What We Learned From the First Two Rounds of the N.C.A.A. Women’s Tournament

The N.C.A.A. girls’s basketball event obtained off to an unusually newsworthy begin over the previous week, by way of a mixture of peeks at the inequality off the court and glimpses of parity on it.

Upsets introduced new faces and groups into the limelight, and social media-fueled conversations about the methods feminine athletes are denied the similar remedy as their male counterparts as a matter of course.

Here’s what we’ve realized from 4 marathon days of elite girls’s basketball:

Plenty of prime groups used the first spherical as a chance to pad their stats. UConn as soon as once more blew out its first two opponents and did it with out Coach Geno Auriemma, who missed the event’s opening weekend after testing optimistic for the coronavirus. The workforce dispatched each High Point, which was making its N.C.A.A. event debut, and Syracuse with ease.

“When I think back with our win streaks and all of those things, that’s a credit to our players, because they don’t take days off,” mentioned the UConn affiliate head coach Chris Dailey, the longtime Auriemma assistant who’s operating the Huskies in his absence. “They understand that every possession is important. Every practice is important.”

Some of the most commanding performances from the event’s opening rounds, although, got here from the No. 2 seeds.

Baylor and Maryland confirmed a relentlessness on each ends of the flooring that allowed them to achieve 100 factors and safe 40- to 50-point margins of victory. Maryland’s motto — “All gas, no brakes” — appeared significantly becoming because it poured in 198 factors in two video games. Baylor so completely dominated Virginia Tech that, by the second half, the Lady Bears have been throwing alley-oop passes to the All-American Nalyssa Smith, which she tried to dunk or tip in as if she have been taking part in an off-the-cuff scrimmage amongst buddies as a substitute of an N.C.A.A. event sport.

These groups’ first two rounds will be summed up in what Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey mentioned to Virginia Tech Coach Kenny Brooks after the sport: “I told him, ‘Don’t look at the scoreboard.’”

While stunning upsets stay a rarity — the lowest seeds in the spherical of 16 are three No. 6s, all from main conferences — there have been just a few surprises. A No. 1 seed, North Carolina State, trailed a No. 16, North Carolina A&T, by 6 factors halfway by way of the second quarter of its opening sport. While the Wolfpack finally posted a snug victory, the similar scene repeated itself in the second spherical, when North Carolina State trailed eighth-seeded South Florida at halftime earlier than rallying to advance.

Top-seeded South Carolina fared equally, taking part in its decrease seeded opponents pretty shut early earlier than breaking away. No. 2-seeded Louisville discovered itself taking part in catch up in its first sport, and its second got here all the way down to the ultimate minute. Another No. 2, Texas A&M, was behind for a lot of its opening weekend competitors, incomes late wins — together with the event’s first buzzer-beater — by razor-thin margins.

“I hope everybody in Bryan-College Station celebrated the moment,” Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair mentioned after his workforce defeated Iowa State on Jordan Nixon’s runner at the additional time buzzer. “Because you had to fight with us if you were sitting there watching on TV — you didn’t ever give up on us and we appreciate that.”

It’s nonetheless not clear if the sudden competitiveness is an indication of an rising parity in the girls’s sport, or of higher-seeded groups that entered the event on cruise management. But the uncertainty added pleasure, and the matchups will solely get higher now.

It was not possible to look at a sport throughout the first two rounds with out listening to about one of two freshmen: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and UConn’s Paige Bueckers.

As a prospect who was each extremely regarded and extremely seen on social media, Bueckers had earned nationwide information media consideration earlier than she even set foot in Storrs. But she has lived as much as — and if something exceeded — the hype by setting or difficult data set by some of the program’s greatest gamers. In her first N.C.A.A. event sport, Bueckers scored 24 factors — a file for a Connecticut freshman in her event debut.

Clark solely began to attract nationwide consideration together with her Big Ten event performances, however really broke by way of with a 35-point efficiency in a win over Kentucky in the second spherical. The main scorer in Division 1, Clark is now heading right into a showdown with Bueckers and UConn that may air on ABC, as large a platform as an up-and-coming star (two truly) might need.

