What we learned: Iowa ekes by, USC has a historic win and it's chalk all the way


Monday was a night for chalk, and for history.

Paige Bueckers and No. 3 seed UConn set a lot of records, including extending the program’s streak of Sweet 16 appearances to 30. Caitlin Clark broke another Division I record as No. 1 seed Iowa scraped by with the win. JuJu Watkins led No. 1 seed USC to its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1994.

We now have our Sweet 16 teams.

Here’s what we learned about all 16 teams in action Monday for a spot in the regional semifinals. Check out everything we learned from Sunday.

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0:35

Caitlin Clark breaks Kelsey Plum’s single-season points record

Caitlin Clark’s free throw moves her past Kelsey Plum for the most points scored in a single Division I women’s basketball season.

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What does Iowa take out of a game that was such an offensive struggle? It was essentially an un-Iowa victory. During Caitlin Clark’s career, it was just the fourth win in 12 games in which Iowa scored less than 70 points. The Hawkeyes entered Monday’s second-round matchup leading Division I in scoring at 92.8 PPG. They had their lowest-scoring quarter of this season — 6 points — in the second quarter against West Virginia, and their lowest-scoring half (they led 26-24 at the break).

It’s not that Iowa didn’t see this coming. The Hawkeyes expected the Mountaineers to press them, stay on top of them and contest every pass. Iowa had a better third quarter, taking a 48-38 lead, but made just one field goal in the fourth quarter. It got the victory thanks to 14 free throws made in the final period, eight of them by Clark. Iowa had just 7 assists as a team, the program’s lowest total in a victory since 2016.

“West Virginia is a really good basketball team. We found a way to win,” Clark said after the game. “We changed up our defenses. We got big rebounds when it mattered. We made big free throws.

“I think that’s the biggest thing. There’s a lot of positive to take away from this when maybe we didn’t even play our best basketball or look as pretty. That’s more fulfilling of a win for us than going out there and winning by 30 points.”

What it means for Iowa: The Hawkeyes’ vaunted senior class, led by Clark, Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin, celebrated one last victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Clark, who finished with 32 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists, broke one more Division I record: most points in a season. It was previously held by former Washington star Kelsey Plum, who had 1,109 as a senior in 2016-17. Clark now has 1,113. The Hawkeyes next face No. 5 seed Colorado, the same team they met in last year’s Sweet 16. Clark pointed out there should be plenty of familiarity in personnel for both teams, as they each have several players from last year.

What it means for West Virginia: It was a good first season for coach Mark Kellogg, who replaced Dawn Plitzuweit after one season. He credited the adaptability of his team.

“Time, experience, probably more than anything else. Maybe some depth,” Kellogg said of what it will take for the Mountaineers to reach the next level. “Three coaches in three years, remember, so these kids were recruited by several different coaches that we had to blend together in one year.

“I hope you can appreciate the resilience and the toughness and everything we showed in a crazy environment, when the whistle didn’t go our way … In that fourth quarter, when they go 1-for-10 and score only from the free throw line.” — Michael Voepel

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1:26

JuJu Watkins scores 28 points as USC advances to Sweet 16

JuJu Watkins and USC advance to the Sweet 16 in Portland behind Watkins’ 28-point performance at home.

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Have the Trojans solidified the formula for a deep March run? JuJu Watkins gets the headlines for this USC squad, and rightfully so; with 861 points on the season (including 28 on Monday), she now has the third-most points in a season for a freshman in Division I history. But Watkins talked in her postgame television interview about how USC has all the right pieces to make a run. Harvard transfer McKenzie Forbes continues to play some of her best basketball, putting together three consecutive 20-point games for the first time in her career. Kayla Padilla and Rayah Marshall combined for 18 points, but it was Clarice Akunwafo who was the difference-maker, especially in the second half, where she finished plus-15. On the night she had 9 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 steals in 19 minutes, her interior defense making life difficult for the Jayhawks.

