SAN ANTONIO – The women’s basketball bracket was largely predictable: the higher-seeded teams – with three exceptions – in angry defeats of Brigham Young, Wright State and Belmont – have advanced to the second round. It follows the general trend of men’s and women’s tournaments: the men have more problems while the women’s favorites do well.
But even if their stays are short, teams that make their first or second appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament have fought a fight in an event that looks strong different than in previous years because of the coronavirus pandemic. The newcomers seem grateful just to pave the way for their schools, and some have given top seeds a jolt.
“We definitely have a taste of the NCAA tournament and we can think about it and keep growing,” Stony Brook coach Caroline McCombs told reporters after her team lost to Arizona on Monday.
High Point, Utah Valley, Stony Brook and Bradley debuted in NCAA tournaments in what is known as a controlled environment, located in San Antonio and established by the NCAA and local health authorities.
High Point, a # 16 seed, looked good for 3-point shots on Sunday against UConn, the country’s dominant program for nearly three decades.
The Huskies, number 1, won 43 points less than UConn in the first rounds of the last tournaments: 49 in 2019, 88 in 2018 and 61 in 2017. Huskies trainer Geno Auriemma was at home and isolated because he tested positive for the coronavirus last week.
Stanford caused problems early on on the way to an 87:44 win on Sunday against the 16th seeded Utah Valley. In eleven attempts he scored seven 3-point points and led by 20 points at the end of the first quarter. The Utah Valley picked up speed on Stanford’s 34 with 24 points in the second half. Josie Williams, a Wolverines center, led the team with 18 points and 5 rebounds.
“They are a very physical team and Williams was a great player for them,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer in a post-game interview.
Stony Brook, a # 14 seed, was defeated by Arizona in 79-44. The Wildcats, a # 3 seed, had a 27-point lead at halftime. But the sea wolves were able to keep their deficit from growing too much. In the second half they were only exceeded by 8 points.
Arizona coach Adia Barnes said in a post-game interview with reporters that Stony Brook was “a really good team for the third quarter and a good team for the second half.”
Bradley, a # 11 seed, was due to play with the sixth seed at 8 p.m. Eastern versus Texas on Monday.
Five of the teams in the tournament were making their second appearance, including Drexel, and another five were here for the third time, including Mercer. Drexel and Mercer were ousted in the first round, but not before terrifying their opponents.
Mercer, a # 16 seed, fell on South Carolina on Sunday, 79-53, with the highest seed. South Carolina had an 11-point lead after the first quarter, but Mercer bounced back with a 15-4 run early in the second quarter and briefly linked the game at 27 with a pull-up jumper from Amoria Neal-Tysor. Though the Gamecocks retreated in the second half, the Bears defensive counters kept South Carolina busy.
“We knew they were going to screw it up and one of our keys was offensive execution against their changing defenses,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said in a post-game interview with reporters.
Drexel, a # 14 seed, had a 15-10 lead over Georgia after the first quarter and was linked to the Bulldogs at halftime. Number 3 Georgia took the lead in the third and retreated in the fourth, scoring 27 points on Drexel’s 18th in that quarter.
Some lower seed teams have left, but three had advanced by Monday night, including Belmont, a # 12 seed defeating a # 5 seed, Gonzaga, 64-59.
BYU, a # 11 seed, was the first surprise of the tournament, beating Rutgers with # 6 seed on Monday with a reversal in the fourth quarter. Both teams had previously participated in tournaments, most recently in 2019.
The 13th seed Wright State defeated Arkansas in their third tournament appearance 66-62, a number 4 seed. Raiders Guard Angel Baker had 26 points, 12 rebounds and 4 steals in the surprise.
“I’ve coached the men’s game against some of the best, but they’re better against some of the women I coach against,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said in a post-game interview with reporters. “Hopefully against a really good team like Rutgers we can come a long way for our program to do our best.”
Marisa Ingemi and Natalie Weiner contributed to the coverage.