March 21, 2023
The Weekly Fast Break: Hello Cinderella
Two top seeds are out, the Sweet 16 is here.
Do you ever wonder why the Disney character Cinderella is so popular? Some believe it is because she can talk to animals, which is a very impressive skill simply by itself. Others say it is because she so eloquently dusts herself off after a hard day of work and glides into the ball with her head held high, just like she belongs. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “Cinderella” as someone or something, especially a sports team, that achieves success when people think they are very unlikely to. Every March, there seems to be a lower-seeded team that glides right into the NCAA Tournament bracket, and without a doubt absolutely knows they belong. How long they will keep their glass slipper, well, that is up to them.
The first week of the 2023 women’s NCAA Tournament has given us feel-good stories, upset wins, great individual performances, and heartbreaking defeats. Sometimes it is the simple bounce off the rim that means you move on or a stellar defensive performance that keeps the music playing and your dance card full. Either way, we live by the simple rule here at The Weekly Fast Break that it does not matter if you win by one or 21 – a win is a win. We hope you have packed enough for more than one week on the road because we are off to Seattle and Greenville for the Sweet 16 – Cinderella cannot wait to dance with you!
Welcome to the Dance Cinderella
For the first time in 25 years, multiple No. 1 seeds have failed to reach the Sweet 16 in the women’s NCAA Tournament. And whether by fate or pure coincidence, it was a No. 9 seed that stunned both Stanford on Sunday night and Indiana on Monday evening on their respective home courts.
Stanford met its match with No. 9 seed Ole Miss and was upset on their homecourt 54-49. Defense was the name of the game for both teams, but the Rebels were the more physical squad, outrebounding Stanford and making them uncomfortable all night. Their defense caused 21 turnovers by The Cardinal, and they converted those into 24 points. Scoring was at a premium for both teams, but Ole Miss answered the call when they needed to, going 10-for-12 from the free throw line in the final quarter to seal the win.
The loss ends the outstanding career of Stanford’s Haley Jones, one of the best in a litany of great guards to play for head coach Tara VanDerveer. But we tip our cap to Coach “Yo,” Yolett McPhee-McCuin, for taking her Rebels program that was winless in SEC play three years ago to this year’s Sweet 16. Seattle may be a long road trip from Oxford, Miss., but Cinderella is packed and ready for what comes next.
No. 1 seed Indiana took care of No. 16 seed Tennessee Tech in their first-round game without the services of All-Big Ten performer Mackenzie Holmes, who sat out due to knee issues. On Monday night, the Hoosiers faced a Miami team that overcame a 17-point deficit in round one to beat Oklahoma State 62-61. The Hurricanes led the entire game against Indiana, including a 12-point advantage at halftime. Holmes (22 points) and her teammates were able to tie it several times late but a jumper with three seconds left by Miami guard Destiny Harden sealed the 70-68 upset.
This loss ends the stellar career of Indiana guard Grace Berger and a historical season for the Hoosiers program. But it was the tenacity of the Miami Hurricanes and their gutsy performances that keeps their season alive and claims the second Cinderella dance card for this year’s tournament. Next stop – Greenville, S.C., and the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1992.
GREENVILLE 1 REGIONAL
No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 4 UCLA
The seeds hold serve in this bracket with the top all advancing to the Sweet 16. South Carolina, who quietly dismantled their opponents in the opening rounds will square off with UCLA who survived a fast-paced brawl with No. 5 seed Oklahoma to advance. The Gamecocks beat No. 8 seed South Florida 76-45 after the Bulls escaped with an overtime win against Marquette in the opening round. Zia Cooke poured in 21 points and Aliyah Boston had a quiet double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds. UCLA held a comfortable lead at half 41-28, but OU would not go away, charging back to take the lead in the second half. Led by senior Charisma Osborne’s career night of 36 points, UCLA survived with an 82-73 win and moves on to the Sweet 16. And just to sweeten the story – UCLA played at South Carolina during the non-conference schedule in November 2022, losing 73-64. What will the re-match bring?
No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
We hear it all the time in the men’s game where a player makes a splash in the NCAA Tournament and their ‘draft stock rises’. The same could be said for Maryland’s Diamond Miller, who had 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds in the Terrapins’ 77-64 win over Arizona in the second round. Notre Dame, who is down two starters including All-American point guard Olivia Miles, had to fend off Mississippi State to advance, winning in South Bend 53-48. The Bulldogs have been one of the feel-good stories of this year’s tournament, but the Fighting Irish were too much behind a 10-point, 18-rebound performance from senior center Lauren Ebo.
