Kim Mulkey has treated the NCAA Tournament sidelines as her own personal fashion show, and she brought another showstopper to the Final Four on Friday night.

In just her second year as the head coach of the LSU women’s basketball team, Mulkey has led the third-seeded Tigers to the cusp of the national title game. And along the way, she has turned heads with her eye-catching outfits. (Don’t forget to vote for your favorite below.)

For Friday night’s Final Four showdown against No. 1 seed Virginia Tech, set to tip off at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, she wore a bright pink blazer with large fabric flowers running from the shoulders all the way down to the cuffs of her sleeves. Her granddaughter, Sage, wore a dress with matching pink ruffles around the collar.

Mulkey started the tournament with a sweater reading “Kiss Me I’m a Queen” (…or did it say “green”?) for her team’s St. Patrick’s Day win against Hawaii. She followed that up with a full polka-dot ensemble for LSU’s second-round win against Michigan.

The most iconic look so far came in the Sweet 16 against Utah, when she donned a Neubyrne blazer with neon pink feathers running down each sleeve. She wore a sparkling rainbow blazer for the Elite Eight, from the aptly named Louisiana fashion company Queen of Sparkles.

“I do not go pick these things out,” Mulkey said after the Sweet 16. “Look, we’re from Louisiana, we like sparkles, we like diamonds, we like Mardi Gras, we like to eat and we like to party.”

Jennifer Roberts, LSU’s director of player personnel and influence, coordinates many of Mulkey’s looks with Queen of Sparkles. The company, owned by Jaime Glas, has provided more than 50 of  the coach’s looks.

For the Final Four, which is being played at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Mulkey has brought some Texas flavor. The coach, who spent 21 seasons at Baylor and still has a home in Waco, wore a black straw cowboy hat emblazoned with the Final Four logo for media day.

“I was going to come in here and sing, ‘All my exes live in Texas,’” she told reporters Thursday. “Which is true. I only have one, though, only been married once.”

Some people have told Mulkey, “‘Coach, quite honestly, I don’t know anything about basketball, but I will come just to see what you wear,’” she admitted to the Wall Street Journal. But she’s just happy to expose them to the sport.

“I want those that come to the games for that reason to keep coming,” Mulkey said. “And I want them to learn the game of basketball.”

College basketball’s biggest stage is set. Iowa, South Carolina, LSU and Virginia Tech are headed to the Final Four, and in three short days, one team will hoist the national championship trophy.

First, No. 3 LSU and No. 1 Virginia Tech (7 pm ET, ESPN), and No. 2 Iowa and No. 1 South Carolina (9 pm ET, ESPN) square off on Friday for the final two spots.

Iowa vs. South Carolina

To have Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston, the country’s top two players, squaring off in the Final Four is a gift from the basketball gods. And though the 2023 National Player of the Year and 2022 National Player of the Year will dominate headlines, this game is going to come down to the other eight players on the court.

Clark is going to be Clark. No one in the country has been able to contain her thus far, and even with an elite defender like Brea Beal marking her, I don’t see South Carolina slowing her down either. On the other side, Boston is going to be Boston. Monika Czinano is a talented center, but she’s no match for Boston, who will likely dominate the post matchup.

So, the stars will likely cancel each other out, meaning the winner of this game will be determined by the supporting cast. In that battle, South Carolina is superior. Beal, Victoria Saxton, Zia Cooke and Kierra Fletcher round out the Gamecocks’ starting five, which will go up against Czinano, Gabbie Marshall, McKenna Warnock and Kate Martin. While Iowa has shooters, their ability to score hinges largely on the playmaking skills of Clark, whereas South Carolina’s role players can create their own looks.

Then, there’s the bench. Iowa’s Hannah Stuelke is going to have an incredible future in the program, and Molly Davis has provided exactly what the Hawkeyes needed from her off the bench, but South Carolina has the best bench unit in the country. With 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso and elite point guard Raven Johnson, the Gamecocks don’t experience any drop-off when they go to the bench. It also means they don’t have to worry about foul trouble, a luxury Iowa doesn’t have.

Pick: South Carolina

The matchup between Virginia Tech's Elizabeth Kitley and LSU's Angel Reese will be one to watch. (G Fiume/Getty Images)

LSU vs. Virginia Tech

When it comes to personalities, there aren’t two teams more different than LSU and Virginia Tech. The Tigers find motivation through trash talk and celebrations, while the Hokies prefer to keep their heads down and play basketball. The fact that both teams are here speaks to how important it is for coaches to let their players be themselves. When they embrace personalities, it allows their players to thrive.

