Women’s March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeaways


The national title game rematch so many saw as a potential Elite Eight matchup when the bracket came out two weeks ago is on.

No. 1 seed Iowa and third-seeded LSU, the defending national champion, both won Saturday to advance to the Region 2 final in Albany. Monday’s winner will book a return trip to the Final Four.

The Hawkeyes beat 5-seed Colorado 89-68 behind 29 points and 15 assists from Caitlin Clark. The Pac-12 put five teams in the Sweet 16 but is 1-3, with Oregon State as the lone winner so far.

LSU is one of four No. 3 seeds to advance to the Elite Eight, as NC State and the Beavers won Friday and UConn joined them on Saturday.

Here’s what we learned from each Sweet 16 game and what’s ahead in the Elite Eight.

How did UConn grind out a defensive slog of a win? This game was not for offense lovers, with a 23-13 UConn edge at the half marking both teams’ scoring lows for any half this season.

To start the third quarter, Paige Bueckers loosened things up with two early 3-pointers, while KK Arnold had some nice drives to the rim to chip in six that frame alone. With Ashlynn Shade going scoreless and Aaliyah Edwards (29 minutes) dealing with foul trouble much of the game, Arnold’s contributions both offensively and defensively (she finished with five steals) were huge for the Huskies. Arnold, Edwards and Bueckers were the only three UConn players to score more than three points.

UConn’s defense has been up and down at times this season, especially when it comes to defending quick guards, but forcing 23 Duke turnovers and letting the Blue Devils make only 18 baskets was enough to withstand any of the Huskies’ scoring issues on the other end (their 53 points matched their second fewest in an NCAA tournament game in program history). Not helping matters was that Reigan Richardson, Duke’s standout scorer in the tournament, was limited to 10 points on 5-for-15 shooting (0-for-5 from 3). Kara Lawson’s defensive-minded squad is not typically a high-powered offensive machine. UConn showed why and was able to take advantage.



Bueckers’ 24 points lifts UConn to the Elite Eight

Despite a poor shooting night, Paige Bueckers scores 24 points to lead UConn past Duke and to the Elite Eight.

Duke made things interesting down the stretch, pulling within five with two minutes to play after trailing by as many as 20. The Blue Devils had finally started to find some offense, hitting 7 of their 14 shots to start the fourth, with freshman Oluchi Okananwa spearheading the effort. But it was too little, too late, and they were held scoreless after Kennedy Brown’s layup with 52 seconds left. The Blue Devils’ 45 points tied for the second fewest by the program in an NCAA tournament game.

As she has all season and especially in postseason play, Bueckers led the charge for UConn, scoring 24 of her team’s 53 points. She now has tallied that many in six straight games, tying the longest streak of her career.

What it means for UConn: The Huskies return to the Elite Eight after missing out last year, when their loss to Ohio State marked their earliest tournament exit since 2007 and snapped their streak of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances. It’s their 28th Elite Eight appearance, tying Tennessee for the most in NCAA tournament history. But more than numbers, this run for UConn exemplifies the resilience it has shown all year, having lost six players to season-ending injuries.

What it means for Duke: Most would not have expected Duke to be on this stage going into the season, maybe even during it. The Blue Devils were picked to finish seventh in the ACC preseason poll, and with a new squad featuring eight underclassmen (five of whom were freshmen), they had some growing pains. Their upset win at Ohio State in the second round, which secured their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2018 and first under Lawson, showed a glimpse of what they can continue to build toward moving forward with rising senior Richardson, Okananwa and the rest of their young core. — Alexa Philippou

How did the Trojans survive a scare from Baylor? Up 11 late in the second quarter, USC seemed to be cruising to the Elite Eight. Showing no quit, the Bears rallied to take their first lead since 14-13 late in the third quarter, and were up four heading to the final period. Baylor still led 64-61 with 4:19 left when the Trojans turned the game with an 8-0 run. On a day when she passed former Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell for second in single-season scoring by a freshman, USC star JuJu Watkins scored the last five points of that stretch to give the Trojans a five-point lead. Still, after Baylor’s Sarah Andrews banked in a 3 with 22.8 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to one, USC had to sweat out the final seconds. Andrews, who knocked down five 3s in the game, missed an attempt that could have tied it, and Trojans center Rayah Marshall pulled down her 16th rebound before splitting two free throws to seal the victory. Watkins finished with 30 points, making 12 of 13 free throw attempts to compensate for shooting just 8-of-28 from the field, and added 4 assists and 4 blocks. Only Paula McGee, with 31 in 1982, scored more points for the Trojans in an NCAA tournament game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

