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NCAA Tournament: Picking the entire 2023 March Madness bracket

Aliyah Boston leads reigning national champion and No. 1 overall seed South Carolina into the 2023 NCAA Tournament. (Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s time.

March Madness, a.k.a the most wonderful time of the year, is officially upon us. The 68-team field for the NCAA Women’s Tournament was set during the selection show on Sunday night, which means it’s time to fill out your brackets before the first-round games begin Friday.

Make sure to register for the JWS x DICK’s Sporting Goods Bracket Challenge for a chance to win $150,000. To get you started, here are my full bracket picks and games you definitely want to keep an eye on.

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Round of 64

South Florida vs. Marquette (March 17)

This game is basically a pick ‘em, which means it’s 50/50 on who could win. Both of these teams play slowly, ranking in the bottom half of the league in possessions per game. Neither team forces a lot of turnovers, and they both have three players who do the bulk of their scoring, with a significant drop-off after that.

I like Marquette because of their experience playing top-tier opponents in the Big East, but who you pick in this one doesn’t hold a ton of weight because they face No. 1 overall seed South Carolina in the next round.

Oklahoma vs. Portland (March 18)

This game is interesting because Portland has a lot of similarities to Utah, a team that blew out Oklahoma 124-78 back in November. The Pilots shoot a ton of 3-pointers and have a solid post player and rim protector in 6-foot-6 Lucy Cochrane. Portland could keep it close, but the Pilots don’t have the overall talent that Oklahoma does. I expect the Sooners to pull off the win in the end.

Gonzaga vs. Ole Miss (March 17)

Gonzaga is coming off a loss to Portland during which they looked uncharacteristically rattled. Ole Miss, while talented, over-performed when they took South Carolina to overtime on to overtime on Feb. 19. The Zags should be able to handle Ole Miss’ pressure thanks to an experienced backcourt led by senior guard Kaylynne Truong.

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Drake vs. Louisville (March 18)

Drake got on people’s radars earlier in the season when they nearly defeated Iowa. Then they went through an up-and-down season before winning five in a row to clinch an automatic bid. Louisville, meanwhile, had a terrible start to the season before peaking at the right time.

Drake has six talented scorers at both the guard and post position, while the Cardinals see a drop-off after Hailey Van Lith and Chrislyn Carr. If Louisville forward Olivia Cochran has a big game — something she is more than capable of — then the Cardinals are primed to win. But if they rely too much on Van Lith, Drake’s bevy of scorers can force the upset.

Colorado vs. Middle Tennessee (March 18)

Middle Tennessee put together an impressive resume that includes an 18-2 conference record and a win over Louisville earlier in the season. They had the potential to be a Cinderella heading into the tournament but got a tough draw with Colorado in the first round. The Buffs play a suffocating defense that rattled the likes of Stanford, Utah and UCLA this season. Plus, they have one of the toughest guards in the country in Jaylyn Sherrod and a great inside-outside game led by Quay Miller and Aaronette Vonleh that’s hard to stop.

Michigan vs. UNLV (March 17)

UNLV is one of the most athletic teams in the country. As a 12-seed, they would be a bad matchup for whichever team drew them, and Michigan is the unlucky recipient. Junior center Desi-Rae Young is a matchup nightmare, averaging 18.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game this season, and every player around her can create their own shot. Michigan played in the better conference in the Big Ten, but UNLV is the more talented team and has the potential to be a sleeper pick in this tournament.

Toledo vs. Iowa State (March 18)

Before she tore her ACL in January, top WNBA draft prospect Stephanie Soares had Iowa State as a potential Final Four team. Without her, that doesn’t seem possible, but the Cyclones are still a solid team. They battled through the Big 12 tournament to defeat Texas for the title on Sunday, and I expect them to do the same against Toledo. But this one could be close. The Rockets have an excellent backcourt that could pick apart the Iowa State defense without a rim protector. If you’re feeling risky, then go with Toledo.

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Notre Dame star Olivia Miles remains questionable for the NCAA Tournament with a knee injury. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Round of 32

Notre Dame vs. Creighton

A healthy Notre Dame team would be poised for a deep run, but without Oliva Miles and Dara Mabrey, they limped to the end of the regular season and were blown out by Louisivlle in the ACC tournament. The players in their lineup are talented enough to get them out of the first round, but after that, this team is too depleted to get past a tough, experienced Creighton squad.

