We're midway through the second round of the women's NCAA tournament. Mechelle Voepel and Charlie Creme of espnW weigh in on the best and worst of Sunday and look ahead to what we might expect from Monday's matchups.
What surprised you most from the third day of the tournament?
Voepel: Miami's post duo of redshirt junior Beatrice Mompremier and senior Emese Hof came into their second-round game against Arizona State averaging 31.5 points per game. Hof was shooting 58.9 percent from the field, Mompremier 53.7. They were playing on their home court. So what happened? Why did they struggle so much?
Credit has to go to Arizona State's post defense, led by Kianna Ibis and Charnea Johnson-Chapman. The Sun Devils are holding opponents to 57.2 PPG and 40.2 percent shooting this season. So you knew they were going to be tough on the Hurricanes. Still, nobody expected Mompremier and Hof to score just 12 points combined on a shockingly low 29.4 percent shooting from the field (5 of 17). Hof's last miss, to end the game, rolled around the rim and fell off, sadly summing up the game for the Hurricanes.
And they really didn't get any help from the line, either: Mompremier didn't attempt any free throws, Hof was 2-of-2. Mompremier did come away with 22 rebounds, though.
Creme: When most teams find themselves down big early to UConn, they usually completely fade, and the games turn into runaways. That is especially true when the team in question is not a big-name program unfamiliar with the environment of playing in Storrs.
Buffalo didn't wilt and, shockingly, UConn struggled to close the deal. In fact, the Bulls, after falling behind the Huskies 15-0 to start the game, actually outscored UConn from the 5:46 mark of the first quarter to the end of the contest. While, it never felt like Buffalo was a threat to come all the way back and win, the Bulls made it interesting enough to force a fourth quarter UConn timeout, and not the kind to just empty the bench. Buffalo forced six UConn fourth-quarter turnovers and dominated the offensive glass.
UConn, the ultimate finishers over its past six years of dominance, not only had trouble closing out the game, but Buffalo scored the final nine points of the first quarter and the last six points of the third. UConn had looked like it was all the way back to form in its last four games, but the defensive shortcomings of the Huskies on Sunday may be an indication that they still need more to assure themselves a 12th Final Four trip.
Best moment of Sunday's second round?
Voepel: Iowa drawing 12,376 to Carver-Hawkeye Arena and the fans really making some noise. Women's basketball crowds in Iowa City are sometimes a little more sedate than their counterparts at Iowa State in Ames. But Sunday, as the Hawkeyes advanced to the Sweet 16 in senior star Megan Gustafson's last home game, the Iowa fans were loud and fully engaged from the tip. It was quite an atmosphere.
Creme: Sabrina Ionescu was one rebound short of her 18th career triple-double and with Oregon's win over Indiana already secured, her time on the court was sure to be coming to an end. With 2:32 left she launched and came up short on a 3-pointer only to run down her own miss. That marked was her 10th rebound and her record eighth triple-double of the season.
The crowd and the Oregon bench were certainly counting the numbers and erupted as she snagged the loose ball. She even smiled as she dribbled across the lane, clearly aware of what she had just done. After the game when asked if she had missed that last shot on purpose, she said, "A little bit, a little bit. I knew exactly where it was going to go."
What team do you feel differently about now than you did coming into the day?
Voepel: We knew the Sun Devils were a good defensive team. But their ability to shut down Miami's talented inside game is going to catch the attention of Mississippi State, their Sweet 16 opponent in the Portland Regional. Granted, the Bulldogs' interior couldn't have looked much better than it did Sunday, when Teaira McCowan and Anriel Howard combined for 51 points, 25 rebounds and 9 blocked shots against Clemson. It's hard to see Arizona State being as effective against them as it was against Miami. Still, it was no easy task doing what the Sun Devils did to the Hurricanes, so Arizona State can at least go into the regional final with that confidence.
Creme: Louisville's defense was not particularly good in the ACC tournament. The Cardinals looked tired, almost bored on that end of the floor. It wasn't just the 99 points they allowed against Notre Dame in the championship game either. Clemson and NC State both hung around against Louisville because the Cardinals were unable to consistently get stops. I wasn't sure Louisville was good enough defensively anymore to get to a Final Four. Those doubts are gone.