GREENVILLE 2 REGIONAL
No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 9 Miami
With the upset of top-seeded Indiana, this regional looks very different than it did a few hours ago. Villanova dispatched No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast 76-57, led by Big East Player of the Year Maddy Siegrist who followed up her 35-point performance in the opening round with 31 against FGCU. Now the Wildcats will square off against a Miami team that won the battle of the boards in their win over Indiana (35-29) and is led in scoring by senior guard Haley Cavinder (12.8 points per game).
No. 2 Utah vs. No. 3 LSU
Both teams continue historic seasons for their programs as they enter the Sweet 16. Utah, co-champions of the Pac-12 for the first time ever, outlasted the relentless defense of No. 10 seed Princeton in the second round, winning 63-56. The Utes made just one three-pointer the entire game, but a huge performance by All-American forward Alissa Pili (28 points and 10 rebounds) keeps Utah alive in the Big Dance. The LSU Tigers used the roar of their home crowd and a monster performance by sophomore Angel Reese (26 points and 24 rebounds) to beat No. 6 seed Michigan 66-42. LSU allowed just 15 Wolverine points in the first half and never took their foot off the gas in the second. Without Indiana in Greenville now, many believe the winner of this game can punch their ticket to the Final Four.
SEATTLE 3 REGIONAL
No. 1 Virginia Tech vs. No 4. Tennessee
The seeds also hold true in this regional with the top four all advancing to the second weekend of the tournament. The Hokies continue to be one of the hottest teams in the tournament, now winners of 13 games in a row. Their second-round opponent was the No. 9 seed South Dakota State Jackrabbits, who beat USC in overtime to advance to the Round of 32. The Hokies were too much for SDSU winning 72-60 behind a 21-point performance from junior guard Georgia Amoore and a double-double from ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley. Tennessee faced an unlikely foe in No. 12 seed Toledo in the second round, who found themselves matched up with the Lady Vols after they knocked off No. 5 seed Iowa State on Saturday. The Rockets were outmatched from the opening tip as Tennessee raced out to a 50-22 lead at halftime. Four Lady Vols hit double-figures in the win, and they blistered the nets going 11-for-22 from deep.
No. 2 UConn vs. No. 3 Ohio State
This matchup will pit two teams who have dealt with injuries all season but have finally gotten healthy at the right time. UConn rode the wave all season of players unavailable but captured the Big East Tournament title and a No. 2 seed in this year’s field. The Huskies faced No. 7 seed Baylor in the Round of 32 and after a slow first quarter that saw them down six, they locked to win 77-58. Sophomore Azzi Fudd played 37 minutes and posted 22 points to lead the way along with 19 points from junior forward Aaliyah Edwards. Ohio State found themselves without the services of guard Jacy Sheldon for much of the regular season, but when they needed her the most, the senior delivered. The Buckeyes battled with No. 6 seed North Carolina all afternoon at home, going back and forth on possessions until Sheldon hit a jumper in the lane with 1.8 seconds left, sealing the 71-69 win.
SEATTLE 4 REGIONAL
No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 9 Ole Miss
Louisville is playing some of their best basketball of the season right now, with two decisive wins, including a 73-51 victory over No. 4 seed Texas in Austin Monday night. The Cardinals outrebounded Texas and held them to just 1-of-10 from three-point range, using a 21-7 second quarter to distance themselves from the Longhorns. Louisville junior guard Haley Van Lith had back-to-back games with over 20 points to help her team move to the Sweet 16. Ole Miss has three players averaging double-figures on the season, including senior guard Angel Baker who led them against Stanford with 13 points. This could be a defensive battle but also track meet if the transition games are firing on all cylinders.
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 6 Colorado
The look and feel of this regional changed dramatically with Stanford’s exit from the tournament in the Round of 32. There is much speculation now that a Caitlin Clark/Aliyah Boston matchup could be coming in the Final Four. But before that can happen, No. 2 seed Iowa will have to continue their winning ways for two more games. The Hawkeyes used the support of their sold-out arena in Iowa City to help them survive the physical matchup against No. 10 seed Georgia. Clark came through yet again with a big-time performance of 22 points and 12 assists in the 74-66 win. Colorado captured their 25th win of the season with an overtime victory at Duke 61-53. The Buffaloes had three players hit double figures and overcame 23 turnovers to survive and advance to the Sweet 16.
Check your local listings and/or visit ESPN.com for a complete rundown of dates and times for the women’s NCAA Tournament games that will begin Friday, March 24.
Written by Missy Heidrick
I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!
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