In a season where the nation’s top six or seven teams appeared to have set themselves apart from the other 338 or 339, few expected any of the top seeds to be ousted in the round of 16, and no one would have been surprised to see all four one seeds advance to the Final Four for a second consecutive year.
But in the second half of Saturday night’s Georgia-Stanford game, conventional wisdom failed.
The fifth-seeded Bulldogs held Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike to only 8 second half points and overcame a 7-point halftime deficit to beat the Cardinal 61-59 behind Jasmine James (16 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) and Jasmine Hassell, who scored 6 points in the final three minutes.
Sunday evening saw an even bigger upset.
Defending national champion Baylor entered the tournament as the top overall seed. The Bears, led by stars Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims, were 34-1 and brought a 32-game winning streak into last night’s regional semifinal. Louisville wasn’t intimidated.
The Cardinals took an early lead and held onto it throughout the first half. Fifth-seeded Louisville went on a tear in the second, extending the lead to 19 points. Baylor narrowed the lead over the final 12 minutes, and took a one point lead when Sims hit two free throws with 0:09 on the clock. But on the game’s final play Louisville’s Monique Reid drew a foul on Griner and hit both of her foul shots to clinch the game for the Cardinals.
The absence of Baylor and Stanford should make for an interesting final week of the tournament. Here’s a preview and TV schedule for the Elite Eight. All times listed are Central Time.
Monday April 1
6:30 CT: (1) Connecticut v. (2) Kentucky (ESPN)
Kentucky survived a late rally by Elena Delle Donne and the Delaware Blue Hens, thanks to 19 points from Jennifer O’Neill and 16 points and 9 boards by A’dia Mathies.
The Wildcats now face a Connecticut team that beat a solid Maryland squad by 26 points and has won its three tournament games by an average margin of 42 points.
8:30 CT: (2) California v. (5) Georgia (ESPN)
Upsetting top seed Stanford earned Georgia a date with the Cardinal’s arch rival.
This year’s California team put together the best season in the history of the program, but the Bears haven’t had an easy go of things in the NCAA Tournament, needeing overtime to beat South Florida in the round of 32.
Cal was tied with LSU at halftime of Saturday’s regional final before the Bears pulled away in the final 10 minutes, behind Layshia Clarendon, Gennifer Brandon, and Brittany Boyd, who scored 19, 17, and 14 points, respectively and each played more than 35 minutes.
Tuesday April 1
6:00 CT: (1) Notre Dame v. (2) Duke (ESPN)
Notre Dame All-American Skylar Diggins scored 27 points Sunday and became the program’s all-time leading scorer, as the Irish easily defeated twelfth-seeded Kansas, 93-63. Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa chipped in 17 points and 10 rebounds.
33-2 Duke got a little bit of a scare Sunday from Nebraska. But the Blue Devils took the lead late in the first half and never relinquished it.
Oklahoma City Region
8:00 CT: (2) Tennessee v. (5) Louisville (ESPN)
It’s unusual for Tennessee to go under the radar in women’s college basketball, though this year’s Lady Vols have. But a lack of SportsCenter coverage hasn’t kept Tennessee from advancing through this tournament with ease. The Vols have yet to be challenged, and yesterday’s game against Oklahoma had been decided by halftime.
Tennessee now faces a Louisville team fresh off its historic upset of Baylor. Jeff Walz’s Cardinals will be looking for their second ever trip to the Final Four. Tennessee has been in the Final Four more often than not (literally) but hasn’t played in a national semifinal since 2008, the longest drought in program history.