The hidden side of politics

Predicting the women’s Sweet 16: Are Iowa, LSU on collision course?

Reported by ESPN:

Sixteen teams have advanced to the regional semifinals in Albany and Portland. And the Sweet 16 is packed with potential.

All four No. 1 seeds reached the round of 16. Defending champion LSU is back, as is No. 1 overall seed South Carolina, which is 34-0 and chasing a perfect season.

Individual star power abounds as well. Caitlin Clark, who broke the NCAA Division I record for most points in a single season in the second round, and Iowa remain in the hunt to book a return trip to the national semifinals. JuJu Watkins, the front-runner for national freshman of the year, has led USC to its first Sweet 16 since 1994.

The Trojans are one of five Pac-12 teams in the Sweet 16 as the conference continues its push to go out on a high note in its last March Madness before the Pac-12 as we know it ceases to exist.

And Duke, at No. 7 the lowest seed left, is hoping to continue its run but will have to get past UConn and Paige Bueckers, who were upset in this round a year ago.

Which teams will make the Elite Eight? ESPN’s Charlie Creme, Alexa Philippou and Michael Voepel preview every regional semifinal and join Andrea Adelson in predicting who advances.

Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Region 1 in Albany)

Why Notre Dame will win: During their 10-game winning streak, the Irish have followed a simple formula: play great defense, and Hannah Hidalgo, Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld will take care of the offense. That has allowed the Irish to not just survive but thrive, despite coach Niele Ivey having only six players available in her rotation. Notre Dame has navigated three season-ending injuries and the loss of Olivia Miles and Jenna Brown before the season even began. Only Duke, in the win that started the streak, has shot over 40% from the field against Notre Dame in the past 10 games, and no opponent has reached 70 points. Ivey and Hidalgo, the national leader in steals, have turned this into a defense-first team. The versatility of their three stars also gives the Irish multiple ways to score. Hidalgo likes to attack the paint. Citron has a smooth midrange game and is also a good finisher. Westbeld is Notre Dame’s top rebounder and best 3-point shooter.

Why Oregon State will win: The Beavers have a big advantage in the post in 6-foot-4 sophomore Raegan Beers. The knee injury that ended the season for Notre Dame’s Kylee Watson could loom large in this game. She was the experienced, physical presence the Irish could turn to against a player like Beers, whose 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game lead Oregon State. Natalija Marshall, a 6-5 Notre Dame senior, played spot minutes in the Irish’s frontcourt before the injuries. Now she will have the responsibility of slowing down an All-Pac-12 player. Beers was held in check against Nebraska in the second round but expect the Beavers to look her way more often on Friday.

What’s the X factor: Notre Dame’s foul situation. Player fatigue isn’t an issue, despite the lack of depth. The longer breaks in NCAA tournament play help. But fouls are a game-to-game proposition. How those play out can’t be predicted. The Irish can ill afford to have Hidalgo, Citron or Westbeld forced to sit with foul trouble early in the game. Hidalgo has finished with four fouls in three of those 10 games, and Citron had four twice. That is the closest any Notre Dame player has been to fouling out. The Irish seem to have perfected the art of playing great defense without fouling, but it remains something to watch. — Creme

Which team will advance?

Adelson: Oregon State 71, Notre Dame 70
Creme: Notre Dame 65, Oregon State 61
Pelton: Notre Dame 70, Oregon State 66
Philippou: Notre Dame 66, Oregon State 56
Voepel: Notre Dame 74, Oregon State 66



The star players from the first two rounds of the women’s NCAA tournament

Check out some of the best plays from the top stars in the first two rounds of the women’s NCAA tournament.

Friday, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN (Region 1 in Albany)

Why South Carolina will win: If the Gamecocks play their A-game, they won’t lose. That has been the consensus in the basketball world since the second month of the season (if not sooner). No other team is talented or deep enough to beat South Carolina at its best. And the performance we saw in the second round against North Carolina was at least close to South Carolina’s best. The Gamecocks lead the NCAA tournament in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage allowed. Freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley has emerged as something well beyond a highlight-generating player. Her perimeter shooting and penetrating abilities give coach Dawn Staley another dimension. Fulwiley and Te-Hina Paopao are shooting over 50% from the 3-point line, and Kamilla Cardoso is still dominating inside. Against the Tar Heels, South Carolina’s guards were dominant. With Cardoso, Chloe Kitts and Ashlyn Watkins, the Gamecocks should wear down a thin Hoosiers front line.