When it comes to production, however, LSU and Virginia Tech have similar makeups. They both rely on an elite guard/post combo to power their offenses. For LSU, that’s Angel Reese and Alexis Morris, and for Virginia Tech, it’s Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore.

Reese averages 23.2 points and 15.7 rebounds per game, while Kitley averages 18.2 points and 10.7 rebounds. This post matchup could be the best of the tournament. As for the guards, Amoore contributes 16.3 points and 5.0 assists per game, while Morris averages 14.9 points and 4.1 assists.

Like in the South Carolina-Iowa matchup, I expect someone other than the stars to step up. It could be a player like Flau’jae Johnson for LSU, who has had a remarkable freshman campaign, or 3-point specialist Cayla King for Virginia Tech.

The 3-point line is going to be key in this game, as the Hokies like to shoot from long range. Amoore set the record for most makes in the first four games of the tournament with 20. King, meanwhile, averages 8.1 points per game, with 6.6 of those coming from beyond the arc. The Hokies are 20th in the country in 3-point makes, while LSU is 249th (out of 361) when it comes to defensive 3-point rate, meaning the Tigers allow a lot of points from deep.

Pick: Virginia Tech

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

As Virginia Tech has made its historic run to the Final Four, high-profile transfer Ashley Owusu has been nowhere to be found.

The former Maryland standout played in the team’s first eight games of the season before missing time with a broken pinkie finger. Yet even after her return, she has struggled to crack the lineup. While she is “staying ready,” Owusu has not played since Feb. 26.

Following the Hokies’ run to their first ACC tournament championship, during which Owusu did not see any minutes, coach Kenny Brooks told The Roanoke Times that his team found its identity while Owusu was working her way back from injury.

“Everybody can just look and see and tell that we’ve got things going in a tremendous direction,” Brooks said. “[The injury] was an unfair situation — not only for her but for us because it usually takes transfers a little while to get used to your system. And the time they’re usually getting used to it, she was out.

“During that time, we formed a different identity — one that probably would’ve been different if she were healthy and playing throughout the month of December and January because … she would have been incorporated into the system. But she’s a different type player and we had to form a different identity.”

By the time that Owusu was ready to return, Brooks said that the team was in “the middle of a heated race” in the ACC. There wasn’t room to try and “reinvent ourselves,” he said, and with others playing well it was difficult to try and find her a place.

“I know she’s frustrated, but my job is to make sure that we’re winning,” he said. “And we are. Our goal was to win the ACC championship. We accomplished that. Our next goal’s to advance as far as we can in the NCAA Tournament. Ultimately, we have to go with what we feel like is the best for our team. And ultimately, it worked.”

And as Virginia Tech has made the first Final Four run in school history, Brooks hasn’t messed with what’s worked for his team, which leaves Owusu riding the bench.

Ahead of the Final Four, Brooks talked with reporters about getting his players to buy into the program.

“I mean, it’s kind of like being a parent. You tell your kids if they act the right way, good things will happen to them. Same thing in recruiting,” he said. “Elizabeth Kitley took a blind leap of faith. Georgia Amoore took a blind leap of faith and trusted in me that if they did the things I told them to do, that everything would come to fruition. For me it’s exciting to watch them experience it.”

He knew the team “had the talent” to reach this point all they way back in the summer leading up to the season.

“They weren’t a cohesive unit during the summer, but we knew we had the makings of it just because we had so many mature kids,” he said. “And then really we hit our stride obviously with the winning streak, but when we lost to Duke, we learned a lot about ourselves. There was no yelling in the locker room after that game. I told the kids, let this sting. We’ll get another opportunity to play them, and I said, don’t let it bother us. Let it kick us forward.

“From that moment, the look in their eyes, they’ve been pure professionals. They’ve gone out, everyone understands their role and they’ve done them and they’ve starred in their roles.”

As players declare for the WNBA draft, questions about the status of star player and projected No. 1 overall pick Aliyah Boston remain.

And the South Carolina senior is not helping to quell them.

When asked if Monday’s Elite Eight win in Greenville would be her last in the state of South Carolina, Boston just smiled at the camera and then walked away.

If Boston chooses to postpone her WNBA career, she could become the face of a trend in women’s basketball as players opt to use the extra year of eligibility granted to them by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of this season’s juniors and seniors would have the option to use that extra year.

Tennessee senior Tamari Key laid out why players might want to stay for another year, as she and her teammate Rickea Jackson both opted to return for another season with the Lady Vols.

