s dunk. She’s only the second player ever to do it, joining Candace Parker, who did it twice against Army in 2006.
“That wasn’t just a barely-over-the-rim type of dunk. That was a monster dunk,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I think Brittney is so conscious of people writing good or bad about the dunk, that she’s scared to get excited sometimes and celebrate a dunk, because she’s been written about in a negative way. I said, ‘Honey, if I could dunk it, I’d do backflips down the floor.'”
No team put together a more complete game in the second round than Connecticut. The Huskies held Kansas State to an NCAA record low 26 points in a 46-point win Monday night.
After saying in early October that his team wasn’t going to win a national championship this season, Auriemma has changed his tune. He’s been impressed by the way his team has grown throughout the season. For one of the rare times in his career, he’s not exactly sure how the rest of the tournament will play out for the Huskies.
“We could lose Sunday or we could go to the Final Four and win a national championship. I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve said that,” Auriemma said. “This team’s capable of anything. The way we’re playing right now, we’re capable of doing a lot of great things. But we’re going to have to step it up a little bit from tonight for next weekend.”