Why Indiana will win: The inside-outside punch of Mackenzie Holmes and Sara Scalia has been effective so far and can be in this game. Scalia will be particularly important if Indiana is going to pull the upset. If she can free herself to make some 3-pointers — she’s 6-of-15 so far in the tournament — it should open some passing lanes and space for Holmes to operate in the post. One-on-one, Holmes can succeed against South Carolina. It’s when the Gamecocks bring multiple defenders as tall or taller than the 6-foot-3 Holmes that she could have problems. If point guard Chloe Moore-McNeil can play a steady floor game against what is sure to be a revolving door of quality perimeter defenders, Indiana can stay in the game and perhaps steal an upset late.

What’s the X factor: South Carolina’s perimeter defense. Fulwiley, Paopao, Raven Johnson and Bree Hall can cause multiple problems if they are effective on defense. Shutting down Indiana’s perimeter shooting will take away the Hoosiers’ best chance to maximize possessions. Indiana’s guards also need to get Holmes the ball in scoring areas. If Scalia, Moore-McNeil, Sydney Parrish and Yarden Garzon can’t navigate that pressure defense, Holmes won’t get enough quality touches to be impactful. — Creme

Which team will advance?

Adelson: South Carolina 80, Indiana 65
Creme: South Carolina 77, Indiana 59
Pelton: South Carolina 85, Indiana 67
Philippou: South Carolina 85, Indiana 60
Voepel: South Carolina 82, Indiana 73

Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Region 4 in Portland)

Why Stanford will win: Stanford has the two best players on the court in Cameron Brink and Kiki Iriafen. If they play like that, Stanford will win. Brink struggled offensively and with foul trouble against Iowa State, and despite Iriafen’s 41-point brilliance, the Cardinal nearly didn’t survive against Iowa State, needing overtime to advance. Coach Tara VanDerveer will need a third significant contributor, perhaps Hannah Jump or Elena Bosgana. If the Cardinal have three players delivering on the offensive end at a high rate, they will be in the Elite Eight.

Why NC State will win: Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers are the two best guards on the court. Zoe Brooks might be third. NC State is tough to beat if the trio plays like it did against Tennessee in the second round, when those players were the Wolfpack’s top three scorers. The offense has struggled at times late in the season when Rivers wasn’t shooting the ball well or Brooks wasn’t as involved. Getting their transition game going early is key. Rivers and Brooks excel in the open court, and playing a full-court game negates Stanford’s size advantage.

What’s the X factor: This is a classic battle of strength vs. weakness. Frontcourt vs. backcourt. The play of River Baldwin and Mimi Collins against Brink and Iriafen will be important to watch. They don’t need to defend perfectly, but if Baldwin and Collins can rebound and defend effectively, without fouling, NC State will have the upper hand. — Creme

Which team will advance?

Adelson: Stanford 66, NC State 60
Creme: NC State 76, Stanford 74
Pelton: Stanford 71, NC State 63
Philippou: Stanford 71, NC State 62
Voepel: Stanford 75, NC State 70

Friday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN (Region 4 in Portland)

Why Texas will win: While Madison Booker is Texas’ best player, the Longhorns’ ability to dominate inside, especially on the glass, is what will get them to the Elite Eight. Offensive rebounding was the difference-maker against Alabama in the second round, and if Aaliyah Moore, Taylor Jones and DeYona Gaston can establish physical dominance, the Longhorns might be able to push around the Bulldogs. Look for the 6-1 Booker — who is so adept at creating space for her midrange jumper — to capitalize on her size advantage over the smaller Gonzaga guards, Kayleigh Truong (5-9) and Kaylynne Truong (5-8).

Why Gonzaga will win: The Zags are the most accurate 3-point shooting team in the country (40.1%) and made 12 of 28 against Utah. Texas can’t beat Gonzaga in a shooting contest, despite being a solid 3-point shooting team itself. Yvonne Ejim is also the most productive and efficient post player in this game. Texas will undoubtedly try to get physical with her with multiple defenders. That’s what Vic Schaefer-coached teams do. But if Ejim can play effectively in multiple ways, she can drag the Texas bigs to the high post and be just as effective. That would largely negate the Longhorns’ physicality. Gonzaga can pull the upset if it can open the court and play with pace.

What’s the X factor: The defense of Texas’ Shay Holle and Shaylee Gonzales against Brynna Maxwell and the Truong sisters will be important. Utah’s guards had trouble matching up with all three. Eliza Hollingsworth, a 6-3 forward, was also left open too much. She’s likely going to be more agile than the defender guarding her on the outside. The Texas strategy on how to handle all the Gonzaga perimeter options might decide this game. — Creme

Which team will advance?

