Breaking down the women’s NCAA Tournament

Devon Greene, editor-in-chief

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The women’s March Madness tournament has reached the Sweet 16 and the first two rounds of games have featured high intensity, close games that rival those of their more televised male counterparts.

At this point in the tournament, it’d be hard to pick anyone but the University of Baylor Bears to come out as the national champions. The Bears blew out the Abilene Christian University Wildcats by 57 in the first round. The Bears went on to drop 102 points on the head of the University of California Golden Bears in their 102-63 point rout in the battle of the Bears. The Bears have found productivity from almost every member of their roster. Six-foot-seven-inch center Kalani Brown led the way against the Wildcats with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but she had a quiet game two. Junior guard Juicy Landrum took over game two with a 20 point 7 point performance. Baylor will face No. 4 seed South Carolina on Saturday.

Even with Baylor striving, it’s hard to talk about women’s college basketball without keeping the University of Connecticut Huskies in mind. To those who don’t watch women’s basketball, it may come as a surprise that the Huskies aren’t ranked as the No. 1 seed in the tournament this year. The Huskies lost two games on the road this year for the first time in what feels like forever. They came out of the gate strong in the tournament though, with a 110-61 win over the University of Towson Tigers. However, they found a bit of trouble in their second outing against the No. 10 seed University of Buffalo Bulls. Senior guard Cierra Dillard did all she could to put up a fight against the Huskies. Dillard recorded 29 points, seven assists and seven rebounds with a bum ankle that left her writhing in pain on the court. Dillard’s performance was reminiscent of Isiah Thomas’ performance in game six of the 1988 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, where he scored a NBA-record 25 points in the third quarter. However, Dillard was unable to will her team to a win and UConn will advance to the Sweet 16, where they will face a No. 6 seeded UCLA Bruins team, who just upset the University of Maryland.

The male tournament has lacked one thing that bolsters excitement in the tournament every year, a Cinderella team. The women’s bracket has found their Cinderella in the form of No. 11 seeded Missouri State University Bears. The Bears defeated No. 6 seeded DePaul in the first round and kept rolling with a 69-60 win over Iowa State University in the round of 32. Junior guard Alexa Willard has been a force to be reckoned with in the first two rounds with 20 and 17-point performances. The Bears are the lowest seed in either tournament still remaining and are hoping to continue their run when they take on the No. 2 seed University of Stanford Sycamores on Saturday.

The University of Iowa Hawkeyes have had a couple tough matchups to start the tournament and avoided a near upset in game one against No. 15 Mercer University. The No. 2 seed Hawkeyes only pulled out a five-point win over Mercer, but cleaned up their act in the second round with a strong performance over the University of Missouri. Iowa has one of the best players in the nation, Megan Gustafson. Gustafson put together a monster performance against the Tigers with a 24-point, 19-rebound effort in game two. Gustafson will need to keep playing at this level if the Hawkeyes want a legitimate shot at the national championship. The Hawkeyes will play No. 3 seeded NC State on Saturday.

One of the matchups that will be the most fun to watch on Saturday is the battle that will take place between No. 1 seed Notre Dame and No. 4 seed Texas A&M. Senior guard Arike Ogunbowale had the shot of the season last year with her buzzer beater game winner over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the national championship. Notre Dame has one of the most complete teams in the tournament with Ogunbowale leading the way, followed by senior Jessica Shepard and junior Jackie Young. However, the Fighting Irish is about to run into a buzz saw in the form of sophomore sensation Chennedy Carter. Carter is coming off a 30-point, nine- rebound and five-assist game against No. 5 seed Marquette. Carter was sixth in the nation this season with 22.9 points per game.

The No 1. Mississippi State Bulldogs have also had a relatively easy road so far, as they cruised through the first two rounds of the tournament with a 104-46 win in round one and an 85-61 win in round two. The Bulldogs shouldn’t have much to worry about on Friday if they keep playing at this level.

The final No. 1 comes in the form of the University of Louisville. The Cardinals have held their first two opponents to 50 points or below and will hope to do so again on Friday with their matchup against Oregon State.

The Summit League has been represented in this tournament by the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits. The Jackrabbits have performed strong so far in this tournament defeating the University of Quinnipiac by 11 in the first round. They made their splash in the second round when they upset the No. 3 seed Syracuse Orange. This upset came to fruition through standout performances from senior guard Madison Guebert, sophomore guard Myah Selland and redshirt senior Macy Miller. The Jackrabbits have one of the toughest matchups coming up in the Sweet 16 as they prepare to face my pick to win the national championship, University of Oregon Ducks.

The Ducks are lead by my favorite player in women’s basketball, Sabrina Ionescu. Ionescu has been on a tear all season, and broke the NCAA record for most triple-doubles in history with her 13th triple double earlier this season. Ionescu continued her triple-double tear when she posted another one in the Ducks’ second round matchup against the No. 10 seed University of Indiana Hoosiers. Ionescu recorded 29 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in the 91-68 win over the Hoosiers. Ionescu tied Dwyane Wade for most points with a triple-double in NCAA history. However, Ionescu’s game isn’t the only thing that makes her my favorite player in women’s basketball.

Following the Ducks’ win on Sunday, Ionescu called out the media for not placing the same spotlight on the women’s tournament as they do with the men’s.

“I mean it’s awesome to get one in the tournament,” Ionescu said. “Probably still won’t get recognized because ESPN never recognizes women’s sports that are getting triple-doubles. But I’m just happy that I was able to do it.”

Ionescu hit the nail on the head when talking about the obvious lack of coverage of the women’s tournament every year. I was watching tournament games earlier this week and the male tournament had games on six different channels while the females only had games on two. Female athletes have worked just as hard as their male counterparts to get where they are and they aren’t receiving the same spotlight during the biggest time for college basketball in the year.

After Oregon’s win on Sunday, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw a clip from Bleacher Report showing Ionescu’s highlights. The comments on the feed were disgusting. They ranged from outright sexism to the constant undermining of Ionescu’s accomplishment. Ionescu responded with an Instagram post.

“Comment section doesn’t phase me. They’re talking about cooking?! Well I’ve been serving triple doubles lately” Ionescu’s post read.

Ionescu’s game can speak for itself, but I’m beyond happy that she’s shining a light on the disrespect that is continuously shown towards women’s basketball. Hopefully, in the years to come, the females will have as big of a stage as the men do every year.

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