The NCAA’s new name, image and likeness policy is one of those reasons. NIL deals have changed the game for a lot of players, as they can make money while still in school.

“You don’t really have to do anything (in college) except hoop, go to school and make money,” Boston sad. “In the real world, all of the sudden everything is coming at you, so I think it plays a major decision.”

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley thinks Boston should go to the league, she told the Greenville (S.C.) News in January.

“I do think Aliyah Boston should go. I do,” she said. “I think she’s ready to take on more of one-on-one play rather than the junk defenses.”

On Tuesday, Staley said that she has met with all of South Carolina’s seniors and that she’s “planning on not having them” next season.

“Regardless if we have some come back, or all of them leave, or all of them stay, we’re still in a position where we must continue to recruit, just in case,” she said. “But I think all of our seniors have put themselves in a position to be drafted.”

There is, of course, the WNBA’s perpetual problem of limited roster spots. Currently, there are 144 available spots across 12 teams, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for rookies. 

“I know there aren’t a lot of roster spots this particular year in the WNBA,” Staley said. “We are constantly feeding them with information that will help them make that decision to go or to stay… And I’m not going to sway them. I’m not going to try to convince them to come back.”

Even current WNBA players have spoken up in favor of players staying with their schools for another year.

“If I was in college I would stay,” wrote Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, who cited NIL and the limited roster spots as why college players should stay in school.

Chicago Sky guard Diamond DeShields echoed the sentiment, and even inquired if she still could use her extra year of eligibility.

“I would’ve stayed and used my 5th year under the current climate of college basketball,” she wrote.

Ultimately, whether or not Boston remains in South Carolina is up to her. But regardless of her decision, she’ll always consider the state home. 

South Carolina has been a home for four years, somewhere where I really grew up so it’s always going to be that second home to me,” she said Monday. “And it’s going to feel so good when I come back whenever it is, visit, see everybody, see the coaches. It’s going to be really nice.”

Louisville coach Jeff Walz watched two very different basketball games Sunday: LSU’s low-scoring win against Miami, and then his own team’s high-scoring loss against Iowa.

Despite their disparate final scores, though, both Elite Eight contests featured high-quality basketball. Walz just wished that came across in the broadcasts.

He pointed to LSU’s 54-42 win against Miami as an example. As a keen observer, he found himself impressed by the defenses on display.

“But instead of complimenting that, we talk, ‘Oh, it’s a terrible offensive game.’ No, it’s not. It’s a great defensive game,” Walz said. “I’ve watched men’s games. They’re in the 20s. But every time I listen to an announcer on a men’s game in the 20s, they talk about what an unbelievable defensive game it is.

“We kill ourselves. We have to do better. It’s mind-boggling to me that we, as people who are trying to push and advocate for women’s basketball, we hurt ourselves. It’s got to stop. The stupidity has to end. It’s ignorance. I can’t figure it out.”

Walz’s words came as part of a seven-minute plea for more and better support for women’s basketball, made in the wake of his team’s 97-83 loss to Iowa. While he hopes fans “appreciate both sides” of the game, both the low-scoring and the high-scoring, the cue must come from those within the women’s game itself.

“We have to just continue to do a better job of being supportive of women’s athletics and women’s basketball,” he said. “I tell my players all the time, because this is something that’s important to me, when someone asks one of my players, ‘Who is your favorite professional player?’ I surely hope we say a WNBA player, because if we don’t, if you’re an advertiser and women’s basketball players are saying their favorite professional player is a men’s player, why would you advertise in women’s sports? You’re telling everyone, I prefer the men’s players.

“That, to me, I can’t figure out either. We have an unbelievable game, we have an unbelievable product, and we need to keep telling people and showing people that we do, but it starts with us.”

Kim Mulkey is trying to temper expectations for No. 3 LSU while simultaneously elevating her fashion game during the 2023 NCAA Women’s Tournament.

Mulkey, who is in her second year at LSU after spending 21 seasons at Baylor, has worn a flashy and conversation-sparking outfit for each round of this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Fans on social media argued whether Mulkey's sweater during LSU's first-round game said "queen" or "gueen." (Stephen Lew/USA TODAY Sports)

Asked about her glittering and feathery outfits after LSU defeated No. 2 Utah, 66-63, in the Sweet 16 on Friday, Mulkey credited her stylist, who has been shipping out a new outfit after each win.

“I do not go pick these things out,” said Mulkey, adding that the outfits speak to the personality of her home state.