What’s next for USC: The Trojans’ run continues to echo their dominance of the sport in the 1980s and 1990s. Having already reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994, they’ve now reached the Elite Eight for the seventh time — the previous six all coming between 1984 and 1994. USC last reached the Final Four in 1986, some 19 years before Watkins was born. Watkins’ singular star power and an unsung cast of role players have the top-seeded Trojans in position to keep building on this success in Los Angeles, but a regional final test awaits against the winner of UConn and Duke. The tournament-tested Huskies in particular would present a challenge unlike any USC’s players have faced as they navigate the late stages of the NCAA tournament for the first time. At some point, the Trojans might need to shoot the ball better than they have in going 6-0 during the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments. USC has made better than 40% of its shots from the field in just two of those six games.

What’s next for Baylor: The Bears’ return to the Sweet 16 for the first time under Nicki Collen was already ahead of schedule. Baylor will lose seniors Dre’Una Edwards and Aijha Blackwell — the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, respectively — but will return Andrews. The team’s leading scorer Saturday, Andrews announced before senior day that she will return for a fifth season in Waco, Texas, to lead a balanced offense that saw six players average double figures this season. — Kevin Pelton

Can Iowa’s defense hold its own against LSU in the Elite Eight? The Hawkeyes dominated their Sweet 16 game against Colorado from start to finish. Unlike their second-round game, in which West Virginia slowed things down, the pace Saturday against the Buffaloes was what Iowa wanted.

And when things are going well offensively for Iowa, they tend to go pretty well defensively, too. What Iowa proved against West Virginia is the ability to win a slog of a game that required a lot of patience because it’s not how Iowa likes to play. The Hawkeyes felt their defense won that one.

Against Colorado, the Hawkeyes also were good defensively, holding the Buffs to 30%, 38.1% and 31.3% shooting in the first three quarters. The game was largely decided prior to the fourth quarter, when Colorado shot 53.3% from the field. By then, it didn’t matter.

But LSU is bigger, quicker and more skilled offensively than Colorado or West Virginia, so the defensive assignment vs. the Tigers is much tougher for Iowa. That said, the Hawkeyes know what they are facing, after going against LSU in the national championship game last year. The Tigers won that matchup 102-85.

“We’re excited. Anytime you have a chance to go against somebody who you lost to, it brings a little more energy,” Iowa star Caitlin Clark said. “But at this point in the tournament every single team is good. I think overall it’s just going to be a really great game for women’s basketball.”

What it means for Iowa: The Hawkeyes had five players score in double figures, led by Clark with 29 points. She also had 15 assists and 6 rebounds.

“We talked about really come out and dominate that third quarter from the start,” Clark said of how the Hawkeyes built on their 13-point halftime lead.

Sydney Affolter had 15 points, fellow guards Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin scored 14 each, and forward Hannah Stuelke had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“This was the first time in about three games we felt like we were able to put together a complete game on both ends of the floor,” Clark said.

What it means for Colorado: After a stretch in which Colorado made the NCAA tournament just once in 17 years, the Buffaloes have now made it to the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons. They finish this season 24-10 and lose fifth-year seniors Jaylyn Sherrod, Quay Miller and Maddie Nolan. Next season, the Buffs go back to the Big 12 Conference, which they left in 2011 to go to the Pac-12. Coach JR Payne said as sad as the Buffs are to see the end of the Pac-12, the Big 12 is a good landing place for Colorado.

“I think it’s great for our student-athletes in that the travel is actually — might even be easier in some regards than the Pac-12,” Payne said. “We have a lot of longtime Buff fans … so for them to have the opportunity to renew some of those old rivalries, travel to some of the games … that is going to be great for us.

“We have a lot of energy in Boulder right now with [football coach Deion Sanders] and the success of both men’s basketball and women’s basketball and things like that. I think it’ll continue to grow that energy in Boulder.” — Michael Voepel



LSU rides fourth-quarter run to clinch Elite Eight berth

LSU lights it up in the fourth quarter to put UCLA away and clinch a berth in the Elite Eight.

