Saturday, March 24, 2018

Albany regional features a bit of everything

A'ja Wilson has carried South Carolina this season. AP stock photo.

Here we are in the round of 16, and the Albany Regional is comprised of one team with double upsets, a team with a technical upset, and the top two teams in the bracket. Or in other words, the number one seed, the defending champions, the upstarts, and Duke.

Buffalo, the surprising 11-seed, got here by thrashing No. 6 South Florida in the first round, 102-79, and then doing it again to No. 3 Florida State, 96-65.

No. 5 Duke beat No. 12 Belmont comfortably in round one, then dominated No. 4 Georgia in the second round 66-40, for the technical upset, though the teams were so closely matched that many didn’t consider it a true upending.

No. 1 UConn advanced to its 25th consecutive Sweet 16 with a ridiculous 140-52 win over St.Francis (Pa.) and an ordinary (for the Huskies) 71-46 victory over its state-mate Quinnipiac.

No. 2 South Carolina, the reigning National Champion, has struggled. They beat No. 15 North Carolina A&T, 63-52, but were outscored in the second half. Then they struggled against No. 10 Virginia, needing 25 points and 11 rebounds from A’ja Wilson to eke out a 10-point victory, 66-56.

Here’s a quick look at the matchups, and what the teams need to do and not do to move on to the Elite Eight.

Don’t be shocked if Buffalo pulls yet another upset, but don’t expect it to happen. The odds are that the top seeds will hold, and UConn will play South Carolina in Monday’s Elite Eight.

A'ja Wilson has carried South Carolina this season. AP stock photo.
A’ja Wilson has carried South Carolina this season. AP stock photo.

No. 2 South Carolina (28-6)  vs. No. 11 Buffalo (29-5) – 11:30 a.m. EDT (ESPN)

South Carolina leans so heavily on senior center A’ja Wilson that when she shoots just 43 percent in two games, her team is at risk of losing to much lower-seeded opponents. Her season average shooting is nearly 55 percent. It took all of Wilson’s 44 points and 27 rebounds to overcome the turnovers and defensive lapses that turned the Gamecock’s first two tournament games into contests.

Freshman guard Bianca Jackson is the other South Carolina player who has stood out during the opening rounds, scoring 29 points on 11-12 shooting, including five three-pointers. Sophomore point guard Tyasha Harris has looked overwhelmed or lost at times even though she played significant minutes as a freshman in the Gamecock’s championship run last year. She will have to regain her confidence for South Carolina to advance.

Against an aggressive team like Buffalo, the Gamecocks will need to be much more disciplined, protective of the ball, and flexible offensively if they are to avoid a huge upset.

Buffalo refuses to be labelled a Cinderella, or anything else. They simply play what they call “quirky, Buffalo ball.” This is aggressive, full-tilt basketball, reflective of their coach, Felisha Legette-Jack. The formula for mid-major upsets on both the women’s and men’s tournaments is: play defense; make a bunch of threes. Buffalo can do both: they held Florida State to 38 percent shooting, and hit 14-27 threes against USF.

But this Buffalo team does much more. Their winning margin in the two upset victories has come from driving to the hoop, getting fouled, and making their free throws. In the first two rounds, the Bulls shot a stunning 49-54 (.907) from the free-throw line, fully 26 percent of their points. At the same time, they shot just over 50 percent from the field.

Getting to the free throw line has another advantage for the Bulls: they have caused three players to foul out against them.

Junior guard Cierra Dillard has been outstanding during the tournament, scoring 36 against USF and another 22 against FSU, sinking more than half her shots. Senior Stephanie Reid, one of four Australians on the team, has 37 points in the two games. More impressive is that all five starters scored in double figures in the second round against FSU.

South Carolina should win this game on experience and talent. But Buffalo has ignored the need for the first of these, and seems to have plenty of the second. If the Gamecocks cannot return to the winning formula of the mid-season, then A’ja Wilson will have to have a monster game to save them from being upset.

Katie Lou Samuelson, Kia Nurse and Napheesa Collier on defense. Photo by Stephen Slade.
Katie Lou Samuelson, Kia Nurse and Napheesa Collier on defense. Photo by Stephen Slade.