“Look, we’re from Louisiana, we like sparkles, we like diamonds, we like Mardi Gras, we like to eat and we like to party.”

Mulkey wore a black and white polka-dot outfit for LSU's second-round game. (Stephen Lew/USA TODAY Sports)

Mulkey’s players are keeping score in the locker room.

“We already told her this is probably her best ‘fit,” LSU graduate forward Ladazhia Williams said of Mulkey’s pink-feather outfit on Friday night.

“The whole staff be coming trim. They all be fly. Nobody be liking. They all try to outdo each other,” added All-American forward Angel Reese.

Mulkey isn’t the only head coach to start conversation with her sideline fashion. Last week, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley paid tribute to HBCU basketball history by wearing a vintage Cheyney State jersey for the Gamecocks’ 76-45 win over South Florida.

LSU will meet No. 9 Miami in the Elite Eight on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Hurricanes are just the second No. 9 seed to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Women’s Tournament.

There have been plenty of surprises so far in the NCAA Tournament, with two No. 1 seeds going down in the second round, and Ole Miss and Miami playing David to Stanford and Indiana’s Goliath. But one thing that hasn’t been surprising is the depth of talent in the March Madness field.

Building off our preseason top-25 player rankings, here are the top 25 players to watch in the Sweet 16, beginning Friday in Seattle and Greenville, S.C.

1. Aliyah Boston, South Carolina

The Gamecocks senior will remain the queen of March Madness until someone unseats her. In last year’s tournament, she was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player while leading her team to a national title. This season, Boston is on track to do it again. The senior is averaging 13.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 assists per game. Her numbers may not look as good as others on this list, but that’s because Boston knows how to play within South Carolina’s system. Despite the Gamecocks’ plethora of talent, she remains the center of everything they do.

2. Caitlin Clark, Iowa

At this point, everyone knows Caitlin Clark. The Iowa junior is averaging 26.8 points, 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game. Her game is polished and well-rounded, and she does everything from full-court passes on the fastbreak to long-range 3-pointers. After the Hawkeyes lost to Creighton in the second round of last year’s tournament, Clark has been playing with a chip on her shoulder. In Round 1, she recorded 26 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, and she followed that up with 22 points, 12 assists, three steals and three rebounds in Iowa’s second-round win over Georgia.

3. Angel Reese, LSU

In LSU’s second-round win over Michigan on Sunday, Reese had a game indicative of what she’s done for the Tigers all season. She finished with 25 points, 24 rebounds and six blocks — a stat line so insane, it seems fake. But that’s the energy Reese has brought to the court every game since transferring from Maryland. She’s averaging 23.8 points, 15.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game this season.

Rickea Jackson (David Yeazell/USA TODAY Sports)

4. Rickea Jackson, Tennessee

Tennessee had its share of struggles to start the season, and Jackson was a part of that. The talented senior missed multiple games based on a coach’s decision as the Vols worked through their issues, but both she and the team came out of it stronger. Now, Jackson has Tennessee looking downright dangerous. A projected top-5 draft pick before she decided to use her fifth year of NCAA eligibility, Jackson is a three-level scorer who, at 6-foot-2, is a defensive mismatch for opponents. She’s averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 54.9 percent from the field.

5. Diamond Miller, Maryland

Who could forget Miller’s one-legged jump shot to top Notre Dame earlier in the season? That game-winner is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Miller’s talent. Averaging 19.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per game this season, Miller is the key to Maryland’s success. She’s at her best when attacking the basket and using her 6-3 frame to score around defenders, often using a lethal step-through to do so.

6. Alissa Pili, Utah

Utah surprised a lot of people this season, and so did Pili, who transferred in from USC. But the 6-2 forward is no longer under the radar. The junior, who averages 21 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game is a matchup nightmare for defenses. She scores with strength and finesse on the inside and can step past the 3-point line, where she shoots at a 42.4 percent clip. Defensively, Pili’s tall, stocky frame is a challenge for fellow posts. She can outmuscle opponents but is also quick on her feet, making for a dangerous combination.

7. Maddy Siegrist, Villanova

The senior forward has been nothing short of spectacular for the Wildcats this season. She can create off the cut or with the ball in her hands, averaging an NCAA-leading 29.2 points per game. Siegrist is difficult to contain, as she scores from the inside and outside, shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc. Both are season-highs for her four seasons as a Wildcat. Siegrist is capable of major scoring outbursts, such as a career-high 50 points against Seton Hall earlier this year.

