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Picking the entire NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket

(Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The most wonderful time of the year is here.

The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket is in, and that means it’s time to make your picks. Be sure to enter the Just Women’s Sports x DICK’S Sporting Goods Bracket Challenge for the chance to win $150,000, the largest prize in women’s college basketball history.

And if you need a little help with your selections, we have you covered. Here are my picks for the NCAA Tournament, plus first-round matchups that make you stop and think.

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No. 8 Miami vs. No. 9 South Florida

The first matchup that gives me pause is Miami vs. South Florida in the first round. These teams compare well to each other statistically, and they are both relatively hot right now. Miami is coming off an ACC championship game appearance after upsetting Louisville, and South Florida fell to UCF by eight points in its conference title game. Overall, South Florida has more weapons (five double-digit scorers), so I’m going with the Bulls in this one.

No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 13 UNLV

This game has upset potential to me. The Rebels (26-6) have put together a great season in the Mountain West and have talent at all five spots in the form of Power Five-worthy athletes. Arizona, the 2021 NCAA Tournament runner-up, has the edge because of the game’s location (Tucson) and the team’s experience. Still, I wouldn’t be shocked if UNLV pulled it off, and if they don’t, keep an eye on this team next season.

No. 7 Colorado vs. No. 10 Creighton

Colorado is more mature and experienced than this sophomore-studded Creighton squad — the Blue Jays’ top-three scorers are all second-year players. But if the Buffs want to advance, they’ll need to limit Creighton’s shooting. The Blue Jays score a lot of points (74.8 per game) on an onslaught of 3-pointers (10.3 per contest).

No. 8 Nebraska vs. No. 9 Gonzaga

Both of these teams have balanced scoring coming from multiple positions. Nebraska is coming off a win over Michigan in the Big Ten tournament, and Gonzaga topped BYU to win the West Coast Conference. This game is a toss-up, but my gut is saying Nebraska.

No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 12 Belmont

The Ducks were gifted a 5-seed, but I’m not here to argue the bracket; I’m here to make picks. Belmont won 11-straight games to end the season and challenged itself in a tough non-conference slate, playing teams like Georgia Tech and Louisville. Meanwhile, the 20-11 Ducks have been inconsistent all season. This game is being played in Knoxville, Tenn., which is three hours from Belmont’s campus. The Bruins have the potential for a home-like crowd, but Oregon has a significant height advantage with Sedona Prince (6-foot-7) and Nara Sabally (6-5). If they play through their posts, the Ducks take this game.

No. 6 BYU vs. No. 11 Villanova

Beating UConn on Feb. 9 is enough to get people excited — and rightfully so — about this Villanova team, but don’t sleep on three-loss BYU. This matchup features two great scorers, Maddy Siegrist of Villanova and Shaylee Gonzales of BYU. The Cougars have the edge in consistency, currently 11th in the country with an average of 77.8 points per game.

No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast

Virginia Tech has one of the best posts in the country in Elizabeth Kitley, and FGCU has one of the best guards in Kierstan Bell. The Hokies have a huge height advantage, as FGCU doesn’t have a player over 6-1, but Virginia Tech also doesn’t have a player to shut down a versatile scorer like Bell. She’s going to be the best player on the floor, so I’m giving FGCU the upset win.

No. 7 Utah vs. No. 10 Arkansas

Arkansas and Utah are each coming off runs to their conference title games, and they play a similar style of basketball. This should be an up-tempo, high-scoring contest in which both squads show a willingness to pull up from distance. Utah makes 9.4 3-pointers per game, and Arkansas makes 8.2. This game will come down to which team executes better. Arkansas is a bit older and, in my opinion, a bit better at scoring the basketball, but it’ll be a close one.

No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Princeton

What a tough draw for Princeton. I’ve liked this team all season, and I had my eye on the Tigers as a potential Cinderella candidate, but I can’t pick against Kentucky right now. The Wildcats are on a 10-game win streak that ended with a thrilling win over South Carolina in the SEC tournament championship game. Plus, they have the best player on the floor in Rhyne Howard. As talented as Princeton is, those factors are too much to overcome.

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.

Caitlin Clark stuns in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports. It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation and shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing him a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her best line of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns start NWSL season winless, in uncharted territory

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage and remaining winless through its first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before. Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 


She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, answers need to be had from head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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