USC struggled at times going up against Kansas’ zone defense. But once the Trojans figured it out, they pulled away for good thanks to a 20-9 fourth quarter. Helping their effort was a 13-of-30 night from 3 — and a positive sign for the Trojans was that Watkins hit four of them, more than she’d drained in the previous five games combined. On the other end, USC had a strong night defensively, holding the Jayhawks to 55 points, tied for their second-worst output of the season.

If Watkins and Forbes keep delivering like this, and coach Lindsay Gottlieb keeps getting what she needs from her complementary players (whether that is Marshall, Padilla, Akunwafo or someone else), the Trojans could keep rolling all the way to Cleveland.

What it means for USC: The Trojans are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994 (Lisa Leslie’s senior year!), the latest in a slew of developments demonstrating that USC is back to national relevance. The Trojans also ensured the Pac-12 would represent over a quarter of the schools competing in the Sweet 16.

What it means for Kansas: The Jayhawks, who have appeared in four Sweet 16s in program history, bow out of the NCAA tournament in the second round for the second time in the past decade. While they lose super-seniors Taiyanna Jackson, Zakiyah Franklin and Holly Kersgieter, the future looks bright in Lawrence with star freshman S’Mya Nichols, who stood out Monday with a team-high 22 points, all after the first quarter. — Alexa Philippou

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0:17

Lauren Betts can’t be stopped on this inside layup

UCLA’s Gabriela Jaquez and Lauren Betts connect for the lob and layup.

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How critical was Lauren Betts’ return for the Bruins? Beating Cal Baptist without Betts was one thing. But UCLA would not have survived Creighton without her. The Bruins’ 6-foot-7 center and leading scorer sat out Saturday’s win over the Lancers with a sore foot. Her 20 points and 10 rebounds were critical against the Bluejays. As the rest of her team struggled in the first half, Betts kept the Bruins within striking distance. She was 7-of-11 from the field in the opening 20 minutes while her teammates were 7-of-22, and they still trailed by eight at the half.

Creighton also exposed UCLA’s 246th-ranked 3-point percentage defense with five first-half 3s. The defensive turnaround and offensive play of Kiki Rice in the second half changed the game. After making 17 of 29 first-half shots, Creighton made just nine in the second. UCLA turned those misses into 18 defensive rebounds and a faster pace where Rice flourished. She picked up where Betts left off, scoring 17 of her game-high 24 points after halftime.

What it means for UCLA: This is the season UCLA has targeted to break through nationally. Charisma Osborne came back for her fifth year to see that vision through. The dream of the program’s first-ever Final Four is still alive after surviving a Creighton team that was a difficult matchup because of its experience and perimeter-shooting abilities. Osborne had only five points, but her pull-up jumper with 1:27 left gave UCLA a two-possession lead and was the biggest shot of the game.

What it means for Creighton: An inexplicable Big East tournament semifinal loss to Georgetown might have cost the Bluejays a seed line, giving them this tough matchup with the Bruins. All five Creighton starters are four-year seniors and played on the Elite Eight team of two years ago. A fifth-year return for some or all might give coach Jim Flanery a chance at another run. — Charlie Creme

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2:23

Paige Bueckers’ 32-point game helps UConn to 30th straight Sweet 16

UConn star Paige Bueckers drops 32 points to go with 10 rebounds and 6 assists as the Huskies defeat Syracuse 72-64.

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Just how far can Paige Bueckers take UConn? We’re about to find out. The Orange had no answer for the 2021 national player of the year, who exploited openings in the paint against Syracuse’s zone. Bueckers’ scoring Monday will get the headlines — and for good reason, as she finished with 32 points, her best in an NCAA tournament game — but she did it all for UConn with 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and a block. And she was tasked with even more offensive and defensive responsibility once Nika Muhl fouled out with 5:17 left to play.

