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Five historic first-round upsets in the NCAA Women’s Tournament

Belmont defeated Oregon in overtime on Saturday night in the second 12-over-5 upset of the first round. (Donald Page/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

With eight lower seeds prevailing in the first round, the chaotic first two days of the 2022 NCAA Tournament will be etched into the pages of tournament lore.

Most notable in that group are 12 seeds Florida Gulf Coast and Belmont defeating power-five programs Virginia Tech and Oregon. Also over the weekend, No. 11 seeds Princeton and Villanova took down six-seeds Kentucky and BYU, and No. 10 seeds South Dakota and Creighton prevailed over seven-seeds Ole Miss and Colorado.

Everyone loves a good upset — except, of course, if your team is on the losing end. So, let’s revisit five historic first-round upsets from the NCAA Women’s Tournament that are worth remembering.

No. 16 Harvard 71, Stanford 67 (1998)

Before there was UMBC on the men’s side, there was Harvard on the women’s side. Granted, in terms of being a mid-major program, the two aren’t really comparable, but Harvard still has the distinction of being the first 16-seed to top a 1-seed.

This matchup was interesting for a variety of reasons. For starters, seeding aside, there were reasons to view Harvard as the favorite going in. Allison Feaster led the country in scoring that year with 28.5 points per game, and went on to play 10 years in the WNBA. Sure enough, the senior was dominant against the Cardinal, scoring 35 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the win.

Meanwhile, Stanford was coming off a Final Four appearance the season prior. But the Cardinal team that was awarded a No. 1 seed wasn’t the same team that took the court against Harvard. Vanessa Nygaard and Kristin Folkl both sustained season-ending injuries the week before the tournament opener. Folkl led the team with 18.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, while Nygaard contributed 14.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. It was the perfect combination for an upset, and Harvard took advantage.

No. 13 Marist 76, No. 4 Georgia 70 (2012)
No. 13 Marist 67, No. 4 Ohio State 63 (2007)

There has yet to be an upset of a 15–seed over a 2-seed or a 14 over a 3 — though No. 14 Jackson State nearly made history in its wire-to-wire loss to No. 3 LSU on Saturday. Marist, though, has the distinction of being atop the list of 13-seed upsets. That’s because there have been seven such upsets, and Marist is the only team to have done it more than once.

In 2007, Julianne Viani scored 24 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field (including six 3-pointers), and clinched the win by knocking down two free throws with 18.1 seconds left. These days Viani still takes part in basketball upsets, just from the sideline where she serves as a TV analyst.

Then in 2012, Marist did it again, this time over Georgia. The Red Foxes held Jasmin Haskell, Georgia’s leading scorer, to six points and six rebounds en route to the win. The Bulldogs had made it to the Sweet 16 two years in a row prior to the upset.

No. 12 Notre Dame 73, No. 5 Purdue 60 (1996)

A year before appearing in their first Sweet 16, which turned into their first Elite Eight and then Final Four, the Fighting Irish showed the basketball world what was coming in a first-round upset of Purdue.

Notre Dame was five years away from its first title, and Purdue was coming off a Final Four appearance in 1994 and an Elite Eight in 1995. Plus, the Boilermakers took the tournament crown three years later when they defeated Duke 62-45 in the championship game.

With their win over Purdue in 1996, the Fighting Irish advanced past the first round for the first time. Since then, they’ve made it to the second week of the tournament 21 more times.

No. 11 UAB 80, No. 6 Oregon 79, OT (2000)

On Sunday, Oregon fell to No. 12 Belmont in double overtime. Twenty-two years ago, the Ducks were ousted from the first round by No. 11 UAB.

The Blazers were coming off a Conference USA tournament win, earning them the NCAA Tournament bid. UAB went into that conference tournament as an eight-seed, so they’d already compiled multiple upsets before meeting Oregon on the big stage.

Shaquette Rhodes secured the overtime victory for the Blazers by grabbing a rebound and finishing a putback with three seconds left on the clock. Deanna Jackson led UAB with a career-high 32 points in the thrilling victory.

Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.