The 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament ended in an action-packed final weekend, from two thrilling semifinal matchups on Friday to LSU’s national championship win against Iowa on Sunday.
While we’re still waiting on ratings for Sunday’s title game on ABC, the rest of the tournament shattered records. The Final Four game between Iowa and South Carolina averaged 5.5 million viewers, the most for a semifinal on ESPN networks and the most-viewed college basketball game (men’s or women’s) on ESPN since 2008.
The women’s tournament is currently included in a TV deal with 28 other sports’ NCAA tournaments. But that contract with ESPN expires in 2024, and the momentum of women’s basketball could give the tournament its own TV deal in the upcoming bargaining cycle.
“I think the biggest opportunity there — and I would argue that the investments that have been made in the women’s game have had a tremendous return to the women’s game and to the players and the coaches and everybody else — is the fact that the timing on the bid associated with this is perfect,” new NCAA president Charlie Baker told reporters Saturday. “Basically, this thing is going out this year and it’s going out on the heels of what will have been the most successful tournament…
“Let’s see what the market thinks it’s worth. I think the market is going to think it’s worth a lot.”
Iowa star Caitlin Clark beat out reigning winner Aliyah Boston for the Naismith Player of the Year award.
While leading her team to the Final Four, Clark has averaged 8.6 assists per game, which puts her first in the NCAA in that category. She also ranks first in 3-pointers per game (3.53) and triple-doubles (five this season) and third in points per game (27.3). The Hawkeyes guard is the only player in the country to average more than 20 points, five assists and five rebounds per game.
Boston may have lost the top award to Clark, but she took home the Defensive Player of the Year award for the second season in a row. The South Carolina center is ranked in the top five in the country in both offensive and defensive player rating.
Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley has been named the Naismith Coach of the Year for the second season in a row, as she has led the defending champions to an undefeated record and a third straight Final Four berth.
ONE OF ONE.Caitlin Clark is the 2023 Naismith Women's College Player of the Year 🏆 pic.twitter.com/TtGc4o6gVJ— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) March 29, 2023
ONE OF ONE.Caitlin Clark is the 2023 Naismith Women's College Player of the Year 🏆 pic.twitter.com/TtGc4o6gVJ
After a poor offensive showing from both teams in LSU’s 54-42 win against Miami in the Elite Eight, the third-seeded Tigers questioned the inflation levels of the basketballs.
LSU shot 30.2% from the field in their win, while Miami shot 31.6% from the field. The teams combined to go 1-for-27 from 3-point range, with that one 3-pointer coming from LSU’s Kateri Poole in the fourth quarter.
“They need to take some air out of the ball,” Poole told The Athletic. “It’s too much and I think everyone’s shot has been off lately.”
The men’s tournament has featured similar complaints about the basketballs, including from overall No. 1 seed Alabama.
“We need to check those balls out, because it’s not even fun for me to watch the men play,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. “I mean, knockdown shots is normal for men and they’re just rattling all over the rim.
“It’s happening to both teams, so it’s not like one team has an advantage. But I know Alexis Morris’s ball handling skill and she’d bring the ball up, and all of a sudden you’d see that thing just jump off the floor.”
The Ohio State Buckeyes defeated UConn, 73-61, to earn a spot in their first Elite Eight since 1993. With the win, Ohio State simultaneously ended UConn’s streak of consecutive NCAA Final Fours, which dated back to 2007.
The first four games of the Sweet 16 were filled with plenty of drama, beginning with No. 9 Miami upsetting No. 4 Villanova. With the win, Miami becomes just the second No. 9 seed to qualify for the Elite Eight of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
The ACC and SEC each had four teams advance to the Sweet 16, tied for the most of any conference in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
While the Big Ten and Pac-12 dominated the Associated Press Top 25 poll for much of the season, each of those conferences came up just short, with three teams each in the Sweet 16. The Big East has the final two in UConn and Villanova.