Hailey Van Lith (Aaron E. Martinez/USA TODAY NETWORK)

8. Hailey Van Lith, Louisville

Van Lith is already a top player, but in the NCAA Tournament, the guard takes things to another level. After averaging 19.5 points per game during the season, that number increased to 23.5 over the first two games of the tournament. At 5-7, the guard is undersized but makes up for it with her competitive drive. She has a solid handle and is quick off the bounce, allowing her to get to the rim or to pull up from midrange — and that’s where she really shines, showing off her athleticism and a quick release.

9. Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech

One of the four finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year Award, Kitley has propelled the Hokies to 13 straight wins, a No. 1 seed and a Sweet 16 appearance. The 6-6 center is averaging a double-double with 18.2 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest. The senior does her scoring in the paint with a variety of moves, from face-up jumpers to quick spins to the hoop. Kitley attacks the basket with limited dribbles, a skill that allows her to use her height advantage while limiting turnovers.

10. Azzi Fudd, Connecticut

UConn’s star guard spent most of the season on the bench with a knee injury, but when Fudd plays, she is elite. Her return means the Huskies have a shot at their 15th straight Final Four. The top recruit in 2021 has struggled with injuries over her first two seasons, but Fudd’s skills have more than lived up to the hype. Before getting injured, Fudd was averaging 24 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field and 43.4 percent from beyond the arc. In UConn’s win over Baylor in the Round of 32, Fudd looked like her old self, leading the Huskies with 22 points.

11. Sonia Citron, Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish guard has been a key piece to the team’s success all season, but with Olivia Miles and Dara Mabrey out with injuries, Citron becomes even more important. The sophomore is averaging 14.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 steals on the season, impacting the game in a variety of ways. On offense, Citron is sneaky without the ball, always finding a cutting lane to the hoop. When the ball is in her hands, Citron can shoot (41.4 percent from 3) or attack off the bounce, with both dribble and post moves in her arsenal.

12. Charisma Osborne, UCLA

The Bruins welcomed the top recruiting class in the country this season, and while the talented young players settled in, Osborne was the guiding force. Now, the rest of the team is experienced, but Osborne remains the best player on the floor. She’s averaging 15.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Osborne was also outstanding in the Round of 32, where her 36 points, eight rebounds and four assists propelled UCLA past Oklahoma and to a Sweet 16 appearance.

13. Quay Miller, Colorado

Miller has spent the season under the radar, but now that the Buffs are in the Sweet 16, it’s time she gets her shine. The 6-3 senior is listed as a center but can play multiple positions. That versatility makes Miller a matchup nightmare for opponents, as she can post up guards and take bigs out of the paint by shooting 3s. Miller is averaging 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds on the season and was particularly dominant against Duke, finishing with 17 points, 14 rebounds and three assists in the upset.

Zia Cooke (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

14. Zia Cooke, South Carolina

On a team stacked with talent, Cooke is the leading scorer with 15.3 points per game. The senior guard has experience in big games, after helping her team to a national title last season. In 2021-22, she averaged 10.7 points per game, but with Destanni Henderson now playing in the WNBA, Cooke took on a larger scoring role as a senior. Her ability to dismantle defenses off the dribble creates movement and openings for her teammates, or opportunities for Cooke to score herself. And with talented post players like Boston and Kamilla Cardoso drawing attention in the paint, Cooke provides balance to the Gamecocks offense with her ability to knock down 3-pointers at a 36.1 percent clip.

15. Georgia Amoore, Virginia Tech

Kitley may be the focus of Virginia Tech’s offense, but Amoore is the player who makes everything happen. The point guard is a skilled passer who makes smart decisions — her 5.1 assists per game and 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio are proof of that. But Amoore is also an excellent scorer, and she’s been huge in the postseason. She scored 24 points in the ACC tournament semifinals, and then 25 in the final. In the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Amoore notched 22 and 21 points, respectively.

16. Jordan Horston, Tennessee

The Tennessee senior does a little bit of everything for her team, averaging 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. At 6-2, Horston is a strong guard who can use her size and strength to attack the basket. Once she breaks down her primary defender, Horston can elevate and finish or make a play for one of her teammates. Horston also performs well under pressure, like in the SEC semifinals when she finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Vols’ upset of LSU.

Aaliyah Edwards with the Big East tournament MVP trophy (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

17. Aaliyah Edwards, UConn

UConn has had ups and downs this season, largely due to injuries, but throughout the chaos, Edwards has been a constant. She’s played every game for the Huskies (just one of two players to do so) and has been consistent in her role. Edwards is averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per game for a near double-double, while also shooting 58.9 percent from the field. Edwards can catch in the post or create for herself on the dribble. She also extends defenses with a solid midrange game.

