This year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament has one of the strongest collections of basketball talent gathered in one place.
This is an extraordinary state of affairs, considering that each of the 64 teams, all playing due to coronavirus restrictions in Texas, had to compete with the tension of a season affected by the pandemic, in addition to the usual challenges. to win the tournament. .
In a season of first-year stars, transfers and elite talent across the board, there is no shortage of stories to watch this year.
The big freshmen are on the biggest stage.
In many ways, it was the season of the first-year student in women’s basketball. UCN’s Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark of Iowa have attracted much of the national attention.
They are now on the biggest stage in front of the biggest audience and are facing the toughest competition, and they are under the biggest pressure.
For Bueckers, pressure has always been part of her story. Since high school, she has been projected for stars and asked to carry a young UConn group in ways that only the best players in the program’s history have had before.
Clark, despite being the leader of the country for Iowa, was overshadowed by the greatness of Bueckers. On their side of the bracket, they are in an almost inevitable round of 16 collision.
Before they reach the point, however, they must go through their first tournament matches.
So many of Iowa’s offenses run through Clark. In addition to her leading 26.7 points per game, she also averages 7.6 assists. Opposing defense is wary of her three-point shooting range, and she could also choose defense with her passing. Clark should be up against Central Michigan, a fast, offensive team, on Sunday.
If she keeps up the pace, she will be the second rookie to reach the country after a full season Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State, who averaged 24.9 points per game in 2014-15.
Sunday is a good chance to see the first two freshmen, who played together in Team USA’s u.16 and u.19 group, in action on the same day and in the first two rounds, as they get closer to ‘ a potential match and possibly a future rival.
Mounds even tougher with Angel Reese back.
That Maryland dominated offensively this season without star rookie Angel Reese says so much about how deep the Terrapins are.
Harvard transfer Katie Benzan and Mississippi transfer Chloe Bibby are working well with Ashley Owusu, the first ten-year student of the previous season, to lead a powerful attack.
Reese, who broke bones in her foot earlier this season but has been back for a few weeks and played well, gives the no. 2 Mounds even more offensive skill.
It should all touch their side of the bracket.
In the first three games of her collegiate career, Reese scored 17 points and 8.7 rebounds. It appears she is poised to become a dominant force and to follow in the footsteps of now-second-year Owusu as a first-year stalwart of the Maryland offense.
Instead, she went down against Towson in early December and would have to undergo surgery for a foot fracture.
The Terps passed 21-2 anyway on their way to becoming the top seeded in the Big Ten tournament, and Reese is back on schedule on February 23rd.
She gave a boost to the already elite offense. In her second game back, she scored 17 points and nine rebounds and scored 10 in the Northwestern Conference Championships.
On a larger stage, Reese can shine even brighter. After missing out on time, she has more to prove to the basketball world.
Kierstan Bell comes for a deep turn.
Many of the teams that are expected to make an upset bid will get a chance early. Florida Gulf Coast has a chance against Michigan on Sunday in what many expect to be one of the most fascinating low seed games.
It also means the chance to try second star Kierstan Bell to take the Eagles on a jog. The 6-foot-1 Bell was fifth in the country with 24.3 points per game and was the first player in Atlantic Sun to score Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
Bell is a transfer from the state of Ohio and knows the big stage. After her first-year season, she entered the transfer portal and ended up at FGCU
“Kierstan had one of the best seasons of all women’s college basketball players this year,” FGCU head coach Karl Smesko said after Bell was named a second-team American. “If there is someone with the size and athleticism to help defend there, it obviously helps, but I think we will always need more than just one-on-one in the post.”
In 26 games, she became the first player in program history to have a 20-20 game, and the first to score 600 points in a season.
The pandemic kept her out of the NCAA tournament a year ago. Now basketball fans will see how dominant she can be, and she’s given the chance to fend off her old school rival – Michigan – in the process.
A homecoming for Gabby Connally of Georgia.
Three seniors in Georgia are already pursuing master’s degrees. One of them is San Antonio-born Gabby Connally, who plays at home in the national tournament.
“I’m very excited to be back home,” Connally told reporters earlier this week. “I know there are some friends and family who will see me in person.”
This is the first tournament for the Bulldogs since 2018. They are expected to finish ninth in the SEC. Instead, they selected a number 3 for the first time since 2007. Their last Final Four trip took place in 1999.
Repeating the success of long ago will be a challenge with Stanford and Louisville.
Connally, however, has a little extra motivation.
The senior rolled her ankle last Friday and was on crutches thereafter. She is still expected to play in the first game against Drexel on Monday.
She said earlier this week that the injury “is not going to stop me from playing” in front of a home crowd – all 17 percent admitted to the arena.
‘We want to bring [a national championship] home, and I know I keep it up, so the more I say it, the more positive the atmosphere in the air becomes, but we want to win a national championship, ‘Connally said.