After a slow start, No. 1 seed North Carolina State once again dominated a lower-seeded opponent in the second half, earning its third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16.
The Wolfpack were down 1 to No. 8 seed South Florida at halftime on Tuesday, but eventually won 79-65. Their offense didn’t change much but their defense did, and the Wolfpack were able to hold the Bulls to just 28 percent shooting in the second half.
South Florida’s halftime lead at 36-35 came after it hit six 3-point shots in the first half. Three of those were made by sophomore Elena Tsineke, who has extensive experience representing Greece, her home country, in international play. She went cold in the second half, however, hitting just 1 of 6 3-pointers for a team that relied on them without an alternative when they weren’t hitting.
The driving force for N.C. State’s third quarter run, during which t led by as many as 14 points, was co-Atlantic Coast Conference Sixth Player of the Year Jada Boyd. She had 7 points and — more crucially — five rebounds in the period. Boyd typically comes off the bench, but in this matchup she started in place of senior forward Kayla Jones, who injured a knee in the team’s tournament debut.
Boyd finished with a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Five different N.C. State players finished with at least 10 points, a testament to their balance — which, so far in the tournament, has taken a couple of quarters of gameplay to really shine.
In the first round, the Wolfpack used a big third quarter to rout No. 16 seed North Carolina A&T, 79-58.
Paying spectators are not permitted at games in San Antonio yet, so the Alamodome, where South Florida is besting N.C. State by a point at halftime, is oddly quiet for such a tight game. Each person within team travel parties can have up to six guests for now. The stands are completely empty behind the hoops; and the only side of the court with bleachers has about 30 invitees.
If South Florida keeps it up, N.C. State could be the first No. 1 seed knocked out of the tournament. The teams been jousting for the lead, settling with the Bulls up a point at halftime on a jumper by Cristina Bermejo. N.C. State’s Elissa Cunane missed a 3-pointer with two seconds left that could have flipped the lead. 36-35, South Florida.
The tournament games will be broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU and can be streamed on the ESPN app. Here’s the schedule for Tuesday and Wednesday (all times Eastern):
3 p.m. — No. 1 seed North Carolina State vs. No. 8 seed South Florida, ESPN2
3:30 p.m. — No. 4 seed Kentucky vs. No. 5 seed Iowa, ESPNU
5 p.m. — No. 3 seed Tennessee vs. No. 6 seed Michigan, ESPN2
5:30 p.m. — No. 4 seed West Virginia vs. No. 5 seed Georgia Tech, ESPNU
7 p.m. — No. 1 seed South Carolina vs. No. 8 seed Oregon State, ESPN
7 p.m. — No. 2 seed Baylor vs. No. 7 seed Virginia Tech, ESPN2
9 p.m. — No. 1 seed Connecticut vs. No. 8 seed Syracuse, ESPN
9 p.m. — No. 1 seed Stanford vs. No. 8 seed Oklahoma State, ESPN2
1 p.m. — No. 2 seed Maryland vs. No. 7 seed Alabama, ESPN2
3 p.m. — No. 3 seed Georgia vs. No. 6 seed Oregon, ESPN2
3 p.m. — No. 5 seed Missouri State vs. No. 13 seed Wright State, ESPNU
5 p.m. — No. 2 seed Louisville vs. No. 7 seed Northwestern, ESPN 2
5 p.m. — No. 4 seed Indiana vs. No. 12 seed Belmont, ESPNU
7 p.m. — No. 2 seed Texas A&M vs. No. 7 seed Iowa State, ESPN2
7 p.m. — No. 3 seed Arizona vs. No. 11 seed Brigham Young University, ESPNU
9 p.m. — No. 3 seed U.C.L.A. vs. No. 6 seed Texas, ESPN2
Mark Emmert has made his way to San Antonio. After facing criticism from players and coaches over the disparities between the facilities, coronavirus testing and marketing of the men’s and women’s tournaments, the N.C.A.A. president is at the first game of the second round of the women’s tournament — which happens to be the first part of the competition that isn’t taking place concurrently with games on the men’s side.
Caitlin Clark and Iowa will face Kentucky in the second round. The prize? The winner most likely will face top-seeded UConn next.
“The Sweet 16 is something you dream of as a basketball player,” said Clark, who led the nation in scoring this season. “It’s a great opportunity. We have nothing to lose.”