Geno Auriemma said Sunday that no player is playing better in the postseason than Bueckers, who also had a stellar Big East tournament when Aaliyah Edwards was sidelined. She is the first player in Division I with 60 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists through the first two games of an NCAA tournament in the past 25 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. She also has the most points (60) of any UConn player through the first two NCAA tournament games in the past 25 seasons (and the second most all-time behind Kerry Bascom’s 62).

What it means for UConn: The Huskies are headed back to the Sweet 16 — their NCAA-record 30th consecutive appearance. And with Ohio State falling to 7-seed Duke Sunday, UConn could be well-positioned to make it back to the Final Four after a one-year hiatus. Still, the Blue Devils are one of the hottest teams in the tournament, and a potential meeting against No. 1 seed USC looms. As the final minutes of UConn’s win over Syracuse underscored, the Huskies’ margin for error in future rounds will be thin.

What it means for Syracuse: The Orange fell short of making their first Sweet 16 since 2016 (and what would have been their first since coach Felisha Legette-Jack took over in 2022). But Syracuse still had a remarkable season, finishing ACC play tied for second despite being picked to finish ninth in the league. Dyaisha Fair — who ends her career as the third-leading scorer in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history, behind only Caitlin Clark and Kelsey Plum — cemented herself as a Syracuse great in her two years there. Legette-Jack now gets to build around younger standouts in Georgia Woolley, Alyssa Latham, Sophie Burrows and Kyra Wood. — Alexa Philippou

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0:18

Kayleigh Truong cashes in on a 3 for Gonzaga

Kayleigh Truong cashes in on a 3 for Gonzaga

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Is Gonzaga a dark-horse contender? Utah and Gonzaga entered the contest as two of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country. But on Monday it was the Zags who had the upper hand in that area of the game and the Utes who suffered a costly cold spell. Gonzaga ultimately finished shooting 12-for-22 from the 3-point arc, while Utah went just 9-for-34. Combined with the Zags’ edge at the free throw line (Kayleigh Truong took as many attempts as the entire Utah team), it was enough to send Gonzaga to the Sweet 16 even though Pac-12 Player of the Year Alissa Pili went off for 35 points (12-of-20 shooting) behind four 3s of her own. Gonzaga extended its home winning streak to 36 games. The Truong sisters (35 points including seven 3s, plus seven assists) combined to score or assist on 50 of Gonzaga’s 77 points, while Yvonne Ejim (17 points, 14 rebounds) became the first player in Gonzaga history with multiple career double-doubles in the NCAA tournament. Vic Schaefer’s defensive-minded Texas squad will have its hands full going up against the experienced, senior-led Bulldogs, particularly if they can keep shooting like this and get that interior production from Ejim.

What it means for Gonzaga: The Zags return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015, the first season of Lisa Fortier’s tenure. She heads to Portland with a special group of fourth- and fifth-year seniors who showed in nonconference play that they were a force to be reckoned with — mid-major or not — and solidified that by taking down Utah. Gonzaga impressively improves to 4-1 against the Pac-12 this season, previously defeating Stanford, Arizona and Cal and losing in overtime to Washington State.

What it means for Utah: The Utes, who couldn’t secure the program’s first consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, gave the Zags a fight by cutting a 21-point deficit to six in the fourth quarter, but it was simply too much for them to overcome. Preseason expectations for Utah were high, but injuries to Gianna Kneepkens and Isabel Palmer — two key players surrounding Pili — took much of the wind out of their sails in terms of their ultimate ceiling. But Pili’s stellar two-year stretch did put her and Utah on the map, and now we’ll wait to see how Lynne Roberts navigates this upcoming Pili-less phase for her program. — Alexa Philippou

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0:27

Indiana takes advantage of Oklahoma turnover with big jump shot

Indiana’s Yarden Garzon knocks down the jump shot to give Indiana a 68-64 lead late in the fourth quarter.