No. 1 UConn (34-0) vs. No. 5 Duke (24-8)– 1:30 p.m. (or so) (ESPN)

Duke rises or falls on the play of Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell. The tournament is usually about guard play, and these two are both fifth-year seniors, with the ability to defend, score and control the pace of play. UConn coach Geno Auriemma conceded that “it’s going to be a challenge for us to contain both of them, and we’re going to have to just pick one of them.”

Brown averages 19.7 points per game, while Greenwell adds 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds. Both shoot the three well and often, at nearly 40 percent between them. (Haley Gorecki also shoots over 42 percent from beyond the arc.)

During the season, controlling Brown or Greenwell would be enough to win, and UConn certainly has the defense to do that. But Duke has a X-factor in the Tournament in 6-2 freshman Leaonna Odom, who has scored 25 and 16 points in two games after a season average of just nine.

Turnovers have been costly to the Blue Devils, though obviously not fatal so far. But those turnovers worry coach Joanne P. McCallie, who understands how well UConn exploits offensive errors.

“The live ball turnover is everything in this tournament,” she said earlier this week. “Twenty-three turnovers against Georgia . . . just too much.”

The keys to the game for Duke will be controlling those turnovers, improving their baseline shooting, and mixing up defenses to keep UConn as much off balance as possible. And, of course, scoring a lot of points. They will need Odom to continue on her tear if they are to accomplish that.

UConn is the consensus best team in the country, the only undefeated team in basketball, the relentless defensive machine, the one whose seniors have lost two games in their careers, the one that laid 140 points on St. Francis without playing a starter more than 29 minutes.

But UConn is not healthy. Senior Gabby Williams is their most active defender, (though Kia Nurse usually draws the opponent’s best player). The offense, when clicking at its best, runs through her. Williams can be the most disruptive player in women’s basketball, but she has a chronic and painful hip injury, and she has suffered frequently from migraine headaches. I have no confirmation of this, but I infer from Williams sub-par performance in the second round that she may have had both issues flaring up during that game. If Williams is seriously hampered by one or both maladies, the Huskies could be in trouble.

Furthermore, sophomore point guard Crystal Dangerfield battling both  shin-splints and an ankle injury. She has seemed a step slower on defense recently, and her scoring has been limited and ineffective.

UConn can probably defeat Duke without top performances by these two injured players. But getting to the Final Four will be much more difficult if they are not playing at full speed on Monday.

None of which is to suggest that the Huskies are in deep trouble. Junior forward Napheesa Collier has returned to her best form from last season, scoring 48 points on 20-24 shooting in the tournament. Katie Lou Samuelson has been a consistent force all season in all facets of the game. The team has shot .629 from the field and 14-31 (.451) from beyond the arc in the first two games.

UConn’s defense remains the foundation of their success. Their opponents shot just 26 percent in the two games, though neither turned the ball over very often.

They should prevail over Duke, but keep an eye on the play of Williams and Dangerfield. If they look full-speed, an eleventh consecutive Final Four is in sight. If not, Monday could be a disappointment for Husky fans.

Sweet 16: bring it

Action begins tomorrow.

The Tournament:

ESPN writers weigh in with Sweet 16 picks.

WNBA senior watch profiles the Sweet 16 players to keep an eye on.


WBCA All-American teams by region.

College team news:

Stanford wants to earn an “A” in aggressiveness in Lexington. They return to Rupp Arena.

A teammate’s struggles helped Stanford maintain perspective.

Five things to know about Louisville’s opponent, Stanford.

UCLA seeks its first Elite Eight since 1999.

The Wolfpack relishes their ride to the Sweet 16.

In Central Michigan, Oregon sees hallmarks of their own Tournament run last year.

Mississippi State got its respect. The Sweet 16 is about winning.

Baylor is still potent despite the loss of senior guard Kristy Wallace.

Australia has made an impact for Buffalo.

Oregon has a lot of ties to Spokane.

Oregon State faces a massive test in Baylor.

Duke prepares to face undefeated UConn.

Grambling State is building a strong foundation to the future.

College player news:

Her role has changed, but Dominique Dillingham is still helping Mississippi State win.

Arike: also known as nightmare.

Coach Muffet McGraw thinks Jackie Young could be Notre Dame’s best player ever. The sophomore has taken a special step.

Challenged Lauren Cox has helped Baylor to the Sweet 16 again.

Texas’ Sug Sutton is excited for her homecoming in Kansas City.

Jill Barta will leave Gonzaga and forego a fifth season of eligibility.