Adelson: Texas 81 Gonzaga 63
Creme: Texas 68, Gonzaga 65
Pelton: Texas 75, Gonzaga 68
Philippou: Texas 82, Gonzaga 66
Voepel: Texas 81, Gonzaga 71



Relive LSU’s top plays in the women’s NCAA tournament so far

Relive the LSU Tigers’ best plays from this year’s NCAA tournament in wins over Rice and Middle Tennessee.

Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, ABC (Region 2 in Albany)

Why LSU will win: Part of the Tigers’ strength this season is proved by how closely they played SEC rival and No. 1 overall seed South Carolina. The Tigers lost the regular-season matchup with the Gamecocks 76-70 on Jan. 25, and the SEC tournament final 79-72 on March 10.

The Tigers didn’t have a particularly convincing NCAA tournament first-round win over Rice (70-60). And observers voiced concern about the second round’s free throw shooting disparity with Middle Tennessee: The Tigers were 26-of-37 from the line, while the Blue Raiders were 6-of-9.

But the bottom line is that LSU has the rebounding ability, led by Angel Reese, to win the board battle in most games. The Tigers also average almost 10 points per game more than the Bruins. So as long as LSU is able to run its offense relatively well, it might be tough for UCLA to decisively win any major aspect of the game.

Why UCLA will win: The Bruins lost to rival USC in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals, and then got a scare from Creighton in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Now that they are in the Sweet 16, we might see the best of UCLA. The Bruins lost here in Albany in the regional semifinal five years ago; that was to a UConn team not that far from its home. Last season, UCLA also lost in the Sweet 16 on the East Coast: to South Carolina in Greenville, South Carolina.

This season’s Bruins spent a lot of time at No. 2 in the Associated Press poll and have all the bases covered with talent. UCLA has six players averaging between 14.9 and 8.9 points. All but one of them — center Lauren Betts — have made at least 20 3-pointers this season. It’s fair to say that UCLA is the best program that hasn’t made the women’s Final Four in the NCAA era. A win over the defending champion Tigers won’t get it there but would be a big step.

What’s the X factor: It could be free throws. The Tigers lead Division I in free throws made (709) and attempted (950). Compare that to UCLA, which is 421-of-563 from the line for the season. — Voepel

Which team will advance?

Adelson: UCLA 77, LSU 76
Creme: UCLA 72, LSU 71
Pelton: LSU 80, UCLA 73
Philippou: UCLA 75, LSU, 72
Voepel: LSU 81, UCLA 77



Check out Caitlin Clark’s top highlights of this NCAA tournament

Relive Iowa star Caitlin Clark’s best plays from the Hawkeyes’ wins vs. Holy Cross and West Virginia in the women’s NCAA tournament.

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (Region 2 in Albany)

Why Iowa will win: The Hawkeyes had to be patient in letting West Virginia’s fouls catch up with it in Monday’s second-round win. The Mountaineers’ defensive strategy was to try to harass Iowa into enough turnovers to take control of the game, but the Hawkeyes didn’t let it happen. Still, the game went down to the wire, so Colorado might try some of the same tactics.

That said, Iowa still has a lot of offensive threats even beyond superstar Caitlin Clark, who leads Division I in scoring, assists and 3-pointers. Kate Martin, Gabbie Marshall and Sydney Affolter can all hit big 3-point shots. Hannah Stuelke was quiet during the early-round games — she missed most of Iowa’s NCAA opener with migraine issues — but this game could be huge for her. As for Clark, the Sweet 16 and beyond last season was when she really put her game into another gear. If she can do the same this year, the Hawkeyes can advance to the Elite Eight.

Why Colorado will win: The Buffaloes’ early-round victories were against Drake, which relies on good 3-point shooting, and Kansas State, which isn’t as high scoring and bases its offense around a center. Colorado handled both those teams well, beating the Bulldogs by 14 and the Wildcats by 13. Iowa is Division I’s most potent offense, but the Buffs have proved they can slow down good teams.

If Colorado — which averages 75.4 PPG to Iowa’s 92.0 PPG — can set the tone defensively, that tilts the game in the Buffs’ favor. Like West Virginia, Colorado has a super-quick guard in Jaylyn Sherrod. Unlike the Mountaineers, the Buffs have more skilled interior players, such as Quay Miller and Aaronette Vonleh. The Hawkeyes beat the Buffs 87-77 last season in the Sweet 16, but Colorado could turn the tables this time.