Will any team be able to beat LSU when Flau’jae Johnson plays like this? It’s safe to say that not many teams typically will be able to slow down all the talent that the Tigers put on the court. But when sophomore guard Johnson is as effective as she has been in the NCAA tournament, it makes facing LSU seem even more daunting.

Johnson had 24 points and 12 rebounds Saturday, going 7-of-11 from the field. She is shooting 60% (18-of-30) in the Tigers’ three NCAA tournament games. She has scored in double figures in every game but one since Dec. 12. Saturday was Johnson’s fifth game scoring at least 20 points in March; she had 20 or more just three times in the Tigers’ first 28 games. LSU is 13-0 when Johnson scores 20 or more in her career.

On a team with big personalities, Johnson is one of the biggest. The Tigers thrive when they play with swagger and confidence, and Johnson usually gives them both. With LSU trailing 63-60 with four minutes left Saturday, Johnson had 7 points and blocked a shot as the Tigers closed the game on an 18-6 run to keep their repeat championship hopes alive.

What it means for LSU: The Tigers were outrebounded 44-38 and took 13 fewer shots from the field than the Bruins. But all those shots didn’t help UCLA much, as the Bruins struggled, especially from the 3-point line (7-of-32).

LSU, meanwhile, gets to the line and converts more than any team in Division I, and that worked for the Tigers again Saturday. They were 24-of-31 there, compared to UCLA’s 12-of-18. The Tigers also won in turnover margin, 19-13, with LSU getting 11 steals.

Including Johnson, four Tigers scored in double figures: Aneesah Morrow (17), Angel Reese (16) and Mikaylah Williams (12).

Sure, it took LSU until the last few minutes to put the game away. But considering the high quality of the opponent and the high stakes, it was an impressive win to get the program to its 10th Elite Eight appearance.

What it means for UCLA: The Bruins finish the season 27-7, and their key loss personnel-wise is fifth-year guard Charisma Osborne, who is expected to be drafted into the WNBA. She had eight points and four assists in her final game for the Bruins. But UCLA brings back standouts such as center Lauren Betts and guards Londynn Jones and Kiki Rice. It will be a different kind of season in 2024-25 for UCLA, though, as the Bruins move to the Big Ten along with USC, Oregon and Washington. — Michael Voepel



NC State dominates second half to down Stanford and head to Elite Eight

Trailing by 10 at halftime, No. 3 NC State comes out hot in the second half and ends up defeating No. 2 Stanford 77-67 for a trip to the Elite Eight.

How did NC State hand Stanford a historic NCAA tournament loss? Stanford seemed to have all the momentum in the first half, leading for 13:44 and going into the break up 10 despite junior star Kiki Iriafen playing only six minutes after picking up a couple of early fouls. The Cardinal were 17-0 on the season when leading at the half.

Things took a turn to begin the third quarter. Iriafen picked up her third foul almost immediately, and All-American Cameron Brink was quickly called for her first three fouls of the game in less than three minutes. Brink sat for a bit, then reentered and picked up her fourth. She then fouled out just two minutes after returning in the fourth quarter. Getting Stanford’s bigs in foul trouble was something NC State players said they identified from the Cardinal’s game against Iowa State as an opportunity to exploit.

NC State seized the moment with Brink out. From when Brink picked up her third foul with 5:35 left in the third, the Wolfpack outscored Stanford 41-27, with a 28-10 third quarter particularly damaging. It was also the most points Stanford has been outscored by in any quarter this season. Without Brink on the floor, and with Iriafen limited until the fourth quarter, Stanford’s Achilles heel — guard play — was on display.

Guard Aziaha James led the charge for NC State, scoring 25 of her 29 points in the second half, including 16 in the third quarter; James alone nearly outscored Stanford in the second half, and she scored or assisted (five dimes) on 40 of NC State’s 77 points, getting downhill, hitting three 3s and going 10-for-11 from the free throw line. Saniya Rivers and Zoe Brooks also got going as the game went on and combined for 25 points.

On the other end, Stanford hit just 5 of 25 shots from 3 (two in the fourth quarter) and committed 14 turnovers to NC State’s seven.

What it means for NC State: Lucky number 8, huh? NC State, which lost four starters from the 2022-23 team, was picked to finish eighth in the ACC preseason poll, and was unranked nationally. Now the Wolfpack are headed to the third Elite Eight in program history, and second in the last three tournaments. Conversations for coach of the year might be over, but Wes Moore’s name deserves to be in there.