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Does this win over Oklahoma erase the disappointment of last year’s second-round loss? The Hoosiers might never truly get over that loss to Miami in Grace Berger’s last collegiate game, but this helps. It was another close one, but this time Indiana made the plays down the stretch, particularly Mackenzie Holmes, who smartly got a touch on every key possession in the final minutes. She finished with 29 points — 20 in the second half on 8-of-12 shooting. Six of those points came during the key 10-0 run that turned a four-point deficit into a six-point lead with 25 seconds left. Holmes made a steal and contested two Oklahoma misses during that stretch as well. Last year won’t go away, but Indiana is back in the Sweet 16 for the third time in Holmes’ career.

What it means for Indiana: Indiana entered the game ranked second in the country in effective field goal percentage, third in 2-point percentage and first in 3-point percentage. The Hoosiers proceed to miss 18 layups and shoot 19% from the 3-point line. They won this game completely outside of their comfort zone. It’s unlikely Indiana will get away with that kind of shooting against South Carolina in the Sweet 16, but those numbers make this win that much more impressive.

What it means for Oklahoma: A season that looked so bleak — the Sooners finished 6-5 in the nonconference slate — turned into a Big 12 regular-season title and was just a few possessions short of the Sweet 16. In freshman Sahara Williams and junior Payton Verhulst, Oklahoma has a solid core back next season that could grow if some seniors stay for their extra year. — Charlie Creme

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1:02

Ole Miss unable to slow down Notre Dame in NCAA tourney

The 7-seed Rebels cannot surpass 2-seed Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, falling 71-56.

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Are the Irish one of the hottest teams in the country? They are, having won 10 games in a row, which includes the ACC tournament title. The Irish controlled Monday’s victory over Ole Miss from an offensive and defensive standpoint. They shot 50% from the field and forced the Rebels into 22 turnovers. Ole Miss at its best typically wins the turnover battle, but that wasn’t the case against Notre Dame.

The Irish’s big three of Hannah Hidalgo, Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld combined for 56 points, and Citron had her first double-double of the season with 10 rebounds.

What it means for Notre Dame: The Irish are relying very heavily on their starters; Westbeld and Citron played 40 minutes and Hidalgo 38. But they are pretty used to the heavy workload, so this isn’t new and the Irish have handled it well so far. They will go against a good defensive team in Oregon State that is holding teams to 59.2 PPG.

What it means for Ole Miss: The Rebels finished 24-9 overall and third in the SEC (12-4) for their highest finish since 1991-92 and most conference wins in program history. It was another step forward for the program under coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. — Michael Voepel

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1:38

Lady Vols’ comeback against NC State comes up short

Eleven-seed Tennessee erases all but two of a 20-point second-half deficit, but it comes up just short in falling to 3-seed NC State, 79-72.

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Will NC State be able to keep Stanford’s inside game in check? This will be a big X factor in the Sweet 16 game between the Wolfpack and Cardinal. Stanford survived an overtime battle with Iowa State in the second round, with Kiki Iriafen scoring 41 points. The Wolfpack are an overall stronger defensive team than Iowa State, but if both Cameron Brink (who fouled out against the Cyclones) and Iriafen are playing well, that makes the Cardinal’s offense all the more difficult to deal with.

That said, NC State’s physicality and quickness are both strengths. And even though the Wolfpack allowed a combined 43 points to the Tennessee post duo of Rickea Jackson and Tamari Key in Monday’s second round, they still won that game.

What it means for NC State: Guards Aziaha James, Saniya Rivers and Zoe Brooks showed they can be one of the best guard trios in the tournament. They combined for 58 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Wolfpack as a team had just four turnovers. If NC State protects the ball that well and defends at a high level, it is a match for Stanford.

What it means for Tennessee: The Lady Vols were 12-7 in late January and at that point were out of NCAA tournament contention, which would have been a first in program history. But they were able to compile enough wins and some “good” losses — including the near miss against undefeated South Carolina in the SEC tournament semifinals — to make the NCAA field. Tennessee finished 20-13 overall. Monday was the final college game for Jackson, who is expected to be a WNBA lottery pick in April. — Michael Voepel



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