What’s the X factor: Iowa’s 3-point shooting. The Hawkeyes average a Division I-best 11.1 3-pointers per game. And when they start raining 3s, they can go on spurts that change the whole dynamic of the game. — Voepel

Which team will advance?

Adelson: Iowa 75, Colorado 70
Creme: Iowa 78, Colorado 72
Pelton: Iowa 90, Colorado 82
Philippou: Iowa 82, Colorado 74
Voepel: Iowa 84, Colorado 79



The best of JuJu Watkins so far in the NCAA tournament

Relive USC star JuJu Watkins’ best plays from the Trojans’ wins vs. Texas A&M Commerce and Kansas in the women’s NCAA tournament.

Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Region 3 in Portland)

Why USC will win: Having lost just one game across February and March, the Trojans have been playing their best basketball at the right time. Freshman phenom JuJu Watkins is doing her thing and boasts the third-most points of all time by a freshman with 861. But others around her have stepped up too — particularly McKenzie Forbes on the offensive end, who just strung together three consecutive 20-plus-point games for the first time in her career. When those two are hitting shots and the rest of the Trojans — whether Kayla Padilla, Kaitlyn Davis, Clarice Akunwafo or someone else — excel in their roles, Lindsay Gottlieb’s squad is tough to beat.

Why Baylor will win: The Bears’ offensive balance — a distinction from Watkins-centric USC — means that based on matchups, any one of their players has the opportunity to pop off. Against Vanderbilt, it was Bella Fontleroy. Against Virginia Tech, it was Sarah Andrews in the first half and Jada Walker in the second on her way to posting a career-high 28 points. Nicki Collen said her team lost some of its confidence on the offensive end of the floor during its rocky Big 12 slate, but if that strong performance in Blacksburg carries over to Saturday — combined with the Bears’ typically strong defense — it could spell an upset.

What’s the X factor: Baylor is 21-1 this season when it outrebounds its opponent, with Aijha Blackwell and Darianna Littlepage-Buggs combining for 15.3 boards per contest. Can Rayah Marshall (10.3 RPG) — one of the best rebounders in the Pac-12 — and the Trojans keep up?

Which team will advance?

Adelson: USC 83 Baylor 72
Creme: USC 72, Baylor 55
Pelton: USC 72, Baylor 65
Philippou: USC 71, Baylor 62
Voepel: USC 72, Baylor 67



Check out Paige Bueckers’ top highlights of the NCAA tournament

Relive UConn star Paige Bueckers’ best plays from the Huskies’ wins vs. Jackson State and Syracuse in the women’s NCAA tournament.

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN, (Region 3 in Portland)

Why UConn will win: The Huskies have three seniors — Paige Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Muhl — who have been on this stage (and bigger) before and were on the team last year when UConn was stunned by Ohio State in the Sweet 16. Even if it was to a different opponent, the pain of that loss in this round is still fresh on their minds, only further motivating the Huskies heading into Saturday. Bueckers might be having the best postseason of any player in the nation, and with her well-rounded impact on the game will do whatever it takes to get UConn one step closer to Cleveland. She doesn’t have to do it alone, either, with strong starts to postseason play from Edwards and freshman Ashlynn Shade.

Why Duke will win: The Blue Devils boast one of the best defenses in the country, a unit that can cause fits for UConn’s offense. They haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 63 points since Feb. 19. While they didn’t have a ton of consistent offensive firepower during the regular season, they now have one of the hottest players in the tournament in junior Reigan Richardson, who’s averaging 12.4 points per game on the season but scored 25 and 28 points against Richmond and Ohio State, respectively. Duke’s prowess on the offensive glass, spurred by freshman Oluchi Okananwa, also gives the Blue Devils an edge over an opponent with a dearth of frontcourt options.

What’s the X factor: Syracuse did a good job for the most part of neutralizing UConn’s post play. Can Duke do the same? The Blue Devils allow just 23.4 points in the paint per game and have posts Kennedy Brown (6-6) and Camilla Emsbo (6-5) protecting the rim (the team averages 5.6 rejections per game). Edwards is one of the top players left in the tournament, and last time these two programs met in November 2022, she tallied 17 points and 11 rebounds. — Philippou

Which team will advance?

Adelson: UConn 66, Duke 60
Creme: UConn 70, Duke 56
Pelton: UConn 71, Duke 60
Philippou: UConn 67, Duke 59
Voepel: UConn 79, Duke 65