LSU star Angel Reese defended the strength of her team’s conference after her Tigers won their second-round game against No. 6 seed Michigan, and then No. 8 seed Ole Miss stunned No. 1 seed Stanford.
“But the SEC was light this year???” she tweeted Sunday night during the Ole Miss victory. “OH OK.”
Seven first-round games were won by the lower seed. No. 12 seeds Florida Gulf Coast and Toledo pulled off the biggest upsets, with FGC defeating No. 5 Washington State, 74-63, and Toledo bumping off No. 5 Iowa State, 80-73.
Here’s the full list of first round upsets:
Baylor needed a historic comeback to emerge from the first round of the 2023 NCAA basketball tournament. Trailing by 18 points against Alabama, No. 7 seed Baylor went on to win the game, 78-74. The 18-point deficit is tied for third largest comeback in NCAA tournament history.
“Wow, we were really bad in the first quarter and really good after that,” Baylor head coach Nicki Collen said.
Two other teams managed 16-plus point comebacks Saturday, with Miami coming back from a 17-point deficit and Ohio State reversing a 16-point margin.
Forward Cameron Brink sat out Stanford’s first round opener with a non-COVID illness. The Cardinal defeated No. 16 Sacred Heart, 92-49.
“Not how I expected March Madness to start but cheering my girls on today – just a stomach bug & I’ll be back asap,” Brink wrote on Instagram.
NC State point guard Diamond Johnson will miss the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament due to injury, she revealed Thursday night on social media.
The junior is dealing with an ankle injury, which has kept her off the court since Feb. 16. Still, the Wolfpack had planned for her possible return, and indeed her absence at the end of the regular season was aimed at giving her enough time to recover ahead of the postseason, according to coach Wes Moore.
“I will not be playing in the NCAA Tournament this weekend and wanted to let everyone know,” Johnson wrote on Instagram. “I have been rehabbing my injury and taking it week by week, although it hasn’t been easy my support system has helped me get to this point both mentally and physically.”
No. 7 seed NC State will start its tournament run against No. 10 Princeton at 10 p.m. ET Friday at Utah’s Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Florida State will be without its leading scorer in Ta’Niya Latson for the NCAA Tournament, the team announced Thursday.
Latson missed the Seminoles’ most recent game, a loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament, but Florida State has not released any information about the injury. The freshman guard led the team with 21.3 points per game this season.
Sophomore guard O’Mariah Gordon also will miss the NCAA Tournament due to injury. Gordon averaged 6.9 points per game for the Seminoles.
Geno Auriemma’s UConn teams had earned a No. 1 seed in 13 of the last 15 NCAA Tournaments before this year. But the Huskies will begin this round of March Madness with a No. 2 seed.
While the team also was a No. 2 seed in 2022 and 2019 (and made it to the Final Four in each of those seasons), the legendary program is not used to playing second fiddle. And the Huskies only did not claim a top seed this year because they are being judged relative to their own high bar, Auriemma said.
“I think if we weren’t called UConn, we’d be a No. 1,” the coach said after the bracket reveal.
The Huskies have dealt with injuries, big and small, all season, which hampered their chances at a No. 1 seed. Star sophomore guard Azzi Fudd missed much of the regular season with a knee injury but returned for the Big East Tournament.
Auriemma called the No. 2 seed “expected” despite the disappointment, though he is not looking forward to the trip to Seattle for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight should his team make it that far.
The No. 15 seed Crusaders are set to face No. 2 seed Maryland at 2:15 p.m. ET Friday at the Terrapins’ home arena in College Park — 393 miles from their home in Worcester, Mass.
Unfortunately for Holy Cross, that distance comes in just under 400 miles. The NCAA will reimburse schools for charter flights of 400 miles or more, so the Crusaders’ trip does not make the cut.
With a snowstorm expected in Massachusetts, the team could not find enough space on commercial flights, so the Crusaders may have to turn to a train or a bus, Stadium analyst Jeff Goodman reported.