College coach news:

Vic Schaefer is the WBCA Coach of the Year.

From death to a championship, Schaefer talks about how his son Logan almost died.

A look back at Dawn Staley.

What’s in a seed number? Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack and Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara answer questions.

Surina Dixon is out as Jackson State’s coach.

Final Four 2019:

The NCAA has revealed next year’s logo. The Final Four will be in Tampa Bay.

WNIT scores:

Quarterfinal winners include Indiana, St. John’s, Virginia Tech, TCU, Alabama and South Dakota.

WNBA news:

The WNBA and NBA has partnered with Headspace for league-wise access to meditation.

ESPN’s “Dominant 20” features WNBA and college teams.

Liberty fans are still fuming about their team’s exile to Westchester.

Imani McGhee-Stfford talks about relationships and unrealistic expectations.

USA Basketball:

The 3X3 U18 rosters have been set.

Catching breath on a no-game day


College hoops attendance is up to its highest level in a decade.

The Tournament:

How each of the 16 remaining teams got here, and where they go next.

Eleven things to know considering the tourney still includes two 11-seeds.

The Spokane regional has something for every hoops fan.

College team news:

Do the Ducks have Final Four potential? Opposing coaches are believers.

Buffalo will fight as long as they can.

The success of Stanford lifts all in the Pac-12.

Another early exit continues the Lady Vols’ slide.

Marquette hopes to emulate the culture of Louisville, who beat them last weekend.

For Maryland, a down year is still pretty successful.

College player news:

Victoria Vivians is now the second-leading scorer in Mississippi State history.

It’s the end of an era for Kelsey Mitchell.

Buffalo point guard Stephanie Reid heaped praised on teammate Cierra Dillard last night.

Sierra Calhoun and Mikayla Waterman will return to a wildly different Ohio State team next year.

Villanova’s Jannah Tucker will get an extra semester of eligibility.

UConn’s Kia Nurse is savoring every moment of her last season.

College coach news:

Mississippi State associate head coach Johnnie Harris is the WBCA’s assistant coach of the year.

Virginia coach Joanne Boyle has retired.

Sue Guevara has taken Central Michigan to new heights.

Felisha Legette-Jack is showing Buffalo how to win.

The mother-daughter Fabbri chapter at Quinnipiac ends.

Jeff Walz is discussing a contract extension at Louisville.

Vicki Hall has been named coach at Indiana State.

WNBA news:

Players are taking advantages of opportunities in the classroom.

Imani McGhee-Stafford says Texas is eyeing history.

Skylar Diggins-Smith picks Notre Dame to make a deep Tournament run.

USA Basketball news:

USA Basketball and the NBA have set age-appropriate standards for youth basketball.

Sweet 16 round ups: Albany regional

South Carolina 66, Virginia 56:

Columbia – Last years NCAA National Champions solidified their spot in the Sweet 16 once again, after a 66-56 win against Virginia to kick off the second round of the Albany Region.

A’ja Wilson led her team with 25 points and 15 rebounds for the Gamecocks. Bianca Jackson chipped in 13 points.

South Carolina outscored the Cavaliers throughout each quarter.

Virginia came out hot and held a small lead in the first quarter, but once South Carolina found their groove toward the end of the second, the Cavaliers could not recover.

Player to watch: This year, Wilson was named First Team All-SEC, Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year and is predicted to be the No.1 pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft. She is the nation’s fourth-leading scorer, with 2,342 career points. Wilson has been the top point-getter for the Gamecocks throughout the first two Tournament rounds, with 19 points against North Carolina A&T and 25 points against Virginia. If Buffalo has any chance to make it to the Elite 8, round someone will need to step up and stop Wilson.

UConn 71, Quinnipiac 46:

Storrs – Quinnnipiac senior Carly Fabbri played her last game in front of mom/Bobcats head coach Tricia Fabbri, as undefeated UConn handled last year’s Cinderella team.

The powerhouse Huskies are on a mission after blowing out St. Francis, 140 to 52 on Saturday. This momentum means that Sweet 16 opponent Duke will have to show up and play their best basketball to have a chance against them.

Quinnipiac struggled with UConn’s height in the paint, and gave up a lot of rebounds on both ends. Over-helping inside the paint left the perimeter open for Husky senior Kia Nurse to do what she does best, as she shot 60 percent from the three-point line. Napheesa Collier leads the team with 23 points eight rebounds.