18. Gianna Kneepkens, Utah

The sophomore guard has been crucial to Utah’s inside-outside game thanks to her ability to knock down shots. Kneepkens is shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc and averages just over two 3-pointers per game. But Kneepkens is more than just a shooter — she’s an all-around scorer who finished her high school campaign with 3,704 points per contest, a testament to her scorer’s mentality.

19. Kamilla Cardoso, South Carolina

Cardoso may come off the bench for South Carolina, but she would be a starter on almost any other team in the country. The 6-7 junior is averaging 9.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, providing a major spark for the Gamecocks’ second unit. She’s also averaging two blocks per game, making her presence felt on the defensive end. With Cardoso playing as South Carolina’s sixth woman, opponents get zero reprieve when Boston goes to the bench.

20. Monika Czinano, Iowa

Czinano is a perfect complement to Clark. She’s averaging 17.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, while making an efficient 67.5 percent of her attempts. A true post, Czinano is at her best with her back to the basket, where she knows how to seal and read her defender. Czinano has good hands and a high basketball IQ, making her an easy target for Iowa’s guards.

21. Jacy Sheldon, Ohio State

Ohio State’s senior guard is a rarity in college basketball in that she’s her team’s best offensive and defensive player. Last season, she was an All-Big Ten honoree and a member of the All-Defensive Team. Sheldon missed most of this season with a leg injury, but she came back in time for the postseason, when Ohio State needed her most. The point guard finished with 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, as well as the game-winning shot, to lead her team past North Carolina in the Round of 32.

22. Alexis Morris, LSU

The senior guard has played for three teams — Baylor, Rutgers and Texas A&M — before finding a home at LSU, where she is thriving. Morris is her team’s second-leading scorer at 14.7 points per game, and she also distributes the ball and runs the LSU offense. She’s averaging four assists and 1.9 steals per game, both career-high marks that prove her worth on both sides of the ball. While Reese attracts a lot of attention inside, Morris helps free her up with her playmaking and scoring abilities.

Haley Cavinder (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

23. Haley Cavinder, Miami

The senior guard transferred to Miami after three years at Fresno State in hopes of playing in an NCAA Tournament. Cavinder is a big part of why the Hurricanes are in the Sweet 16. She’s averaging 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Cavinder is undersized at 5-6, but she makes up for it with athleticism and a high basketball IQ. The guard can create for herself or others and is sharp from long range, where she shoots 40.9 percent.

24. Taylor Mikesell, Ohio State

With Jacy Sheldon out for most of the season, the Buckeyes counted on Mikesell, who is playing 35.4 minutes per game — the most of her five seasons in the NCAA. She leads Ohio State in scoring at 17.2 points per game, making 3.2 3-pointers per game and shooting 40.9 percent from beyond the arc.

25. Angel Baker, Ole Miss

Baker did a little bit of everything in Ole Miss’ upset of Stanford in the Round of 32, helping her team to the Sweet 16. She’s an excellent defender, something the Rebels pride themselves on, and the team’s leading scorer at 14.9 points per game. Baker contributes in other ways as well, recording 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark sits firmly at the front of the race for national Player of the Year awards, and for good reason.

Clark has had a year to remember for the No. 2 seed Hawkeyes en route to Friday’s Sweet 16 meeting with No. 6 seed Colorado. She is averaging 26.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and an NCAA-leading 8.6 assists per game this season, which makes her the only player in the country average more than 20 points, five assists and five rebounds per game.

Yet the star junior agrees with South Carolina coach Dawn Staley’s assessment of the Player of the Year debate: She wants to see more of it, not less, even if that leaves room for other players to knock her from the top spot.

“I think Dawn Staley said it really well… We need these conversations for our game. That’s what grows it,” Clark said. “It shouldn’t just be one person, end all, be all. There should be conversations. Because that’s what makes the game grow.”

Staley shared a similar sentiment with Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks earlier this week.

Just because Staley lobbies for her own player, Gamecocks senior Aliyah Boston, “people think I hate on Caitlin,” the coach told Rooks. “I don’t.”

Rather, the coach just wants to see other deserving players involved in the Player of the Year conversation as well.

“Caitlin Clark, does she deserve it? Absolutely. Does Aliyah Boston deserve it? Does Cameron Brink deserve it? Absolutely,” Staley said. “There are so many people who are deserving of it, so let’s tell all the stories. Let’s not just be one-sided.”