The performance against Michigan on Sunday indicated that whatever defensive lull Louisville was in is now over. The Wolverines were overwhelmed by the Louisville athletes, committing 22 turnovers. The Cardinals contested shots all over the floor and Michigan had only 49 field goal attempts. Sam Fuehring was back to her rugged self and Asia Durr and Jazmine Jones rediscovered their intensity. If Arica Carter gets back to full health by the regionals, defense is not going to be a Louisville concern.
Give us one Monday upset pick that would shock most of the world but would not shock you.
Voepel: No. 11 Missouri State has lost just two games since mid-December after starting the season 1-7. The Lady Bears knocked off No. 6 seed DePaul on Saturday. And while toppling No. 3 Iowa State on the Cyclones' home court would be a much taller order, don't rule out Missouri State. The Lady Bears have scored at least 89 points in their past three games and will have to score at a high level to keep up with Iowa State. The Cyclones won their NCAA opener over New Mexico State 97-61.
Creme: Two years ago, it was Quinnipiac. Last year, Central Michigan and Buffalo broke through. If the Sweet 16 needs a mid-major this year, it will most likely be South Dakota State.
The Jackrabbits can score with Syracuse (they are 12th in the country at 79.9 PPG) and aren't afraid to play that same up-tempo style that the Orange prefer. Macy Miller (18.4 PPG) is one of the best unknown players in the country and is capable of matching anything Syracuse's point guard Tiana Mangakahia can do.
Syracuse will attempt to force the Jackrabbits into turnovers and push them around on the offensive glass, but South Dakota State has already played at Central Michigan and Marquette; against Baylor and Buffalo on a neutral floor; and at home against Oregon. The Jackrabbits know big games.
While the Orange will have the upper hand in size and athleticism, the home court of the Carrier Dome doesn't offer much of an advantage. While, the likes of Michigan State, Gonzaga, Missouri State and BYU will have to play in front of hostile environments, the cavernous Dome will not intimidate the Jackrabbits. The Orange themselves almost never practice in the Dome.
If ever a host team did not gain much from hosting, it's Syracuse.
How will Cal's Kristine Anigwe match up against Baylor twin towers Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox?
Voepel: In Baylor's lone loss this season, against Stanford, Brown and Cox both had bad games. That almost never happens. They were a combined 3-of-11 from the field for seven points in that game, and Cox played just 15 minutes because coach Kim Mulkey was irritated with her effort. Cox took that to heart. She has been terrific the rest of this season, and so has Brown.
Angiwe has faced Baylor before, though, in the NCAA second round. She had 20 points and 11 rebounds in an 86-46 loss in 2017. She had 18 points and 22 rebounds in Cal's first-round victory over North Carolina, but it will be hard for her to dominate the boards like that against Baylor.
Creme: Anigwe has been a rebounding machine all season. I'm not sure what's more impressive, her 33 straight double-doubles or the fact that she led the nation in rebounding by more than three boards per game. She is Cal's biggest threat and every team knows she is going to attack the glass, yet no one has been able to stop her.
The 6-4 senior faced UConn's Napheesa Collier and had 10 points and 14 rebounds. Anigwe had 25 and 24 against Stanford with Alanna Smith. Against Oregon and Ruthy Hebard, she posted 23 points and 18 rebounds.
But she has not faced what she is about to face on Monday -- two players her size or taller. Baylor's 6-7 Kalani Brown and 6-4 Lauren Cox pose a challenge unlike any in the sport this season for an opposing post player. Not only will Anigwe have to score against Brown and Cox to keep Cal in the game, but she will have to figure out a way to defend two opposing bigs who can move from high to low post adeptly without getting into foul trouble.
Anigwe will probably get her rebound numbers. That is what she does best, and she is relentless in her pursuit of the ball along with becoming an even more intelligent rebounder in her final season, too. But scoring consistently and slowing down the Baylor inside offense is another thing. That is, ultimately, where I expect Anigwe and Cal to struggle, with Baylor moving on to the Sweet 16.