Player to watch: Nurse, is leaving it all on the court for her last NCAA tournament. She scored a double-double in the first round of the Tournament with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and she had 13 points in the second round, but she is not finished yet. Expect this two-time national champion to help her team take the title back this season.

Duke 66, Georgia, 40:

Athens – Georgia suffered a scoring drought in the second quarter against the Blue Devils, and it cost them a spot in the next round of Tournament play.

Four of Duke’s five starters scored in double digits, led by Leanne Odom with 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Blue Devils held the Bulldogs to 12 points for about eight minutes before Que Morrison opened the scoring back up with 2:34 left in the second quarter. Georgia played hard until the end, including their 21 offensive rebounds, but they couldn’t convert them to points.

Player to watch: Duke star senior Lexie Brown, is leading her team in assists, and contributed 13 points against Belmont and 14 points against the Bulldogs. The Blue Devils have not made a Final Four appearance since 2006, but with Brown, odds may be in their favor, even against their next opponent, UConn.

Buffalo 86, Florida State 65:

Tallahassee – It could have been anyone’s game early in the first half, but aggressive Buffalo consecutively outscored Florida State in every quarter to secure a spot in the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.

The Bulls rolled through Florida, first upsetting South Florida, 102-79.  Next they face the defending champion Gamecocks.

Player to Watch: Guard Cierra Dillard has carried Buffalo these first two rounds as the team’s leading scorer dropping 36 and 22 points, respectively.

UCLA routs Creighton for third straight trip to the round of 16

Jordin Canada and Monique Billings celebrate a bucket. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Jordin Canada and Monique Billings celebrate a bucket. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Jordin Canada and Monique Billings celebrate a bucket. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Los Angeles – UCLA raced out to a hot start against Creighton in NCAA Tournament second-round action Monday, and rode their momentum to an 86-64 win.

The Bruins became the first women’s basketball team in school history to advance to three consecutive Sweet 16 rounds behind the play of Jordin Canada, who finished with 21 points, eight assists, six rebounds and five steals. Four others scored in double figures, including Japreece Dean, with 16, and Monique Billings, with 15.

Audrey Faber, who eventually finished with 20 points, scored the first three of the game with a long shot. UCLA then made five straight shots to send the Bluejays into a timeout, but the hosts continued to blaze through the first half to lead 49-32 at halftime.

The Bruins used full court pressure defense to force Creighton into 18 turnovers, and they used their speed and quickness to 29 points off of them. The Bluejays trailed by as much as 28 points in the fourth quarter before UCLA coach Cori Close began inserting substitutes. Olivia Elger scored 13 points for the visitors.

Close said she was pleased with her team’s effort in light of what she characterized as lackadaisical play against American two days earlier. Canada said the Bruins had decided to play better, and they had also heard about the Tournament upsets that had taken place before their game.

“The last game Saturday, we didn’t come out with a lot of energy, and American was able to go on their run…and we knew tonight we had to play to our potential and dictate on the offensive end,” Canada said. “We knew there were some upsets before we played and we thought, ‘that’s not going to be us.’ We’re going to come out aggressive and come out hard.”

Creighton coach Jim Flanery credited the Bruin defense with overwhelming his team.

“I thought UCLA was terrific,” he said. “I thought they really defended us well and were sharp offensively. They did a good job of playing different defenses and keeping us off balance with the presses and all.”

The Bruins advance to the Kansas City regional, where they will play a familiar foe Friday in the Texas Longhorns. The two teams have played against one another three of the last four years.

“It’s really going to come down to possessions,” Close said. “They pride themselves on their defense and their rebounding, and we pride ourselves on our defense and our rebounding. I think it’ll be a big deal for our guards. Our guard rebounding is going to be big.”

The game also marked the final home court appearance for Canada, Billings and senior Kelli Hayes. Canada found herself reflecting on her college career at the end of the game.

“It was special – especially with Monique and Kelli and what we’ve built here,” she said. “Why I came here and the things we’ve accomplished, it all came back to me walking off the court…being able to get a win in my last home game here ever is a great feeling.”

UCLA takes on Texas Friday at 6 p.m. PT.


*This is UCLA’s 15th NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bruins have won the last three second round contests played in the Tournament. UCLA reached the Sweet 16 in 2016 for the first time since 1999, and has how advance in each of the last three seasons.