Cameron Brink fouls out early in the fourth quarter

Cameron Brink gets called for her fifth foul early in the fourth quarter with Stanford down 11.

What it means for Stanford: The Cardinal exceeded expectations in several ways. They were picked to finish third in the Pac-12 before winning the regular-season crown and reaching the Pac-12 tournament title game. Getting back to the Sweet 16 following last year’s second-round upset was a positive. Still, failing to get much deeper this time around, in Brink’s final season and amid a breakout year for Iriafen, has to be disappointing. Friday marked Stanford’s largest blown halftime lead in NCAA tournament history; entering Friday, Stanford was 56-0 in the NCAA tournament with a double-digit halftime lead, the second-most wins without a loss in that spot in tournament history.

Brink will head to the WNBA as a presumptive lottery pick having left her mark on the Stanford program. She passes the baton to Iriafen, who will return as a senior. — Alexa Philippou



Texas Longhorns vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs – Game Highlights

Watch the Game Highlights from Texas Longhorns vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

How did Texas cruise to the day’s easiest win? On a Sweet 16 Friday marked by close finishes (Oregon State over Notre Dame), upset bids (South Carolina over Indiana) and comebacks (NC State over Stanford), the Longhorns’ 22-point win offered little drama.

Despite playing without starter Taylor Jones (who was in concussion protocol after a hard fall in Sunday’s win over Alabama) and early foul trouble for fab freshman Madison Booker, Texas used stout defense to open up a 19-point halftime lead. Gonzaga shot 1-of-12 inside the arc and the Bulldogs’ 18 points were a season low in any half, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Although Gonzaga found a little more rhythm offensively after halftime, the margin never got any closer than 12 as the Longhorns answered any time the Bulldogs threatened to fire up a pro-Zags crowd in Portland.

What it means for Texas: A third trip to the Elite Eight in Vic Schaefer’s four years in Austin. The Longhorns haven’t yet broken through for their first Final Four appearance since 2003 with legendary coach Jody Conradt, who watched Friday’s game from courtside, at the helm. After star guard Rori Harmon was lost to a season-ending ACL tear in December, this didn’t look like Texas’ year. But the Longhorns rallied with Booker replacing Harmon at point guard to win the Big 12 tournament and secure the last No. 1 seed.

Now, with Stanford — which beat Texas in the Elite Eight in 2022 — heading home, only NC State stands between the Longhorns and a trip to Cleveland.

What it means for Gonzaga: The end of an era. The Zags’ first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2015 was led by three fifth-year seniors, twins Kayleigh Truong and Kaylynne Truong as well as Utah transfer Brynna Maxwell. Leading scorer Yvonne Ejim is also a senior but announced last month she’ll return for a fifth year of eligibility. — Kevin Pelton



Oregon State seals win with late go-ahead bucket, crucial block

Raegan Beers sinks a layup on one end and Talia von Oelhoffen erases a shot on the other to seal Oregon State’s win over Notre Dame.

Can Oregon State’s post presence take the Beavers to the Final Four? There were two stories to the game — the Beavers’ domination inside and the way they completely shut down freshman All-American Hannah Hidalgo. Headed into the matchup, Oregon State felt good about its chances to seize control of the game with its play inside — mainly because Notre Dame was down one of its best post players and the Beavers knew the Irish couldn’t play as aggressively in order for their team to avoid getting into foul trouble.

The result? Oregon State had 40 points in the paint as Raegan Beers and Timea Gardiner combined for 32 points and 24 rebounds. The Beavers also outrebounded Notre Dame 42-24, another huge advantage in the game. When Notre Dame tried to defend better inside — tying the score late — a pair of 3-pointers helped seal the victory. Oregon State’s 60.4% shooting from the field was the highest Notre Dame has allowed in an NCAA tournament game since at least 1999.



Raegan Beers elevates for huge block on Hannah Hidalgo

Raegan Beers gets up for a massive denial on Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo.

Hidalgo finished with 10 points, going 4-of-17 from the field, and didn’t score a point between the first and fourth quarters. She missed over four minutes in the second quarter after she was asked to have her nose ring removed, and could never find her rhythm. (“I thought it was B.S., because I’m on a run, I’m on a roll,” Hidalgo told ESPN after the game. “I scored two baskets and then having to sit out for all that time, I was starting to get cold. I think [the officials] were worried about the wrong things. They should have reffed the game.”)