UNLV vs. LSU

I’m riding with UNLV because of all the reasons I mentioned above. This team has Power 5-level athletes and a coach who knows how to game-plan against top teams. LSU will be a tough test, and the Angel Reese vs. Desi-Rae Young matchup should be exciting. This result could go either way, but I’m counting on UNLV’s poise to propel them to a win.

Sweet 16

South Carolina vs. UCLA

This is one of those rematches that likely won’t live up to the hype. UCLA played South Carolina close the first time around, thanks to a game plan that involved packing the paint, double- and triple-teaming Aliyah Boston and making the Gamecocks shoot from long range. South Carolina weathered that storm and will do the same once again. Expect them to be better prepared for the Bruins this time around.

UNLV vs. Utah

The Rebels and the Utes are two teams that like to run and have a variety of scoring weapons. I see this being a close game, but Utah has the tools to end UNLV’s run. The Utes are one of a few teams that are a bad matchup for UNLV. Wooden Award finalist Alissa Pili is a different type of big who will stretch the floor, creating lanes for Utah’s slashers.

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Stanford bigs Cameron Brink and Lauren Betts have the edge in a matchup with Iowa. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Elite Eight

Stanford vs. Iowa

This season’s Iowa squad has the goods to avoid an early upset, thanks to role players stepping up to assist Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano. Like most teams, I don’t think the Cardinal have a defender who can slow down Clark, but unlike most teams, I don’t think they have to. Clark can score her points, but the post play will be a problem. Cameron Brink will present a mismatch, with her ability to extend defenses and attack off the bounce, and the Cardinal have too many talented bigs to rotate in, such as Lauren Betts and Fran Belibi. I expect them to overwhelm Iowa inside and get the win.

UConn vs. Virginia Tech

The Hokies are playing their best basketball right now. They ended their season with 11-straight wins in arguably the country’s top conference and an ACC Championship. Georgia Amoore and Elizabeth Kitley are one of the best guard-post duos in the NCAA, and Taylor Soule and Kayana Traylor are contributing at a high level. The Huskies finally have a healthy Azzi Fudd, and with her, they have a shot at another Final Four. But Virginia Tech is a touch better and should come out on top.

Indiana vs. Utah

Indiana and Utah each have talent at every position. They have elite posts in Mackenzie Holmes (IU) and Pili (Utah), and elite guards in Grace Berger and Sydney Parrish (IU) and Gianna Kneepkens and Izzy Palmer (Utah). I give the edge to Indiana because they have better secondary scorers. Players like Yarden Garzon and Sara Scalia can put up big numbers when needed.

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South Carolina's roster is steeped with talent, including senior guard Zia Cooke. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Final Four

This is one of those tournaments that has the potential for early-round upsets but will likely end up chalk in the Final Four. In this case, I think the committee got the 1-seeds right as the top four teams in the tournament.

South Carolina vs. Stanford

These teams met earlier in the season, with South Carolina picking up a win in overtime, and both teams are now better than they were in that matchup. Stanford’s development of Lauren Betts could change the dynamic of this game. The Cardinal didn’t have a second option once Cameron Brink got into foul trouble in that November matchup; now they do.

But South Carolina figured out some things, too — like how well Raven Johnson and Kamilla Cardoso play together off the bench and how to best use its deep rotation. This game could come down to the final possession, that’s how close these teams are. But in the end, South Carolina is undefeated for a reason, and I expect them to stay that way.

Indiana vs. Virginia Tech

This matchup will likely come down to depth. Amoore and Kitley are elite scorers, but after that, Indiana is stronger player to player. The Hoosiers have six players who can erupt at any point, and that should be enough to top the Hokies.

Championship

South Carolina vs. Indiana

The Gamecocks are coming off a 2022 national championship, while the Hoosiers have never made it past the Elite Eight. The Hoosiers’ starting five matches up relatively well with the Gamecocks, but once these teams go to the bench, it’s all South Carolina.

Ultimately, the Gamecocks have too many weapons that all play well together. When the final buzzer sounds, South Carolina will be the champion once more, joining UConn, Tennessee and USC as the only programs to win consecutive titles.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. 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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