*UCLA’s best finish in the NCAA Tournament is the Elite Eight in 1999.

*With her 21 points vs. Creighton, Jordin Canada moved past Maylana Martin (1997-2000, 2,101 points) and into second on the all-time UCLA career scoring list, with 2,108 points. This was Canada’s 40th career 20-point scoring game, which is fifth on the all-time school list. Canada also advanced up on the single-season scoring list at UCLA, as she moved into fifth on that list, going past Denise Curry (1977-80, 606).

*With her nine rebounds vs. Creighton, Monique Billings became UCLA’s single-season rebounds leader, with 366. The old mark was held by Denise Curry (1980-81, 360). Billings also moved past Natalie Williams (1991-1994, 1,137) and into second on the all-time UCLA career rebounding list with 1,145 rebounds.

Longhorns oust the Sun Devils, advance to Sweet 16

Lashann Higgs elevates for two. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.
Lashann Higgs elevates for two. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.
Lashann Higgs elevates for two. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.

Austin – Kianna Ibis could not be stopped. Pick-and-pop jumpers, streaks to the rim, spot-up threes — everything was falling in the Arizona State junior forward’s favor.

Texas junior guard Lashann Higgs responded to all of it. She slithered into the lane with poise and attacked the rim relentlessly. By the 3:01 mark in the first quarter, Ibis led both teams with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. Higgs followed close behind, nailing all three of her shots for six points.

The two wings battled all night Monday at the Frank Erwin Center in 2-seeded Texas’ 85-65 win over 7-seeded Arizona State.

Longhorn head coach Karen Aston pulled Higgs to the sideline with the score tied, 14-14, hoping to ignite another player’s engine. It worked. Sophomore forward Joyner Holmes, senior guard Ariel Atkins and junior center Jatarie White all hit close-range shots while shutting out the Sun Devils on defense.

Higgs returned to the game with 1:19 left. So did Ibis. The former dropped in one more layup before the end of the first. The latter hit three free throws. Heading into the second quarter, Ibis had racked up 12 points, but Texas led, 22-18, powered by Higgs’ eight points.

“I realized that, at the ball reversal, there were a lot of driving lanes open,” Higgs said. “So, I tried to take advantage of it, and just tried to be aggressive for my teammates.”

The pair continued to trade blows. Higgs could do no wrong. She started the quarter hitting a mid-range jump shot with an inch of room between her and her defender. She missed her next shot — a three from the left corner — but Atkins snagged the offensive rebound and put the ball back in to push the Longhorns’ lead to 11.

Ibis countered, draining her next jumper over Atkins to cut the lead back down to nine. Arizona State closed the half out on a 9-2 run. Ibis and Higgs each scored seven in the quarter as Texas continued to lead, 40-35.

ASU cooled off in the second half as McCarty heated up. Ibis took just one shot in the third quarter and missed it. McCarty took five — and made all of them.

“I think we did a better job of guarding (Ibis) as a team and not leaving whoever was guarding her individually on an island,” Atkins said.

McCarty snatched a board following one of Ibis’ bricks and pushed the pace on a fast break. She sent a lob toward Holmes a few inches too high. Holmes leapt in the air and bounced the ball off the legs of Sun Devil junior center Charnea Johnson-Chapman while diving out of bounds to keep possession.

ASU left McCarty open on the left wing. She canned in the triple and scored another nine points in the third.

“I just went out there and played,” McCarty said. “And whatever was open, I took it. My teammates were doing a great job of finding me and were doing a great job of boxing out and stuff like that. So, I just tried to help them out the best I could.”

Holmes and McCarty ran a similar play in the next quarter. McCarty collected her tenth rebound of the game — securing a double-double — and saw Holmes running a vertical route down the right sideline. She launched a lob, this time right on the money. Holmes touched down for layup, giving Texas a 73-52 lead with 5:55 left in the game. The Longhorns had sealed the victory.

Higgs finished the game with 19 points while McCarty and Holmes combined for 25. Ibis finished the game with 27.

“I’m just incredibly proud of our entire basketball team,” Aston said. “The fact that this is our fourth year in a row to got to the Sweet 16 and you can almost tell that, I don’t want to say they are getting used to it, we told them not to ever take it for granted, but they expect this.”

Texas advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament with the win and will take on UCLA in Kansas City on Friday.