Clark concurred in speaking with reporters Thursday, noting that “the debate is really good for women’s basketball.”

“You see it on men’s side all the time,” she said. “You never know who is going to win Player of the Year. So more than anything I think it’s really good for our game.”

But while the Player of the Year debate might be fun, and might be good for the game, the Iowa guard wants to keep her focus on the court as her team prepares for the Sweet 16.

“I’m focused on winning games,” she said.

The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament busted many a bracket thanks to upsets by Miami and Ole Miss over No. 1 seeds Stanford and Indiana. Now the Sweet 16 is set, with familiar faces like South Carolina and UConn, and unexpected attendees like Colorado and Ohio State.

Expect more chaos and more upsets in the Sweet 16, as well as wins from the season’s most dominant squads. Here are my predictions for the first round of regional contests.

No. 9 Miami vs. No. 4 Villanova

Maddy Siegrist, a Naismith Trophy finalist, will be the best player on the court, and I don’t expect Miami to contain her. But after seeing the way the Hurricanes defeated No. 1 Indiana, I don’t see that being an issue. While Mackenzie Holmes had 22 points and Grace Berger had 17 against Miami, the Hurricanes were able to keep the rest of Indiana’s scorers in check. Against Villanova, I anticipate a similar attack: Siegrist will get hers, but the Hurricanes won’t let the rest of the team beat them.

Miami attacked the paint against Holmes and had success with Lola Pendande (19 points) and Destiney Harden (18 points). They can do the same against the Wildcats, who don’t have the post defenders to contain Miami’s inside presence.

Pick: Miami

No. 3 LSU vs. No. 2 Utah

This game has the potential to be the best matchup of the Sweet 16, with two high-powered offenses squaring off. Utah ranks third in the country with 83.5 points per game, while LSU is just behind them with 83.2 points per game.

Utah has a well-balanced attack, with 29.8 percent of their points coming from 3-point range and 50.4 percent coming from inside the arc. The problem for the Utes is going to be LSU star Angel Reese on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Reese will get hers as she has all season, but Utah has the tools to neutralize her defensively. Alissa Pili can stretch the floor — shooting 42 percent from 3 — and allow Utah to pull Reese out of the paint, opening up driving lanes for the guards. If the Tigers choose to keep Reese as a shot-blocker and put another defender on Pili, she will be able to use her size and strength to score, once again creating a mismatch.

Pick: Utah

The key to a Colorado upset will be containing Iowa's players outside of Caitlin Clark. (Margaret Kispert/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 2 Iowa

After defeating Duke 61-53 in Cameron on Monday, Colorado guard Jaylyn Sherrod said she likes going on the road, being the villain and feeding off opposing fans. Iowa won’t be the home team in this game, but they will certainly have their share of fans thanks to Caitlin Clark, meaning Colorado will be the villain once more.

The Buffs are a defensive-minded team that has the ability to rattle opponents. They made things difficult for ranked teams like Stanford, Utah and UCLA this season, and they can do it again against Iowa. No one can defend Clark, but the Buffs have the personnel to slow down the rest of the Hawkeyes, including Monika Czinano on the inside with the strength and size of Aaronette Vonleh and Quay Miller.

On offense, Miller will be the most difficult matchup for Iowa. At 6-foot-3, she’s listed as a center, but she also has guard skills. Miller can shoot from long range (averaging 33.3 percent from 3 this season) and attack inside, forcing her defender to consistently play out of position.

Pick: Colorado

No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Louisville

After getting tested in the first round by a worthy opponent in Drake, Louisville got the win behind 25 points from junior guard Hailey Van Lith. Van Lith is already a talented guard, but she takes things up a notch in March, and that energy rubs off on her teammates.

Ole Miss surprised Stanford with its defensive pressure, holding the Cardinal to 32.7 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range while also forcing 21 turnovers. After seeing that game, Louisville won’t be caught off guard, but they will still have to handle Ole Miss’ defensive intensity. Van Lith, Chrislyn Carr and Mykasa Robinson should be disciplined and experienced enough to overcome it, but this one will be close.

Pick: Louisville

Diamond Miller had a game-high 24 points in Maryland's second-round win over Arizona. (Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Maryland

The last time these teams played in the regular season, Diamond Miller’s last-second heroics propelled the Terrapins to victory. This time around, Maryland likely won’t need a buzzer-beater to win. Dara Mabrey and Olivia Miles are both sidelined with injuries, and without two of their best players, the Fighting Irish are going to run into a wall eventually. Maryland has too many weapons: Miller, Abby Meyers and Shyanne Sellers are leading the way, and Faith Masonius is having an excellent tournament so far.

