By The Associated Press
March Madness is racing toward the Sweet 16! Here is what to know about the women’s NCAA Tournament as teams battle for slots in the regionals:
The top four seeds in the tournament are South Carolina, Indiana, Virginia Tech and Stanford:
SOUTH CAROLINA: The undefeated defending national champions are the No. 1 overall seed and they look every bit a juggernaut, advancing to the Greenville I regional without a serious challenge. The region includes two teams in No. 2 seed Maryland and No. 4 seed UCLA that lost to the Gamecocks earlier this season. South Carolina is loaded, with two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year Aliyah Boston and leading scorer Zia Cooke.
INDIANA: The Hoosiers landed the top seed in the Greenville II Region and won its opener by 30 points. Mackenzie Holmes, who leads Indiana with 22.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, didn’t even play but she was expected to return for the second round. Top challengers include No. 2 seed Utah, No. 3 seed LSU and No. 4 seed Villanova, which is led by scoring sensation Maddy Siegrist. She had 35 points in ‘Nova’s first-round win.
VIRGINIA TECH: The ACC tourney-champion Hokies top the Seattle 3 Region and they will take a 13-game winning streak to the Sweet 16 behind star center Elizabeth Kitley. Virginia Tech could have to navigate No. 4 seed Tennessee and No. 2 seed UConn or No. 3 seed Ohio State after that.
STANFORD: The committee looked to Stanford’s steadiness for much of the season in giving it the top seed in the Seattle 4 Region. The Cardinal are led by Cameron Brink and Haley Jones, who have combined to score more than 28 points per game this season. A potential high-wattage battle could await in the Final Four against No. 2 seed Iowa and national player of the year candidate Caitlin Clark.
GAMES TO WATCH
No. 4 seed UCLA (26-9) vs. No. 5 seed Oklahoma (26-6), Monday, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Perhaps the top freshman class in the women’s game will face a far more experienced group. The Bruins have the youth, and the Sooners have three players with at least 1,500 career points. UCLA has the benefit of playing at home and rolled to a 67-45 victory against Sacramento State in the opening round. The Sooners, the No. 2 scoring team in the country, beat Portland 85-63.
No. 2 seed Connecticut (30-5) vs. No. 7 seed Baylor (20-12), Monday, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Two longtime rivals meet again. Two years ago, the Huskies won 69-67 in a regional final after a possible foul was not called on the final possession. Four players who were on the court for the 2021 game are expected to play: UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards and Aubrey Griffin and Baylor’s Caitlin Bickle and Sarah Andrews. The Bears are seeking their 13th trip to the Sweet 16 in 14 years. UConn has made the regional final in 28 consecutive seasons and is seeking its 15th straight Final Four berth and 12th national championship appearance.
No. 4 seed Texas (26-9) vs. No. 5 seed Louisville (24-11), Monday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
It will be a rematch from a fall matchup in the Bahamas, but this time a Sweet 16 bid is on the line and it will be on Texas’ home court. Louisville won the early matchup 71-63. Texas has reached the Elite Eight two years in a row. The Cardinals have advanced to the Elite Eight or Final Four in each of the last four seasons.
No. 4 seed Tennessee (24-11) vs. No. 12 seed Toledo (29-4), Monday, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The Rockets of the Mid-American Conference might be wise to not look up as they try for their first trip to the Sweet 16 on Tennessee’s home floor. Playing under its eight national championship banners, Tennessee is trying to advance to the tourney’s second weekend in back-to-back years for the first time since 2015-16, but for the 36th time overall.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The women’s tournament field is filled with stars, including South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, last season’s AP player of the year who is back in hopes of winning a second straight national title and has more than 80 double-doubles in her incredible career. She will have plenty of competition for the honor this year, including sharp-shooting Iowa star Caitlin Clark.
There is also center Mackenzie Holmes of top-seeded Indiana and the AP All-America team is also a good place to check out some of the top players in the game. The Cavinder twins, gym rats who are wildly popular on social media, made their first tournament — and helped their team win its opener — after transferring from Fresno State to Miami.
The field is also remarkable for the high number of international players, a growing trend in women’s basketball.
Standout performances abound.
Grace Stone nailed her fifth 3-pointer of the game with 4.7 seconds remaining to lift 10th-seeded Princeton to a 64-63 win over North Carolina State. Alissa Pili had a career-high 33 points, eight rebounds and a career-high eight assists to lead No. 2 seed Utah over Gardner-Webb.
Power forward Angel Reese had 34 points and 15 rebounds as 3-seed LSU beat Hawaii while fellow All-American Caitlin Clark scored 48 points and added 24 assists over two wins to help Iowa reach the Sweet 16.
Gun violence has cost lives and disrupted college sports all season, touching some of the top programs in college basketball. Coaches have been thrust into uncertain and unwelcome roles in trying to navigate the topic — as well as the fallout from the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
On a lighter note, the Big Ten is loaded and eager to climb back into the title game. And if you think you know the women’s tournament, try this 25-question quiz from AP.
Want to hear from the athletes themselves? UCLA freshman Kiki Rice and injured UConn star Paige Bueckers have each written diaries for AP about their “tourney journeys.”
HOW TO WATCH
The title game will be on a national network — ABC — for the first time since 1996 in a stroke of good news for the game. ABC plans to air at least a half-dozen other games, too.
Beside that, every game of the women’s tournament will be available on ESPN’s networks or streaming, with fans encouraged to navigate to the “Watch” tab on ESPN’s sites. The NCAA will have a women’s basketball specific March Madness app by AT&T.
There are multiple sites listing game times and other details, including the NCAA site.
Who’s going to win the national championship? The betting favorites last week to reach the Final Four are (in order): South Carolina, Indiana, UConn, Stanford, LSU and Iowa, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The Gamecocks are a heavy favorite to become the first repeat champion in the women’s tournament since UConn won the last of four straight in 2016.
MARCH MADNESS CALENDAR
Selection Sunday set the brackets for First Four games and first- and second-round games through Monday at campuses across the country.
Sweet 16 weekend brings a twist this year for the women’s teams: There will be two regional sites instead of four, with Greenville, South Carolina, and Seattle each hosting eight teams.
Where is the women’s Final Four? In Dallas, where the semifinals are March 31 and the championship game is April 2. As it happens, the men’s Final Four is a four-hour drive down the road in Houston that same weekend.
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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