UConn beats patient Quinnipiac for 25th straight Sweet 16

Kia Nurse drives into the paint. Photo by Bob Stowall.
Kia Nurse drives into the paint. Photo by Bob Stowall.
Kia Nurse drives into the paint. Photo by Bob Stowall.

Storrs, Conn. – In a game between Connecticut’s two best teams, no one could fault the effort.

Quinnipiac’s proximity to UConn, the friendship and respect between their coaches, and the home-state example have all contributed to the fearless, hard-working, capable team that the Bobcats have become. Winners of three of their last four tournament games, Quinnipiac has become the dominant team in their own league, going undefeated this season and winning the MAAC Tournament. They entered Monday’s NCAA Tournament second-round game against the Huskies on a 23-game winning streak.

That streak included a 86-72 victory over Miami in the first round, just as they had beaten them last year in the second round to make the first Sweet 16 in school history.

But the Bobcats had never faced UConn in the Big Dance. In their only previous meeting in 1998, the Huskies had the 117-20 rout. At that time, Quinnipiac had just made the transition to Division I, and that pasting remains the largest margin of victory in UConn history. Tonight, the Huskies prevailed, 71-46.

The Bobcats are a much better team than they have been. They feature a disciplined offense that spreads the floor, passes from side to side, and drives and kicks to outside shooters. Three athletes average 40 percent from three-point territory. And although they are an up-tempo team, coach Trish Fabbri took a lesson from the Huskies’ demolition of St. Francis on Saturday, and retooled the offense to burn most of the shot clock on every possession.

St. Francis’ decision to play and up-tempo, shoot-quick game in the first round in Storrs simply allowed UConn to do what it really does absolutely the best: run and score in transition. The final score, even with the Husky starters limited to 29 or fewer minutes, was 140-52. Fabbri was not going to fall into that trap.

Quinnipiac executed the new game plan remarkably well. Most importantly, they protected the ball, turning it over just seven times against perhaps the best defense in the country. UConn scored just eight points off those turnovers. Both of those numbers were season lows for the Huskies, who normally scores more than 20 or more points off turnovers.

Ultimately, UConn’s superior size and talent won the game, as they have in the second round every year since 1993, when they lost to Louisville. This year marked their 25th year advancing to the round of 16, but it might have been one of the most taxing games, as Husky players and coaches described it as “a grind.”

The Bobcat defense has not received much notice, but they are active and coordinated, communicating well. They also did a creditable job boxing out to avoid UConn’s second chance points to six. Despite the major height advantage of the top seed, Quinnipiac was reasonably effective for three quarters at blocking passing lanes into the post. When the Huskies did get the ball to their posts, however, the Bobcats had no way to stop them. Napheesa Collier and Azura Stevens were UConn’s leading scorers, hitting 14 of 17 attempts. Half of the team’s points were scored in the paint.

As tough and persistent as Quinnipiac was, the Huskies shot 50 percent for the first half and 56 percent for the game, including 6-12 from three-point range and 13-14 from the line.

UConn is known for its ability to begin the second half with an intensity which overwhelms an opponent. In this game, however, the Bobcats came out with heroic defensive energy, forcing two quick turnovers, and matching their host’s scoring for the first six minutes of the third period. But as the second half unfolded, the Huskies steadily increased their lead. Although Quinnipiac harassed them like few other teams have, UConn patiently moved the ball around to find someone open for a score.

Quinnipiac’s slow-down strategy had taken a toll on the team, as they finished shooting just 30 percent – 10 percent lower than their average. Because they did not begin their offense until the shot clock was half expired, many of their shots were rushed, and nearly all were tightly contested.

“We were just a little bit choppy with a lack in prep with changing our whole offensive style,” Fabbri said. “I do think that we were just a little bit rushed when we did come open to get that shot off.”

“We were just a little bit quick and not in our complete rhythm offensively. I thought we handled the whole first half and how we wanted to go about playing them.”

Junior Napheesa Collier was dominant around the basket for the Huskies, scoring 23 points on 9-11 shooting, and 6-6 from the line. Redshirt junior Jen Fay led the Bobcast with 12 points, but she shot just 5-18 on the night.

Auriemma has praised Quinnipiac for several years, and this game only confirmed his respect for the way Fabbri has developed her program.