Notre Dame will need huge performances from Sonia Citron, Maddy Westbeld and Lauren Ebo inside to pull off a victory. Ultimately, I think Maryland’s talent will win out, sending them on to the Elite Eight.

Pick: Maryland

No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 1 South Carolina

UCLA stuck with South Carolina the last time these teams played, before Bruins mistakes and timely Gamecocks plays allowed South Carolina to secure a 73-64 win. UCLA had an excellent game plan, packing the paint to pressure Aliyah Boston and forcing the rest of South Carolina’s players to shoot from the outside. It was successful in November, but Dawn Staley is too smart of a coach to let it happen again.

The Gamecocks will adjust and use their depth to overpower UCLA. Kamilla Cardoso was a big factor in the first matchup, scoring 16 points and grabbing nine rebounds, and will likely play a key role again. Senior guard Brea Beal, who didn’t score in the first matchup, is also poised to step up this time around.

Pick: South Carolina

Azzi Fudd's return from injury gives UConn a scoring boost in the postseason. (David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 UConn

Despite having very different histories, these programs have had similar seasons. Both started with high expectations, suffered a rash of injuries, and now are enjoying success when it counts. Jacy Sheldon, back for Ohio State, made her mark in the second-round win over North Carolina with a game-winning shot, 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals. For UConn, Azzi Fudd was absent for most of the season before making her return in the Big East tournament. Fudd also came up big for her team in the second round, scoring 22 points to lead UConn past Baylor.

With Fudd back and playing well, UConn will be difficult to beat. In her absence, players like Aaliyah Edwards and Lou Lopez Sénéchal stepped up and have continued to play at a high level with her back in the lineup. Add in Dorka Juhász, Aubrey Griffin, Nika Mühl and Caroline Ducharme, who is capable of having a breakout scoring game, and the Huskies have too many weapons for Ohio State to handle.

An added point of interest in this game is Juhász, who started her career with Ohio State before transferring to UConn in 2021.

Pick: UConn

No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 1 Virginia Tech

When it comes to teams peaking at the right time, Tennessee and Virginia Tech are at the top of the list. The Hokies have won 13 games in a row, dating back to Jan. 29, while the Vols started their season 7-6 before going 18-5 the rest of the way.

One of Tennessee’s early losses came at the hands of the Hokies, 59-56 on Dec. 4. But Rickea Jackson didn’t play in that game, and the Vols had to rely on Jordan Horston for nearly all of their scoring. Now, Jackson is back and going to be a problem for the Hokies. The 6-2 forward is averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game and can score all over the court. On the other side, Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley had trouble against the size of Tamari Key in the teams’ first meeting, finishing with just six points. Now, with Key sidelined due to blood clots, the Hokies will have an advantage inside.

This game could go either way, but Tennessee is playing with such cohesiveness right now and Jackson has the ability to be the best player on the floor. My gut tells me the Vols pull off the upset.

Pick: Tennessee

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

After coaching No. 1 South Carolina to a 72-40 win over Norfolk State in the first round of the 2023 NCAA basketball tournament on Friday, Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley visited the losing team’s locker room to provide some encouragement. Staley specifically called out Norfolk State sophomore Kierra “Meme” Wheeler, who recorded 13 points, eight rebounds and two steals in the loss.

Staley also used her post-game press conference to praise Norfolk State, an HBCU that earned its second ever appearance in the NCAA tournament this year.

“I’m going to say it today so we can prep for next year: Norfolk State is not a 16 seed. Just want you to know that. They’re not. Very well-coached. Very disciplined,” Staley said.

Ahead of Friday’s NCAA first round game, Norfolk State graduate student Camille Downs provided some insight on what playing South Carolina, the defending national champion and March Madness favorite, meant.

“Not a lot of teams get the opportunity to play against the No. 1 team in the country. Dawn Staley, too. Getting scouted by her. I’m just thankful to be here,” Downs told reporters.

Next up for No. 1 South Carolina in the 2023 NCAA tournament is a second round game against No. 8 South Florida (Sunday at 1pm ET, ABC).

As for Norfolk State?

“For the program moving forward, we’re nothing but excited for next year,” Wheeler said. “We’re going to take some time to recover from this, but we’re right back at it for preseason, and I’m just looking forward to next year and what we have to bring.”

“Hopefully we get here again, and hopefully we don’t have a 1 and a 6 next to our name,” added Norfolk State head coach Larry Vickers.