March Madness: Sweet 16 arrives with a twist: 2 sites, not 4
March Madness has reached the Sweet 16! There is a twist this year for the women’s tournament: The NCAA picked two regional sites instead of four, with Greenville, South Carolina, and Seattle each hosting eight teams. Here is what to know:
GAMES TO WATCH
No. 3 LSU (31-2) vs. No. 9 Miami, Sunday, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
The resurgent Tigers under Kim Mulkey showed they are far more than first-team All-America Angel Reese, and they’ll face a Miami team that apparently finds no valley too deep to escape. Reece fouled out, but Alexis Morris hit four free throws in the last 10 seconds to bring the Tigers to the brink of their first Final Four in 15 years. LaDazDazhia Williams took advantage of the attention paid to Reese with a season-high 24 points for LSU and Reese had 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Hurricanes — Cardiac ’Canes so far in the tournament — have never been to the Elite Eight, but earned their spot even after blowing a 21-point lead to Villanova and falling behind in the final period. But they hung in and Jasmyne Roberts’ three-point play with 38.8 seconds allowed them to hang on. Roberts had 26 points for the ’Canes.
No. 2 Iowa (29-6) vs. No. 5 Miami (22-12), Sunday, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Putting the disappointment of two straight seasons of early exits behind them, the Hawkeyes are on the brink of their second Final Four after a dazzling display of shooting and balance. Their last obstacle? A Cardinals team making its fifth consecutive trip to a regional final. First-team All-American Caitlin Clark had 31 points and always leads the Hawkeyes, but with plenty of scoring help. They shot 54% in their victory over Colorado. The Cardinals have star power too, and she’s a local. Hailey Van Lith grew up about 130 miles away and is the career state scoring leader in Washington. She scored 21 against the Buffs.
The top four seeds in the tournament were given to South Carolina, Indiana, Stanford and Virginia Tech. Stanford was the first to bow out last weekend and Indiana was ousted a day later by Miami.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The women’s tournament field is filled with stars, including South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, last season’s AP player of the year. She will have plenty of competition for the honor this year, including sharp-shooting Iowa star Caitlin Clark, LSU’s Angel Reese and more.
The Cavinder twins, gym rats who are wildly popular on social media, made their first tournament after transferring from Fresno State to Miami. The field is also remarkable for the high number of international players, a growing trend in women’s basketball.
Charisma Osborne scored a career-high 36 points to help UCLA rally after blowing an 18-point lead against Oklahoma to reach the Sweet 16. Alissa Pili had a career-high 33 points, eight rebounds and a career-high eight assists to lead Utah over Gardner-Webb.
Then there is Angel Reece, who has 76 points and 52 rebounds for LSU through three wins, while fellow All-American Caitlin Clark has 79 scored 48 points and added 32 assists over three wins for Iowa.
Gun violence has cost lives and disrupted college sports all season, touching some of the top programs in college basketball. Coaches have been thrust into uncertain and unwelcome roles in trying to navigate the topic — as well as the fallout from the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
On a lighter note, if you think you know the women’s tournament, try this 25-question quiz. And do you think that juggernaut teams are good for the game?
Want to hear from the athletes themselves? UCLA freshman Kiki Rice and injured UConn star Paige Bueckers have each written diaries for AP about their “tourney journeys.”
HOW TO WATCH
The title game will be on a national network — ABC — for the first time since 1996. ABC plans to air at least a half-dozen other games, too.
Beside that, every game of the women’s tournament will be available on ESPN’s networks or streaming, with fans encouraged to navigate to the “Watch” tab on ESPN’s sites. There are multiple sites listing game times, channels and other details, including the NCAA site.
Who’s going to win the national championship?
Heading into the Sweet 16, the betting favorites (in order): South Carolina, UConn, LSU, Iowa, Maryland and Tennessee, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
With Indiana and Stanford gone, the Gamecocks are an even bigger favorite to become the first repeat champion in the women’s tournament since UConn won the last of four straight in 2016.
Where is the women’s Final Four? In Dallas, where the semifinals are March 31 and the championship game is April 2. As it happens, the men’s Final Four is a four-hour drive down the road in Houston that same weekend.
___ AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25