Three packages with double-digit seeds posted first-round wins this 12 months. No. 11 Brigham Young, No. 13 Wright State and No. 12 Belmont all misplaced in the second spherical, however with their victories all three packages served as a potent reminder that the future of girls’s faculty basketball ought to be a lot greater than just a few acquainted coaches and their groups.

“We love the idea of a David vs. Goliath, and the opportunity to win games that people think that we shouldn’t based on our seeding,” Wright State Coach Katrina Merriweather mentioned after the Raiders upset a No. four seed, Arkansas. “But I think the parity can just be attributed to the fact that we have a lot of females that are very good basketball players.”

Missouri State, a No. 5 seed with a wealthy event historical past, will signify all midmajor packages in the spherical of 16. It can be an instance of how groups exterior the Power Five can develop to turn out to be perpetual contenders. This will likely be the Lady Bears’ second consecutive journey to the event’s second weekend, though they’ve endured a training change between these visits: The former coach Kellie Harper left to steer her alma mater, Tennessee, and was changed by the former Michigan State assistant Amaka Agugua-Hamilton.

“We’re still going to go in there with a chip on our shoulder — we have a lot to prove,” Agagua-Hamilton mentioned of the Lady Bears’ looming matchup with No. 1 Stanford. “It’s going to take a lot more focus and energy and attention to detail to try and knock Stanford off. But I just think that anything is possible.”

What started as some annoyed tweets amongst power and conditioning coaches arriving in San Antonio for the event rapidly turned a dialog about sexism in sports activities that just about overshadowed the event video games in its scope and depth.

The catalyst was the girls’s weight rooms, or lack thereof. When males’s gamers arriving in Indianapolis shared pictures of the considerable, warehouse-sized gymnasium ready for them, power and conditioning coaches on the girls’s aspect responded with pictures of the solely exercise gear that they had been equipped: a single rack of dumbbells and pile of yoga mats.

Soon the gamers, confined to the N.C.A.A.’s so-called managed setting as an element of COVID-19 well being and security protocols, started sharing considerations about the high quality of the meals, the dimension of the present baggage they obtained and the coronavirus exams they endured. In nearly each case, the girls’s groups obtained remedy inferior to that of males’s groups.

As the N.C.A.A. rushed to rectify some of the extra apparent inequities, some of the sport’s pioneering gamers and coaches expanded the scope of the dialog. “The real issue is not the weights or the ‘swag’ bags; it’s that they did not think or do not think that the women ‘deserve’ the same amenities of the men,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley wrote in a statement the place she additionally decried the incontrovertible fact that the advertising time period “March Madness” had been copyrighted to be used solely associated to the males’s event.

“We have accepted our fate for far too long,” the retired Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw wrote in her personal assertion. “This generation of women expects more, and we won’t stop until we get it.”

Regardless of whether or not a workforce had simply gained, or if their season had simply ended, there was a standard chorus in the event’s postgame information conferences: “It’s been hard; we’ve gone through a lot.”

Players and coaches referred particularly or obliquely to all the video games canceled or postponed, and the ones by which their groups had performed short-handed as a result of of optimistic exams or isolation protocols. Some gamers spoke explicitly about their very own experiences with the coronavirus.

“March 23 of last year, my coach died,” Texas A&M’s Jordan Nixon defined to reporters after she scored 35 factors — together with the successful shot in additional time — on Wednesday. Her highschool coach, Dave Edwards, died of Covid-19 at 48. “He was one of my biggest fans,” she mentioned, “and this game is for him.”

Other gamers admitted they have been nonetheless not again to full power after their very own infections.

“Obviously, the last few games I have been struggling to come back from Covid,” the Michigan junior Leigha Brown mentioned after scoring a career-high 28 factors in the Wolverines’ opening sport. Brown missed 4 video games in January and February.

“I think tonight was probably how we saw her in November and December,” Michigan Coach Kim Barnes Arico mentioned.

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