Chaos was the theme of Sunday and Monday’s Round of 32 matchups, with Ole Miss topping No. 1 Stanford, Miami beating No. 1 Indiana and Colorado taking down No. 3 Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s how each of those underdogs got it done, and what their chances are as the bracket turns to the Sweet 16.
The Rebels got the upset party started by defeating Stanford 54-49 on Sunday, and they did it with defense. Stanford never led and only tied the game once when Cameron Brink hit two free throws with 1:16 left to play, evening the score at 49. Ole Miss controlled the game by never letting Stanford get comfortable. The Cardinal turned the ball over 21 times, their second-highest mark of the season, including three turnovers in the final 21 seconds. Those last few possessions were crucial to securing the victory, but Ole Miss kept the pressure on all game.
The game also marked Stanford’s second-lowest points total of the season (before that, they recorded their fewest points and most turnovers in a loss to USC on Jan 15). Ole Miss also held Stanford to 32.7 percent shooting from the field and just 28.6 percent from the 3-point line. That 3-point defense has been the Rebels’ calling card all season, with the team holding opponents to 24.8 percent from beyond the arc. They did it to the extreme in the first round, limiting Gonzaga — who typically shoot an NCAA-best 40.5 percent from 3 — to a 1-for-17 performance.
As Ole Miss contested every shot, the Cardinal struggled to share the scoring load, with only Brink and Haley Jones reaching double figures. The Rebels’ high-pressure defense combined with timely 3-point shooting (5-for-11) allowed them to secure the upset.
CALL CONFIRMED!!!! OUR BALL!!!! pic.twitter.com/Vv0ezaUIBf— Ole Miss Women's BB (@OleMissWBB) March 20, 2023
CALL CONFIRMED!!!! OUR BALL!!!! pic.twitter.com/Vv0ezaUIBf
The Rebels take on Louisville in the Sweet 16 (Friday, 10 p.m. ET) and will rely on the same defensive formula. The Cardinals have skilled, experienced guards who should be able to handle the pressure, whereas Stanford’s primary ball-handler was freshman Telana Lepolo. Still, Ole Miss will be a hard out for anyone in the tournament since they are capable of rattling even the most experienced players. Louisville will have to control the ball and the tempo, while also limiting Ole Miss’ talented guard duo of Marquesha Davis and Angel Baker.
The Hurricanes’ upset of Indiana was perhaps even bigger than Ole Miss’ win over Stanford. Here’s why: Ole Miss had to create extreme circumstances in which the Cardinal turned the ball over and couldn’t hit a shot in order to win. Miami, meanwhile, just did everything better than Indiana.
All season, the Hoosiers have been known for their post play thanks to the dominance of Mackenzie Holmes. The senior averaged 22.3 points per game while shooting an efficient 68 percent from the field. Holmes racked up 22 points in this game, but Miami still found away to exploit Indiana in the paint — on the other end of the floor. Lola Pendande (6-4) and Destiny Harden (6-0) overpowered the Hoosiers defense, finding a mismatch in whichever player Holmes wasn’t guarding. It allowed them to score 19 and 18 points, respectively.
CANES CAN ‼️The game winning shot from Destiny Harden#MarchMadness x @CanesWBB pic.twitter.com/4OtEoO97Bb— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) March 21, 2023
CANES CAN ‼️The game winning shot from Destiny Harden#MarchMadness x @CanesWBB pic.twitter.com/4OtEoO97Bb
In the backcourt, Miami also found a way to score when Indiana was not. The Hurricanes forced just seven turnovers, but they did keep the Hoosiers guards uncomfortable. They limited Yarden Garzon to 10 points, Chloe Moore-Mcneil to nine and Sydney Parrish to four. Meanwhile, Grace Berger scored 17 points, but did so on 6-for-16 shooting from the floor.
Miami will be able to attack the paint in a similar way against Villanova (Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET), as the Wildcats don’t have size inside to defend Pendande and Harden. Sophomore forward Christina Dalce is their tallest starter at 6-foot-2, while Maddy Siegrist is next at 6-1. On defense, don’t expect the Hurricanes to stop Siegrist, a dynamic scorer who is averaging an NCAA-leading 29.2 points per game. But if Miami can limit the rest of Villanova’s lineup, then the Hurricanes will have a good chance at a victory. After that, things would get tougher, as No. 3 LSU or No. 2 Utah awaits the victor.
A 6-seed over a 3-seed isn’t as big of an upset as a 9 or an 8 over a 1, but Colorado’s accomplishment is still a big deal, mainly because many experts across the country had the Buffs losing to Middle Tennessee in the first round. Instead, they beat Middle Tennessee and then topped one of the ACC’s best teams in Duke.
Duke’s Celeste Taylor was the best defender on the floor, finishing with 10 steals, 10 rebounds, eight assists and eight points. But as a team, Colorado got the better of the Blue Devils defensively. In the overtime win, the Buffs held Duke to 31.7 percent shooting from the floor and 21.7 percent from the 3-point line.
On offense, Colorado had a major advantage with Quay Miller and Aaronette Vonleh. No one on Duke’s roster could handle Vonleh’s pure strength on the inside, leading to 12 points. The Blue Devils also didn’t have an answer for Miller, who at 6-3 can play inside or outside, creating a mismatch for whoever is guarding her. Miller finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and three assists in the win.
TOUGH 😤📺 ESPNU#GoBuffs // #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/XVfLo7TraY— Colorado Women's Basketball 🦬 (@CUBuffsWBB) March 21, 2023
TOUGH 😤📺 ESPNU#GoBuffs // #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/XVfLo7TraY
Next up for the Buffs is Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes (Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET). While Clark will undeniably be the best player on the floor, the Buffs can exploit the same matchup they did against Duke. Iowa will struggle to find a defensive game plan for Miller, and Iowa’s secondary scorer, Monika Czinano, will face an even tougher challenge against Vohleh and Miller on the inside. If Colorado is to win this game, they won’t do it by stopping Clark. Instead, they have to limit the rest of the Hawkeyes while exploiting their own defensive matchups.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.