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NCAA Women’s Basketball Bracket: First Reactions

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This year’s NCAA tournament feels different, and it’s not just because it’s the first in a bubble. Rather, for the first time in a long time, it really feels like it’s anyone’s tournament to win.

The last time we watched March Madness in 2019, only No. 1 and No. 2 seeds made the Elite Eight. And in the last 20 years, there hasn’t been a single Final Four without at least two No. 1 seeds.

But this bracket is jam-packed with teams that could stay a few extra weekends, from one seeds (is it a hot take to pick NC State?) to three seeds (don’t forget about Tennessee’s victory over South Carolina) to five seeds (we see you Caitlin Clark and Iowa).

With games starting on Sunday, March 21, here are our first reactions to the 2021 NCAA tournament draw.

No. 1 seed with the toughest path

When it comes to tournament spoilers, Stanford has multiple of their side of the bracket. Second seeded Louisville might have the country’s best player in Dana Evans. Three seeded Georgia has a mean, physical, and experienced defense. Fourth seeded Arkansas has knocked off UConn and Baylor (more on this below). And Five seeded Missouri State came back from 16 to beat Maryland.

Stanford will have some tough games down the road — that is, if they can even make it out of the second round. The Cardinal will have to face off against either Oklahoma State and Natasha Mack, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, or Wake Forest and their four players averaging double-digit points.

There’s a reason Stanford was ranked as the number one overall seed, but don’t let the headlines deceive you. This will not be an easy journey back to the Final Four for the Cardinal.

The non-top two seed with the best chance to win it all

How about No. 4 Arkansas? The Razorbacks have wins over Baylor and UConn, and lost to Texas A&M twice by a total of three points. They can score in a hurry, averaging 83.1 points per game, fourth-best in the country, despite playing in the SEC. They also have a born scorer in Chelsea Dungee, who lives at the free-throw line and attacks the basket without any regard for the defenders in front of her. Dungee dropped 37 points on UConn, and she can do it again. Just ask Ole Miss, whom she torched for 38 points five games later.

The problems with Arkansas? They’re on the stacked side of the bracket, are 2-6 against top-25 teams, and, for as much as Arkansas can score, they allow opponents to score just as much. In an early-season match-up against Maryland, they gave up 115 points — the Terrapins’ highest-scoring outing of the year. But if this Arkansas team gets hot or Dungee fights her way to the free-throw line 17 times (as she did against Ole Miss), they can beat anyone in the bracket — as they’ve already shown.

Team with the most Cinderella potential

Who doesn’t like watching a team fly up and down the court chucking threes? That’s what you’ll get with Florida Gulf Coast University. Riding a 25-game win streak, the Eagles’ offense averages an NCAA-best 11.9 three-point field goals per game, while they limit opposing three-point shooters to 25.3% on the other end.

Their only two losses came early in the season against Missouri State and Arkansas, games they played without their leading scorer Kierstan Bell, an Ohio State transfer who averaged 24.3 points and 10.8 rebounds this year. When Bell finally did return, Florida Gulf Coast scored 70 points and beat a UCF squad that typically holds teams to 49.9 points per game — the best in the country. The 11th seeded Eagles are a tad undersized, without a true forward or anyone above 6-foot-1 on their roster, but, at full strength, no one in the country has beaten them.

Best conference champion to not make the tournament

That’s right. A team won their conference championship and won’t be making the trip to San Antonio. But it’s not because of COVID or NCAA violations. It’s because they’re still in the process of reclassifying to Division I.

We’re talking about Cal Baptist here, the only team in the country to have an undefeated record after they went 24-0 this season and swept the WAC. Previously a Division II team, Cal Baptist must wait a total of four years before hearing their name called on the Selection Show. In the meantime, they’ll have to settle for a WNIT bid. See you in 2023, Lancers fans.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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