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NCAA Tournament tracker: Women’s TV deal could be ‘worth a lot’

(C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

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.”

2023 NCAA Tournament: Top storylines from March Madness

March 29 — Caitlin Clark wins Naismith Player of the Year

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.

March 26 — Inflate-gate: LSU questions air level in basketballs

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.”

March 25 — Ohio State ends drought, snaps UConn streak

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.

March 24 — Miami, LSU, Iowa, and Louisville book tickets to Elite Eight

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.

March 21 — ACC and SEC lead Sweet 16 slate

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.”

March 18 — Seven upsets highlight first round

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:

  • No. 10 Georgia 66, No. 7 Florida State 54
  • No. 11 Mississippi State 81, No. 6 Creighton 66
  • No. 9 South Dakota State 62, No. 8 USC 57 (OT)
  • No. 10 Princeton 64, No. 7 NC State 63
  • No. 9 Miami 62, No. 8 Oklahoma State 61
  • No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast 74, No. 5 Washington State 63
  • No. 12 Toledo 80, No. 5 Iowa State 73

March 18 — Baylor records historic comeback

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.

March 17 — Stanford’s Cameron Brink misses first round with non-COVID illness

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.

March 17 — NC State’s Diamond Johnson will miss opening weekend

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.

March 16 — Florida State’s Ta’Niya Latson out for NCAA Tournament

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.

March 16 — Geno Auriemma: ‘If we weren’t called UConn, we’d be a No. 1’

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.

March 13 — Holy Cross faces travel trouble ahead of first round

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.

Complete results from the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament

First Four Results and Scores

  • Wednesday, March 15:
    • Mississippi State 70, Illinois 56
    • Sacred Heart 57, Southern 47
  • Thursday, March 16:
    • St. John’s 66, Purdue 64
    • Tennessee Tech 79, Monmouth 69

First Round Results and Scores

  • Friday, March 17:
    • No. 8 South Florida 67, No. 9 Marquette 65 (OT)
    • No. 7 Arizona 75, No. 10 West Virginia 62
    • No. 10 Georgia 66, No. 7 Florida State 54
    • No. 1 South Carolina 72, No. 16 Norfolk State 40
    • No. 2 Maryland 93, No. 15 Holy Cross 61
    • No. 6 Michigan 71, No. 11 UNLV 59
    • No. 3 Notre Dame 82, No. 14 Southern Utah 56
    • No. 2 Iowa 95, No. 15 Southeastern Louisiana 43
    • No. 3 LSU 73, No. 14 Hawaii 50
    • No. 1 Virginia Tech 58, No. 14 Chattanooga 33
    • No. 11 Mississippi State 81, No. 6 Creighton 66
    • No. 1 Stanford 92, No. 16 Sacred Heart 49
    • No. 2 Utah 103, No. 15 Gardner-Webb 77
    • No. 9 South Dakota State 62, No. 8 USC 57 (OT)
    • No. 10 Princeton 64, No. 7 NC State 63
    • No. 8 Ole Miss 71, No. 9 Gonzaga 48
  • Saturday, March 18:
    • No. 1 Indiana 77, No. 16 Tennessee Tech 47
    • No. 4 Tennessee 95, No. 13 Saint Louis 50
    • No. 3 Ohio State 80, No. 14 James Madison 66
    • No. 9 Miami 62, No. 8 Oklahoma State 61
    • No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast 74, No. 5 Washington State 63
    • No. 2 UConn 95, No. 15 Vermont 52
    • No. 12 Toledo 80, No. 5 Iowa State 73
    • No. 6 North Carolina 61, No. 11 St. John’s 59
    • No. 4 Villanova 76, No. 13 Cleveland State 59
    • No. 7 Baylor 78, No. 10 Alabama 74
    • No. 6 Colorado 82, No. 11 Middle Tennessee 60
    • No. 5 Louisville 83, No. 12 Drake 81
    • No. 5 Oklahoma 85, No. 12 Portland 63
    • No. 3 Duke 89, No. 14 Iona 49
    • No. 4 Texas 79, No. 13 East Carolina 40
    • No. 4 UCLA 67, No. 13 Sacramento State 45

Second Round Results and Scores

  • Sunday, March 19:
    • No. 1 South Carolina 76, No. 8 South Florida 45
    • No. 2 Iowa 74, No. 10 Georgia 66
    • No. 3 Notre Dame 53, No. 11 Mississippi State 48
    • No. 1 Virginia Tech 72, No. 9 South Dakota State 60
    • No. 2 Maryland 77, No. 7 Arizona 64
    • No. 2 Utah 63, No. 10 Princeton 56
    • No. 3 LSU 66, No. 6 Michigan 42
    • No. 8 Ole Miss 54, No. 1 Stanford 49
  • Monday, March 20:
    • No. 3 Ohio State 71, No. 6 North Carolina 69
    • No. 4 Tennessee 94, No. 12 Toledo 47
    • No. 5 Louisville 73, No. 4 Texas 51
    • No. 4 Villanova 76, No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast 57
    • No. 9 Miami 70 No. 1 Indiana 68
    • No. 6 Colorado 61, No. 3 Duke 53 (OT)
    • No. 2 UConn 77, No. 7 Baylor 58
    • No. 4 UCLA 82, No. 5 Oklahoma 73

Sweet 16 Results and Scores

  • Friday, March 24: 
    • No. 9 Miami (Fla.) 70, No. 4 Villanova 65
    • No. 3 LSU 66, No. 2 Utah 63
    • No. 2 Iowa 87, No. 6 Colorado 77
    • No. 5 Louisville 72, No. 8 Ole Miss 62
  • Saturday, March 25:
    • No. 2 Maryland 76, No. 3 Notre Dame 59
    • No.1 South Carolina 59, No. 4 UCLA 43
    • No. 3 Ohio State 73, No. 2 UConn 61
    • No. 1 Virginia Tech 73, No 4 Tennessee 64

Elite Eight Results and Scores

  • Sunday, March 26:
    • No. 3 LSU 54, No. 9 Miami 42
    • No. 2 Iowa 97, No. 5 Louisville 83
  • Monday, March 27:
    • No. 1 South Carolina 86, No. 2 Maryland 75
    • No. 1 Virginia Tech 84, No. 3 Ohio State 74

Final Four Results and Scores

  • Friday, March 31
    • No. 3 LSU 79, No. 1 Virginia Tech 72
    • No. 2 Iowa 77, No. 1 South Carolina 73
  • Sunday, April 2
    • No. 3 LSU 102, No. 2 Iowa 85

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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