March 27, 2024 

The Weekly Fast Break: Sweet 16 survivors

Game-by-game breakdowns of the Sweet 16

When the television series Survivor was first released it became a phenomenon because we were watching people seemingly just like us compete on a deserted island to be the last one standing, much like the Sweet 16. With a single bag to their name when they arrived, the contestants had to figure out how they would make it from week to week. Through storms, heat, injury, sickness and just about any other crisis you can think of, there were tears and triumphs and eventually, a winner.

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The road to the Final Four can feel like a season of Survivor for teams that make it into the NCAA Tournament. Some match up against the favorites, the alphas of the group that dominate everyone in their path. Then there are the quiet, keep-your-head-down opponents who grind it out and before you know it, are standing victoriously when others are flaming out. And lastly there is the underdog of the group – the one no one ever thought would have it in them to make it this far. Throughout the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament we have seen all of these and more – for most the season is over, but for 16 teams, they survive another week on the road to Cleveland. 

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. The Sweet 16 is set and the challenges on the floor get more difficult. Unlike those dirty, tired contestants on Survivor, you are allowed more than one bag on this trip and so we hope you have packed enough for Portland or Albany. No matter your Sweet 16 matchup or location, just remember – all you must do is survive and advance. If you can do that your next destination will be the Final Four.

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Paige Bueckers and the UConn Huskies are right where they want to be – in the Sweet 16 and still dancing in the 2024 NCAA Tournament. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

How Sweet It Is: A year ago, the storylines surrounding the Sweet 16 were all about Cinderella teams who had crashed the dance party. This year, many of the top seeds in all four regionals were pushed and challenged, but eventually were able to keep their dance music turned on for another week. The lowest seed to advance is a No. 7 while the soon-to-be-no-more-as-we-know-it Pac-12 Conference is sending five teams to the Sweet 16. There is one member of the Big EAST and a mid-major also still dancing. How did they get there and what lies ahead? We have your survival guide for the next round.

ALBANY 1 REGIONAL (Games to be played on March 29)

No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Indiana

For the second straight year, the seeds hold serve in the regional where South Carolina sits at the top. The No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament did exactly what we all thought they would – they dismantled their first two opponents by 52 and 47 points, respectively, to glide right into the Sweet 16. South Carolina will face No. 4 seed Indiana, who was challenged on their home court by No. 5 seed Oklahoma, withstanding the fast pace set by the Sooners. The Gamecocks destroyed North Carolina in the second round 88-41 behind 20 points from freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley who was 4-for-7 from behind the arc. Four others hit double figures and their defensive effort held UNC to single digit scoring in two quarters. Indiana advances with their 75-68 victory over OU, led by 29 points and four blocks from All-American center Mackenzie Holmes. The Hoosiers shot a shade under 40% from three on the season and with guard Sara Scalia and others giving them deep threats, the Gamecocks will have to honor the perimeter and not just pack it in on Holmes. South Carolina creates so much offense with their defense that Indiana will have to limit live ball turnovers and runouts. But can anyone really slow down Dawn Staley’s loaded team? No one has yet – we will see if the Hoosiers could strike lighting in a bottle in Albany.

Freshman phenom Hannah Hidalgo and the Notre Dame are into the Sweet 16 with their sights set on Cleveland and the Final Four.
(Photo Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 3 Oregon State

The Fighting Irish are headed to their third straight Sweet 16 after two decisive wins at home in South Bend and head to Albany where they will face a team that on paper may look a lot like them. Oregon State has sophomore post Raegan Beers, a double-double machine, inside and veteran guards out front, but they do not have Hannah Hidalgo. The dynamic freshman guard for Notre Dame is the fifth leading scorer in the nation and is tops in the country in steals. She controls the game for head coach Niele Ivey on both ends of the floor and dictates the pace of every game. Just ask second-round opponent Mississippi, whose only lead of the game was 2-0, and the Irish dispatched, 71-56. Oregon State comes in after grinding out their second-round victory over Nebraska 61-51 and will need their supporting cast to be ready to play, including forwards Talia Von Oelhoffen and Timea Gardiner. Can the Beavers put the brakes on Hidalgo and company? Their defense on the year has held teams to just under 60 points per game – the biggest test on the biggest stage yet this season will be on Friday.

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ALBANY 2 REGIONAL (Games to be played on March 30)

No. 1 Iowa vs. No. 5 Colorado 

Not very often do we get repeat Sweet 16 matchups but that is exactly how the ball bounced this year in the Albany 2 Regional. The seed numbers are different from a year ago (both were one spot lower in 2023) and the stakes seem just a bit higher as Iowa looks to return to the Final Four. The Hawkeyes used the homecourt advantage in Iowa City to defeat Holy Cross in the first round and then were pushed for 40 minutes by No. 8 seed West Virginia in the second. The Mountaineers’ defensive pressure was a headache for Caitlin Clark and her teammates, causing 15 Iowa turnovers. Iowa used their decisive advantage at the free throw line (25-for-30 to 3-for-5 for WVA) to win 64-54. Their path will again run through No. 5 seed Colorado, who will also bring pressure and physicality to the Sweet 16. The Buffaloes knocked off No. 4 seed K-State 63-50, as their defense swallowed up the Wildcats (22 turnovers caused) and the balance of the roster in scoring and minutes played rose to the challenge. How will Iowa handle Colorado guards Jaylyn Sherrod and Tameiya Sadler out front? It is a battle we cannot wait to see.