There is plenty for Oregon State to clean up, including multiple stretches where it allowed Notre Dame back into the game when it seemed to be in hand. But there is no question coach Scott Rueck can win another game with this type of presence inside and stout defense.

What it means for Oregon State: Rueck has done a terrific job building back the program, and now the Beavers are in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2018 with a relatively young team that has fought and earned everything it has gotten. Waiting, of course, is a potential matchup with South Carolina, should the Gamecocks beat Indiana in their Sweet 16 matchup.

Regardless of who Oregon State plays, its size and presence inside will be one of the stories to watch as the Beavers showed once again why they have been so efficient inside. If that happens to be a Raegan Beers vs. Kamilla Cardoso matchup, even better.

To do this in the final season in the Pac-12, with so much uncertainty about what a new West Coast Conference home will look like next season and in the future, has to feel even more special. Rueck himself said Thursday that it felt surreal to even consider there would no longer be a Pac-anything. Now here the Beavers are, one win away from the second Final Four appearance in school history.



Hannah Hidalgo misses start of 2nd quarter to have nose ring removed

Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo misses some time in the second quarter to have her nose ring removed.

What it means for Notre Dame: What the Irish accomplished this season with an injury-depleted roster speaks to not only the job Niele Ivey has done, but the stamina and discipline of the six players she has had to rely on during this NCAA tournament. The Irish won an ACC title and made it to a third straight Sweet 16. The good news is that Hidalgo will return to build on what was already a jaw-dropping debut season. Guard Olivia Miles is expected to return from a knee injury that kept her out the entire 2023-24 season. Hidalgo and Miles sharing a backcourt together will be fun to watch.

Plus, Maddy Westbeld has yet to decide whether she will return for one more season. Ivey and the Irish have shown no signs of slowing down. With Hidalgo back and what should be a healthy team, Notre Dame should compete once again for an ACC title. — Andrea Adelson



South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Indiana Hoosiers – Game Highlights

Watch the Game Highlights from South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Indiana Hoosiers

How concerned should South Carolina be about almost losing a 22-point lead? Pretty concerned. This game could have gotten away from South Carolina, and it would have rocked this tournament. The Hoosiers made more 3-pointers (13) than any opponent has against the Gamecocks since Dawn Staley took over as coach in the 2008-09 season. Had Indiana pulled the upset, it would have been the largest comeback ever in a women’s NCAA tournament game.

“Indiana is a really tough basketball team that wanted to move on,” Staley said. “I know (coach) Teri (Moren) will get her team back in this position again in the future.”

True enough, but the fact that Indiana made this such a close game must concern Staley. The Gamecocks lost their only game last season in the Final Four, to Iowa, but that game was a battle throughout. Friday’s game almost seemed like it was over early in the third quarter, but then Indiana began its comeback.

“No lead is safe,” Staley said. “It’s good to get this game in, but I’d much rather have it be smooth sailing. Today we took some bad shots that led to easy buckets for them.”

What it means for South Carolina: The key 3-pointer for South Carolina in this game came from guard Raven Johnson with 53 seconds left and the Gamecocks clinging to a 74-72 lead. Last year, Iowa “waved off” Johnson from behind the arc and bet that the Gamecocks couldn’t make the Hawkeyes pay from long range. Johnson said she took that personally and was determined to be a better 3-point shooter this season.

“I knew she wasn’t going to let us lose,” Staley said.

The Gamecocks were 8 of 16 from 3-point range, which was a big part of their victory. They also got 22 points on 10 of 12 shooting from center Kamilla Cardoso. Next, we will see Cardoso go against another powerful post player in Oregon State’s Raegan Beers in Sunday’s regional championship game.

What it means for Indiana: The Hoosiers finish the season 26-6 and say goodbye to fifth-year senior post player Mackenzie Holmes, who ends her career with 2,530 points as the program’s all-time scoring leader, and third in rebounds with 990. Guard Sara Scalia, who started at Minnesota before transferring last season to Indiana, is also finished with her college career.

But guards Sydney Parrish, who led Indiana with 22 points and made 5 3-pointers Friday, and Chloe Moore-McNeil, who had 12 points and 8 assists, are both coming back for their fifth season via the COVID-19 waiver from 2020-21. — Michael Voepel


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