Becker: Don’t sleep on action in women’s NCAA Tournament
Courtney Becker | Monday, March 25, 2019
The greatest sporting event of the year is officially underway. March Madness is here, bringing with it a slew of exciting games and strong matchups in both men’s and women’s college basketball. Enough seems to be said about the men’s tournament — see, it’s not so hard to write “men’s” in front of “tournament” considering, you know, it’s not the only tournament — for you to have a general sense of the field right now, but you might not know what’s been happening in the women’s games.
The first round was one of the most exciting in years, with three games going into overtime and several others coming down to the wire, putting multiple high seeds at risk of early exits. No. 2 Iowa survived a major scare from No. 15 Mercer on Friday, but the Hawkeyes pulled out a 66-61 win behind 30 points and 16 rebounds from senior forward Megan Gustafson. In addition to being ESPN’s player of the year, Gustafson leads the nation in four categories, including points per game with 28.1 and field goal percentage at 70.1. With Iowa surviving and advancing, beating Missouri on Sunday to punch its ticket to the Sweet Sixteen, fans are lucky enough to be able to see more of Gustafson this year.
Before Iowa eliminated No. 7 Missouri, the Tigers had to make it through a hard-fought overtime game with No. 10 Drake. The Bulldogs kept the game close the entire time, with the lead not going above five points for either team after the first quarter, but they eventually fell by a score of 77-76. It didn’t hurt the Tigers that they had their own standout senior in guard Sophie Cunningham, who holds Missouri’s all-time scoring record.
No. 4 Oregon State — which pulled off a major upset of its own against instate rival and second-seeded Oregon earlier this year — also had to make it through overtime Saturday, clawing its way back from a late deficit against No. 13 Boise State to win 80-75. The Broncos had a four-point lead with 17.8 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but the Beavers tied it up over the course of the next 10 seconds to force overtime on their home court. The fast pace at the end of regulation and throughout the extra frame made this matchup one of the best so far.
No. 6 DePaul, which took Texas A&M down to the wire in one of the best games in last year’s women’s tournament, wasn’t so lucky, suffering the biggest upset of the round at the hands of No. 11 Missouri State. The Bears shocked the Blue Demons right off the bat, keeping pace throughout the first quarter to end it tied at 23. Missouri State proceeded to take over in the second quarter, though, scoring 19 points and holding DePaul to 10 in the frame. The underdog Bears never looked back after that, ending with an 89-78 win and a chance to take on No. 3 Iowa State in the second round Monday.
Speaking of the second round, it’s already off to a fast start, with two games decided by single-digits in Sunday’s 2 p.m. time slot alone. No. 4 Texas A&M just scraped out a 78-76 win over No. 5 Marquette — who also went to overtime with No. 12 Rice in the first round — behind 30 points, nine rebounds and five assists from sophomore guard Chennedy Carter, the hero of last year’s 80-79 second-round win over DePaul for A&M. In addition to making some daggers, Carter also had a clutch assist in traffic to find teammate Shambria Washington behind the arc, and the junior guard buried a 3-pointer to give the Aggies the lead with 22.9 seconds remaining.
At the same time, No. 5 Florida State was trying to seal a win over No. 4 South Carolina, but the Gamecocks pulled away in the final 10 seconds after Seminoles redshirt junior forward Kiah Gillespie was slapped with a technical foul for slamming the ball to the floor twice out of frustration with a foul call. The ensuing free throws allowed South Carolina to finally put the game away and take a 72-64 win.
There will always be wins with large scoring margins in an NCAA Tournament (remember Villanova waltzing to a championship on the men’s side last year?). But women’s basketball is delivering competition that will have you shouting at the TV. As always, it’s basketball that is well worth watching.