It was not easy, but No. 1 seed Iowa advances to take on No. 5 seed Colorado in a Sweet 16 rematch from a year ago.
(Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports)

No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 LSU

The Bruins have had their ups and downs this season but when everyone is available to head coach Cori Close, UCLA is a force to be reckoned with. The won seven in a row to finish the season before losing to USC in the Pac-12 tournament title game. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, they had four players averaging double figures, led by sophomore center Lauren Betts. Betts did not play in the first-round win over California Baptist but was back for their second-round matchup with No. 7 seed Creighton. UCLA was down eight at half but battled to win 67-63 and returns to their second consecutive Sweet 16. They will line up against the reigning national champions, LSU, who enter at the same spot they did a year ago, the No. 3 seed. The Tigers are loaded with talent, led by junior Angel Reese and impact transfers Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow, both who want their run at a title. LSU caught a break when No. 6 seed Louisville was beat in the first round. The only other Pac-12 team LSU faced this season was Colorado in the season opener when they lost 92-78. Could the season start and end with losses to Pac-12 teams? Hold on to your sequin hats and get ready for a showdown.

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PORTLAND 3 REGIONAL (Games to be played on March 30)

No. 1 USC vs. No. 5 Baylor

The last time USC was in the Sweet 16 was 1994, with then future Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie anchoring the paint for the Trojans. This time, the No. 1 seed has freshman sensation JuJu Watkins on the floor and USC is aiming for their fifth Final Four appearance in program history. Watkins and her teammates advanced with a 73-55 win over No. 8 seed Kansas behind 28 points by Watkins and 20 from senior guard McKenzie Forbes. USC caused 18 turnovers and held KU to 36% from the field. Their next opponent is another Big 12 team, the No. 5 seed Baylor Bears. Baylor advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time under head coach Nicki Collen by holding off Virginia Tech. The Hokies had won 28-straight games on their home court but were without their All-American center Elizabeth Kitley in the post. Junior guard Jada Walker dropped a career-high 28 points in the win for the Bears, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter. This matchup could be a track meet with both teams averaging right around 75 points per game – we hope you are rested and ready to get up and down the floor.

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USC superstar freshman JuJu Watkins has the Trojans back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994. Can they return to the Final Four? (Photo credit: Pac-12 Conference)

No. 3 UConn vs. No. 7 Duke

The surprise of the Portland 3 Regional is not that UConn has advanced to their 30th straight Sweet 16, but that their opponent is not the regular season Big Ten champs, the No. 2 seed Ohio State. The Buckeyes were bounced from the Big Dance by the Duke Blue Devils, who trailed by 10 after the first quarter but never panicked. Their cool, calm, and collected demeanor, patterned after head coach Kara Lawson, let Duke methodically get back in the game and never look back. Three players hit double figures, led by 28 from junior Reigan Richardson. But for the underdog to advance, they will have to get by one of the big dogs, the Huskies, led by All-American Paige Bueckers. She had 32 points in 40 minutes in UConn’s second round win over Syracuse and is averaging 21.8 points per game on the season. The Huskies have been depleted all season due to injuries but have proven you can never count them out – just ask everyone in the Big EAST if you do not believe us.

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PORTLAND 4 REGIONAL (Games to be played on March 29)

No. 1 Texas vs. No. 4 Gonzaga

The top four seeds in this regional also advanced to the Sweet 16 setting up intriguing matchups all around. Texas played their way into the No. 1 seed by going 9-1 over the last 10 games of the season and have not missed a beat since. They dispatched Drexel in the first round and then handled soon-to-be SEC foe Alabama in the second round, 65-54. Head coach Vic Schaefer got a pair of 21-point performances from freshman guard Madison Booker and junior forward Aaliyah Moore. They held the Crimson Tide to just 34% from the field and dominated them on the glass. The Longhorns will face No. 4 seed Gonzaga, who survived a second-round battle against Utah. The Zags had four in double figures and went 12-for-22 from the three-point line. Gonzaga can be vulnerable in the post, which can bode well for Texas, who is loaded in the frontcourt. Not only do they have Moore at 6’1, but then there is 6’2 DeYona Gaston, 6’4 Taylor Jones and 6’4 Amina Muhammad to contend with inside. Gonzaga is one of the most experienced teams left in the Big Dance – they will need that veteran moxie to help them take down the top seed in their regional.

Texas forward Aaliyah Moore has been a force for the Longhorns’ in recent weeks, including their second-round win against Alabama in the 2024 NCAA Tournament. (Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports Network)

No. 2 Stanford vs. No. 3 NC State

If watching the second-round game in Palo Alto was giving you a sense of deja vu, you are not the only one. Last year, the Cardinal were sent packing when they were upset on their home court by lower-seeded Mississippi. Fast forward to the 2024 Big Dance, and this time it was No. 7 seed Iowa State that pushed Stanford to the, uh, brink – an overtime battle which they won 87-81. Senior Cameron Brink had an impact on the game but fouled out in the fourth quarter. The star for head coach Tara VanDerveer was junior forward Kiki Iriafen, who torched the Cyclones for 41 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks. Next up for the No. 2 seed is the matchup most anticipated – No. 3 seed NC State. Wes Moore came into the season with a young roster and many questions, but they answered the call all year and then some. Their balance and athleticism led them to just six losses on the season and was on full display in their 79-72 second round win over Tennessee. Four players scored in the double figures for the Wolfpack, led by 22 by guard Aziaha James, who played all 40 minutes. Can NC State control the duo of Iriafen and Brink and force the Stanford backcourt to beat them? If the Wolfpack come in attack mode – look out.

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Junior forward Kiki Iriafen and the Stanford Cardinal are headed to the Sweet 16 to face No. 3 seed NC State in the Portland 4 Regional.
(Photo courtesy of Stanford Athletics)

Check your local listings and/or visit for a complete rundown of dates and times for the women’s NCAA Tournament games that will begin Friday, March 29.

Written by Missy Heidrick

I am a retired Kansas State shooting guard 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, Locked on Women's Basketball podcast host, 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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