Mechelle Voepel beat the WNBA, women’s varsity basketball and other college sports for espnW. Voipel began covering women’s basketball in 1984 and joined ESPN in 1996.
The NCAA tournament got a preview Monday night when Stanford and Oregon met in a Pac-12 heavyweight match and the NCAA selection committee announced its predictions for the top 16.
In a women’s basketball season where so many games were cancelled and programs were suspended by COVID-19, the NCAA Tournament looked more promising than expected at times. But the closer you get to the goal, the clearer the picture becomes of what the disc might look like from the committee’s point of view.
Until the next screening on the 1st. A lot can still happen in March and on Monday the 15th. The screening will take place in March. But here’s a glimpse of the postseason prospects in the current Top 16.
1. UConn: The Huskies rely more than usual on one player – guard Paige Buchers (21.1 PPG, 5.7 APG) – they have a total of seven freshmen, and their sophomores have been inconsistent at times. Geno Auriemma said Monday that he has to coach this team differently because of his youth and the influence of KOVID-19, but that his expectations have not changed. Can get all 12 of them. Program championships won? Yes, but they need more than Booker firing on all cylinders, especially juniors Christina Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa.
2. South Carolina: Of the team’s two losses this season, one loss out of three. December against NC State and one in eight. February against UConn, we can learn a lot. Coach Dawn Staley felt the team did not play well enough in the first loss and did not fight well enough in the second. The Gamecocks were making the shots the Huskies wanted to make, and their transition offense was not particularly effective on its own. Led by striker Aliyah Boston, South Carolina can solve these problems and head for their second NCAA title. But their guardians must prevent reversal, and Boston has many contacts.
3. Stanford: The Nomad Cardinals – nine weeks on the road due to COWID-19 rules in Santa Clara County – are back home and seem healthy since their 17-22 defeats against Colorado and UCLA. January looks good. Since Monday’s game against Oregon, Stanford has not allowed more than 59 points in seven games. The Ducks forced them, but the Cardinals won 63-61. Stanford has perhaps the deepest team of any major national championship contender, led by junior Haley Jones and senior Kiana Williams, both averaging 13.9 PPG. New recruit Cameron Brink has been effective in her minutes on the court, but has had to contend with fouls at times. Monday was a different story, when she played 36 minutes and finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and four steals in her best game of the season.
4. Louisville: The Cardinals suffered their only loss against rival NC State. The Dana Evans top guard (20.8 PPG) is a true bolt-and-train who is always ready to shoot under high pressure. Louisville’s top recruits, guard Haley Van Leet and forward Olivia Cochran, average about 11 PPGs and are the two best rebounds on the team. Like the other #1 seed, Louisville has all the weapons needed to play for a national championship, but the Cardinals will have to watch out for their occasional offense.
5. Texas A&M: If on-court play is the key to success in the NCAA tournament, the Aggies are well-supplied in this department. They have been Channedy Carter’s star goalies for the past three years, but this season the workload is more spread out. Guard Aaliyah Wilson leads the Aggies in scoring (13.3 PPG), but they also have weapons like guard Destiny Pitts, who can come off the bench and take the game to her own devices, as she did Sunday against Tennessee (18 points). The N’dea Jones forward and the Ciera Johnson center – reliable seniors. Texas A&M won its NCAA championship a decade ago and could add another this year.
6. NC State: With the Wolfpack’s victories over South Carolina and Louisville, a trip to the Final Four seemed like a real possibility for NC State. The loss of overtime for Virginia Tech was partially due to the absence of the Elissa Coonan Center, which was still in the COVID-19 protocol. The ensuing loss at North Carolina was one of the few times Wes Moore’s management seemed weary. The Wolfpack’s main assets are defense, led by wing player Jakia Brown-Turner (14.2 PPG), guard play, led by Kayla Jones, and inside presence, as Cunane (15.6 PPG) is one of the best pure centers in the college game.