“They’ve established themselves in their league,” he said, “to the point where I think they expect to be in this game every year.”

“That’s the level that they’re at: to be able to be there last year and win and then to lose some players to graduation and have a younger team this year and still be able to be in that second round game. That takes a long time to get to that point. And I think that they are there. They feel that [they belong here].”

Aryn McClure looks for an outlet. Photo by Jim Hassett.
Aryn McClure looks for an outlet. Photo by Jim Hassett.

Although Quinnipiac lost, they are among a group of teams proving that mid-major teams have become competitive in the women’s game. At the same time the Huskies and Bobcats were playing, 11-seed Buffalo stunned third-seeded Florida State to move on to the Albany regional with UConn, and 11-seed Central Michigan shocked third-seed Ohio State, 95-78.

Auriemma was effusive in his excitement over the mid-majors’ success.

“If you look around the country, the mid-major programs are a lot better than people think and [Quinnipiac is] one of the best,” he said.

“You know, in women’s basketball the mid majors don’t get any respect. On the men’s side they do, but not on the women’s side. So for this year to have what’s happening in the mid-majors, I think that’s like the best thing that’s ever happened.”

UConn moves on to play Duke this Saturday in Albany.

Oregon routs Minnesota, 101-73, to punch Sweet 16 ticket

Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu initiate the fast break for Oregon. Photo by Eric Evans Photography.
Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu initiate the fast break for Oregon. Photo by Eric Evans Photography.
Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu initiate the fast break for Oregon. Photo by Eric Evans Photography.

Eugene – Last year Oregon was a tenth seed in their regional in the NCAA Tournament, and blew through the bracket to crash the Elite 8. This year’s No. 10 seed, Minnesota, was hoping to do the same to the No. 2 Ducks Sunday. But behind banner performances by their two stars, the hosts were too much, and routed the Gophers, 101-73.

Sabrina Ionescu led Oregon with 29 points and nine assists, and Ruthy Hebard put up 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Carlie Wagner finished with 20 points for Minnesota, while Destiny Pitts had 17.

Both teams came into the first quarter with a point to prove, started the game on a tear and traded baskets for all ten minutes. The Ducks led 30-22 at the break. The Gophers kept pace with Oregon through the second quarter, meeting their 21 points with 14 of their own.

From the end of the second and into the first minute of the third, the Ducks went on 16-0 run, leaving Minnesota scrambling. They went on to score another seven for a total of 13 points in the first two minutes of the second half while Minnesota only scored three. Oregon never looked back.

“I was just in the flow of the game. People were getting me the ball in a position for me to score, which was nice to see,” Ionescu said. “Ruthy played well inside, and I was getting her the ball, and vice-versa.”

In Friday’s opening round game against Green Bay, the Gophers trailed by 10 at half, rallied and came back to win 89-77. But the Ducks, who have been ranked in the top 10 for most of the season, proved to be too tall of an order for the visitors. Coach Marlene Stollings said her team was out-hustled by a bigger team.

“I don’t think that it was that we didn’t try – I think it’s just that they’re that powerful,” Stollings said.

Minnesota senior Carlie Wagner said she and her team found it hard to keep pace with fast-moving Oregon.

“We just defensively started relaxing and not getting to shooters and moving as well,” Wagner said. “I think our intensity dropped off a little bit towards the end of that first half.”

Four years ago, both Ducks coach Kelly Graves and Stollings inherited teams that desperately needed rebuilding. This season Stollings took the Gophers to the Tournament for the second time in her tenure, and some have projected Oregon into the Final Four.

Last fall Graves was recruiting in Minnesota and stopped by a Gopher practice, where Stollings shared a drill with him.

“Oregon is a tremendous team,” Stollings said. “I would be shocked if they’re not playing in the Final Four and going for a championship. They move the ball as well as…..UConn in what I’ve seen this year.”

Duck senior guard Lexi Bando originally committed to play for Graves at Gonzaga, but followed him to Oregon when he got the job there. Also graduating this year is Justine Hall. Graves had high praise for both players.

“They’ve left a legacy that Duck fans will remember forever,” he said. “Lexi, especially, because she was here the first year, and we took our lumps that first year but we built something special.”

A season-high 7,576 fans came to Matthew Knight Arena to cheer on their team.

Oregon advances to play in the Spokane regional this weekend, where they will play the winner of tonight’s Ohio State-Central Michigan matchup.

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