The N.C.A.A. Women’s Tournament Is Overloaded With Talent

This yr’s N.C.A.A. ladies’s basketball match has one of many strongest collections of basketball expertise gathered in a single place.

It’s an distinctive state of affairs, contemplating that every of the 64 groups, all enjoying in Texas due to coronavirus restrictions, needed to compete with the stresses of a season impacted by the pandemic, on high of the same old challenges of constructing it to the match.

In a season of freshman stars, transfers and elite expertise throughout the board, there isn’t any scarcity of tales to observe for this yr.

In some ways, this has been the season of the freshman in ladies’s basketball. UConn’s Paige Bueckers and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark have captured a lot of the nationwide consideration.

They’re on the largest stage now, in entrance of the widest viewers and going through the hardest competitors, and they’re underneath essentially the most stress.

For Bueckers, stress has been part of her story all alongside. Since highschool she has been projected for stardom and requested to hold a younger UConn squad in methods solely the most effective gamers within the storied program’s historical past have earlier than.

Clark, regardless of main the nation in scoring for Iowa, has been overshadowed by Bueckers’s greatness. On their aspect of the bracket they’re on a near-unavoidable spherical of 16 collision.

Before they attain that time, although, they need to get by their first match video games.

So a lot of Iowa’s offense runs by Clark. In addition to her nation-leading 26.7 factors per sport, she additionally averages 7.6 assists. Opposing defenses are cautious of her 3-point taking pictures vary, and she will decide aside defenses along with her passing, too. Against Central Michigan on Sunday, a fast-paced, offense-minded workforce, Clark ought to be entrance and middle.

If she retains the tempo, she would change into the second freshman to steer the nation in scoring over a complete season, after Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State, who averaged 24.9 factors a sport in 2014-15.

Sunday will probably be probability to see the 2 high freshmen, who performed collectively on Team U.S.A. under-16 and under-19 squads, in motion on the identical day and within the first two rounds, as they inch nearer to a possible matchup and probably a future rivalry.

That Maryland dominated offensively this season with out the star freshman Angel Reese says a lot about how deep the Terrapins are.

The Harvard switch Katie Benzan and the Mississippi State switch Chloe Bibby work properly alongside final season’s Big Ten freshman of the yr, Ashley Owusu, to steer a robust assault.

Now Reese, who broke bones in her foot earlier this season however has been again for a couple of weeks and enjoying properly, offers the No. 2 Terps much more offensive prowess.

That ought to concern everybody on their aspect of the bracket.

In the primary three video games of her collegiate profession, Reese averaged 17 factors and eight.7 rebounds. It appeared she was able to change into a dominant power, following within the footsteps of now-sophomore Owusu as a freshman stalwart of the Maryland offense.

Instead, she went down in early December in opposition to Towson and would want surgical procedure for a foot fracture.

The Terps went 21-2 on the way in which to changing into the highest seed within the Big Ten match anyway, and Reese returned forward of schedule on Feb. 23.

She has supplied a lift for the already elite offense. In her second sport again, she had 17 factors and 9 rebounds, and scored 10 within the convention championship over Northwestern.

On an even bigger stage, Reese may shine even brighter. After lacking time, she has extra to show to the basketball world.

Many of the groups anticipated to make an upset bid will get an opportunity early on. Florida Gulf Coast has a possibility in opposition to Michigan on Sunday in what many count on to be one of the vital fascinating low-seed matchups.

It additionally means an opportunity to see sophomore star Kierstan Bell attempt to take the Eagles on a run. The 6-foot-1 Bell was fifth within the nation in scoring with 24.Three factors per sport and was the primary participant in Atlantic Sun historical past to earn participant of the yr and newcomer of the yr honors.

A switch from Ohio State, Bell is aware of the large stage. Following her freshman season, she entered the switch portal and ended up at F.G.C.U.

“Kierstan has had one of the best seasons of all women’s college basketball players this year,” F.G.C.U. head coach Karl Smesko stated after Bell was named a second-team all-American. “Having somebody with that size and athleticism to help defend in there, it definitely helps, obviously, but I think we’re going to need more than just one-on-one in the post all of the time.”

In 26 video games she grew to become the primary participant in program historical past to have a 20-20 sport, and the primary to attain 600 factors in a season.

The pandemic saved her from the N.C.A.A. match a yr in the past. Now basketball followers will see how dominant she could be, and she or he will get the possibility to knock off her old skool’s rival — Michigan — within the course of.

Three Georgia seniors are already pursuing grasp’s levels. One of them is San Antonio native Gabby Connally, enjoying at dwelling within the nationwide match.

“I’m super excited to be heading back home,” Connally informed reporters earlier this week. “I know there are some friends and family that will get to see me in person.”

It’s the primary match look for the Bulldogs since 2018. They had been projected to complete ninth within the SEC. Instead, they earned a No. Three seed for the primary time since 2007. Their final Final Four journey got here in 1999.

Repeating that long-ago success will probably be difficult with Stanford and Louisville of their bracket.

Connally has some further motivation, although.

The senior rolled her ankle at apply final Friday and was on crutches afterward. She’s nonetheless anticipated to play within the first sport in opposition to Drexel on Monday.

She stated earlier this week the damage “is not going to stop me from playing” in entrance of a house crowd — all 17 p.c capability allowed within the area.

“We want to bring [a national championship] home, and I know I keep saying it so maybe the more I say it, the more positive vibes get put in the air, but we want to win a national championship,” Connally stated.

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