7. Maryland: There was some uncertainty at the beginning of the season: Defensive lineman Ashley Owusu was the only starter, as Maryland lost five key players due to departures or transfers. In addition, newcomer Angel Reese was limited to four games due to injury. It’s still the same old mound: They lead the Big Ten and expect to finish the NCAA tournament well. Sophomores Owusu (19.3 PPG) and Diamond Miller (17.5) lead the team, and transfers Katie Benzan, Chloe Bibby and Mimi Collins keep Maryland close. Coach Brenda Freese just completed her 500th… Winner for the program. Never count the terps.
If coach Geno Auriemma and UConn want to win their 12th national title, they’ll need someone to take on new recruit Paige Buchers. David Butler II/Pool photo via AP
8. Arizona: The Wildcats were one of those teams last season that really felt like they were headed to their first NCAA tournament since 2005. But with sensational goalie Aari McDonald opting to come back instead of going to the WNBA draft, Arizona will not only be in the NCAA field this year, but could end up in an Elite Eight race or higher. It starts with Adia Barnes’ defense, but performances like Sunday’s, where Arizona hit 75 percent of the way to three points (12 of 16), show that the Wildcats can be a force to be reckoned with on that end as well.
9. THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA: The Bruins earned several key wins, including a victory over Stanford in January after a loss against the Cardinals in December. But depth can be a problem. Because some first-year Australian students are not allowed to travel to the United States, we don’t see the full team that coach Cory Blizko envisioned. But with stars like Mikaela Oninvere and Charisma Osborne, UCLA can beat anyone. The most important thing is to try to get multiple wins in the NCAA tournament.
10. Baylor: No one will tolerate the perceived defeats better than coach Kim Mulkey and Baylor, and the Lady Bears likely consider it easy outside the top eight seeds. It’s unfortunate that their game against UConn was cancelled while Baylor was on a break in COVID-19, and the Big 12 aren’t as strong as other leagues. But he’s still the reigning 2019 champion and it’s still one of the best programs. Underestimate NaLyssa Smith and Co. at your own risk. Baylor could end the season with another Final Four and possibly a repeat – with a year between titles.
11. Oregon: A Ducks team that lost that much last season might not be a contender for the Final Four, but Oregon has a team that (Stanford) lost to on Monday (63-61). With fewer turnovers, the Ducks could have even won. There’s still a lot of talent in Eugene, and Monday’s defeat should show that there’s still a lot of potential, with Taylor Mikesell’s perimeter shot, Nyara Saballi on the inside and rookie Te-Hin Paopao’s electrifying guard point play in the lead.
12. Georgia: The Lady Bulldogs finished third in the SEC, and there probably isn’t much that separates them from other teams in the league like Tennessee and Kentucky. Georgia will have a chance to get away for a bit, as the Lady Vols and the Wildcats are their next two opponents. With four senior starters, led by center Jenna Staiti (14.2 PPG), Georgia has the experience to be at least a Sweet 16 team.
13. Tennessee: When the Lady Flights have good performances from guard/foreguard Ray Burrell (17.2 PPG) and Ranniah Davis (15.1), they can be tough to stop. Coach Kelly Harper is concerned that Tennessee has as many turnovers as attendants (272) and that the Lady Flights have yet to play against South Carolina and Georgia. But you could at least see a couple of wins in the NCAA tournament.
14. West Virginia: The Mountaineers have traditionally been known for their defense, but their average of 75.3 PPG this season is the highest in 10 years. Therefore, their fate in the NCAA Tournament is more than usually a matter of offense. Last week, West Virginia suffered a disappointing loss against Oklahoma. And four of the Mountaineers’ final five scheduled games have yet to come, starting with the massive Baylor Big 12 contest on Wednesday. But led by main defender Kisre Gondrezik (21.2 PPG), they can return to the form that led them to 10 consecutive victories.
15. Indiana: At 11-2, the Hoosiers are in the race for the Big Ten title, their only defeats coming from Maryland and Ohio State in the championship. Indiana is second in the conference in defense (59.1 PPG), behind reigning champion Rutgers, and ranks in the middle in offense (76.1 PPG), led by forward Mackenzie Holmes (18.0). The Hoosiers could make their appearance in the first Sweet 16 program.