Iowa has won seven of nine, spurred by the well-documented success of Clark, their star freshman. Her scoring — 26.7 points a game this season — draws most of the attention, but her passing ability and 3-point shooting range have helped unlock defenses, too.
Kentucky may offer a tougher challenge. The Wildcats and the Hawkeyes have one common opponent this season in Indiana; Kentucky beat the Hoosiers, 72-68, while Iowa fell to them twice in Big Ten play.
Kentucky used its rebounding advantage — it had 16 offensive rebounds — to hold off Idaho State in the first round, when the senior Chasity Patterson and the star junior Rhyne Howard each scored 14 points.
But the Hawkeyes will enter their second-round matchup with something different: a chip on their shoulder.
“At the beginning of the year, people said, ‘Oh, if they can only get to the N.C.A.A. tournament ,’” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said of her team, adding: “Then it was, ‘Oh, if they can only win one game.’”
After rolling in the first round, No. 1 Stanford will contend with Natasha Mack and eighth-seeded Oklahoma State on Tuesday.
The Cowgirls have a doubly difficult task in front of them in a top seed and their own grim history: They are 3-11 when playing as the lower seed in the tournament. But they also have the 6-foot-4 Mack, an intriguing shot-blocker and rebounder who may be one the most overlooked players in the nation.
The rare W.N.B.A. prospect with two years of community college basketball on her résumé, Mack was once a top high school recruit before taking a circuitous route to the Big 12. Mack committed to Houston out of high school but never enrolled, then turned up at tiny Angelina College in her hometown of Lufkin, Texas, where she became a junior college all-American.
Now she is one of four finalists for the Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year Award after leading the nation with 4.1 blocks per game. She also ranked third in the country with 9.3 defensive rebounds a game.
Mack had 27 points and 15 rebounds in the Cowgirls’ first-round win over Wake Forest and 4 assist. Oklahoma State Coach Jim Littell praised the aggressive nature of her performance — “She has at times been too unselfish,” he said afterward — but Mack acknowledged she and her team would have to be even better against Stanford.
“This is such a great feeling,” Mack said. “It is like the spotlight is on you.”
“We have to bring the same energy,” she added. “It only gets harder from here.”
All four No. 1 seeds in the women’s tournament can advance to the tournament’s second weekend with wins on Tuesday. In addition to Stanford, UConn faces Syracuse; top-seeded South Carolina will deal with a No. 8 seed, Oregon State, looking to advance to its fifth consecutive round of 16; and N.C. State will play South Florida.
The Wolfpack dealt with some scary moments early in the first round against No. 16 North Carolina A&T before pulling away with a strong second half. Some of that could have been attributed to rust, N.C. State Coach Wes Moore said; his team had not played since March 7.
“I felt like we’ve got to have more urgency,” Moore said of the quick turnaround to another opponent. “We’ve been sitting around for two weeks now and we’ve got to find our mojo, so to speak, and get some energy and urgency on the defensive end of the floor.”
Top-seeded UConn cruised, as expected, in its opening win against High Point behind 24 points from the freshman star Paige Bueckers, but UConn’s degree of difficulty is quickly going up.
The Huskies next will face a Syracuse team that had a strong performance against South Dakota State in the first round. And while UConn already was missing the hall of fame coach Geno Auriemma, who tested positive for the coronavirus before the tournament, it now could be without the freshman guard Nika Muhl, who sprained her right ankle on Sunday.
Muhl, a Croat, was on crutches when UConn wrapped up its victory against High Point. She is questionable for the Syracuse game, but the Huskies’ interim coach, Chris Dailey, was not ready to rule her out on Monday.
“If there’s any way Nika can be on the court,” Dailey said, “she will be on the court.”
Sunday’s win was UConn’s 27th consecutive first-round victory. But it was perhaps more satisfying (and comforting) for the team’s coaches because Bueckers — who also had nine rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks in 36 minutes — and several other members of the freshman-heavy squad were making their debuts in the event. Another freshman, Aaliyah Edwards, recorded a double-double, with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Syracuse, the No. 8 seed, took care of South Dakota State, 72-55, with a strong second half. Emily Engstlerr’s 18 points led a balanced offense — all five Syracuse starters scored in double figures — and the Orange set a program record 14 blocks.
Guard Tiana Mangakahia may be the player the Huskies will want to contain, though: She leads the nation with 7.47 assists per game.