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Women’s March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeaways


Upsets were few and far between in the early rounds of the women’s NCAA tournament. The Sweet 16 delivered right away.

No. 3 seed Oregon State upended second-seeded Notre Dame in Friday’s opening game of the regional semifinals.

But while the Beavers advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2018 and for the third time in program history, Pac-12 counterpart Stanford was knocked out. No. 3 seed NC State overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to upset the No. 2 seed Cardinal 77-67 behind Aziaha James‘ 29 points.

The Pac-12 put five teams in the Sweet 16 and could still make up half of the Elite Eight. No. 2 seed UCLA, No. 5 seed Colorado and No. 1 seed USC all play Saturday when the regional semifinals continue.

LSUUCLA tip off Saturday’s four-game slate at 1 p.m. ET (ABC), with all games on ESPN Networks or the ESPN App.

Women's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeaways

Women's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeawaysWomen's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeaways

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.

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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

Women's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeaways

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Texas Longhorns vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs – Game Highlights

Watch the Game Highlights from Texas Longhorns vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Women's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeawaysWomen's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeaways

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

Women's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeaways

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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.

Women's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeawaysWomen's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeaways

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.

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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.

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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

Women's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeaways

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South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Indiana Hoosiers – Game Highlights

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

Women's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeawaysWomen's March Madness 2024: Sweet 16 tournament takeaways

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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