16. Kentucky: The Wildcats have the most losses (five) of the expected top 16. Three of their SEC losses are due to other top 16 teams: South Carolina, Texas A&M and Tennessee. And even losing to Ole Miss doesn’t seem so bad. Kentucky rebounded from the defeat against the Lady Vols with a win on the 21st. February: the chance to do the same against the Gamecocks. The Wildcats finished third in the SEC at 8-4 against Georgia and have one of the best players in the country in junior goaltender Ryan Howard, who scored 31 points and pulled down nine rebounds Monday at Florida. If you have a star like that, you have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.
Player of the week: Octavia Jett-Wilson, Charlotte.
The American Conference posted impressive results, led by Middle Tennessee’s Anastasia Hayes, who leads the Division I standings with 28.2 PPG. But last week, another talented American guard, Jett-Wilson, followed with 42 and 34 points in two wins over Old Dominion, the first in double overtime and the second in overtime. In both games, Jett-Wilson made 28 of 31 free throws and had 22 rebounds and nine assists for the 49ers.
The performances came from Oklahoma wing Madi Williams, who scored 48 points, 21 rebounds and 12 assists in wins over Iowa State and West Virginia, and Baylor forward Nalissa Smith, who scored 42 points and 21 rebounds in wins over Texas Tech and Texas Tech and led the defense in the Longhorns’ shutout Charlie Collier.
Team of the week: Arizona
After missing four games in two weeks due to COVID-19 protocol, the Wildcats came back with wins over Oregon, Washington State and then No. 10 Washington. They held their opponents to 59, 51 and 53 points. Arizona is now second in the Pac-12 at 12-2 behind 16-2 Stanford. Against Wildcats and Cardinals on Big Monday (ESPN2/ESPN App, 9pm ET).
We feel like we would have had a good [NCAA] tournament last year, Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. So we don’t have that experience, but this team is more mature and more focused on what we need to do.
Coach of the week: C. Vivian Rutgers, Rutgers…
The Scarlet Knights took a break of more than a month in COVID-19 before taking the lead on the 7th. February with a 78-62 victory over Nebraska. Then they won over Northwestern and Purdue (21st), scoring 70 points or more in both games. It’s a big deal for a defense-oriented program. Like the fact that Stringer, who turns 73 in March, can safely return to the sidelines for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have played 11 games so far and currently have five more games scheduled in the regular season in hopes of improving their NCAA recovery.
This week’s winner: Oklahoma
The Sooners had two against Iowa State and West Virginia no. 19. That followed a potentially demoralizing 27-point loss against Oklahoma State in the rivalry known as Bedlam in Week 6. February. Illness and injury reduced the Sooners’ list of active players to seven, but they dug deep and got two great performances from Madi Williams. The Sooners are 8-9 with six games ahead of them to try and reach the NCAA tournament. But did it happen? Their game last week was inspiring.
Before the start of the season, we were talking about the twists and turns and the number of things that would be strange, different, shocking and upsetting during the season, coach Sherry Cole said. What a good thing for a group of kids to learn how to do: Just move on to the next one and do it as well as you can.
frequently asked questions
Which NCAA women’s basketball team has the most NCAA championships?
The UConn Huskies are the most successful women’s basketball program in the country. They have won a record 11 NCAA Division I national championships and four consecutive women’s records from 2013 to 2016, as well as over 50 regular season conference and tournament championships.
What is the best women’s varsity basketball team?
Women’s varsity basketball rankings: The new issue of Texas A&M…
Which school is the only school to have won both the men’s and women’s national championships in the same year?
Three UConn NCAA Division I track and field teams win national titles for the 2013-2014 academic year: Field hockey, men’s and women’s basketball. UConn is the only school with two basketball teams that have won championships in the same year, and it has done so twice (the first double championship was in 2004).
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