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No. 6 Texas brought the brakes to No. 2 Maryland's high-scoring offense in an instant classic to finish off Sweet 16 action in the 2021 NCAA women's tournament.
The Terrapins rode the "all gas, no brakes" motto through a season in which they averaged 91.2 points per game. They won big en route to a No. 2 seed and hadn't played a close contest since January. All gas.
The Longhorns, in their first season under head coach Vic Schaefer, are the opposite. They apply the brakes heavily and often, instead making just a few more baskets than their opponent. Texas is in the top quarter of Division I teams in rebounding and, particularly important against Maryland, containing the 3-point shot. They also know how to slow the game down, keeping opponents from a high number of possessions.
Texas toppled Maryland, 64-61, in what might be the biggest upset of the tournament even after No. 4 Indiana took down No. 1 N.C. State. This Maryland squad looked even more dangerous once the tournament began and the Longhorns keeping it close seemed unlikely to most.
Yet the Longhorns defense clearly frustrated the Terrapins late and secured four defensive rebounds in the final minute. Lauren Ebo's steal just under the minute mark that led to Kyra Lambert's go-ahead layup was the difference that Maryland couldn't come back from.
"Every single one of us, one through five, got some stops and we got the job done tonight," Charlie Collier, the likely No. 1 pick in the draft, told ESPN's Holly Rowe.
— NCAA Women’s Basketball (@ncaawbb) March 29, 2021
It sets up an Elite Eight game with No. 1 South Carolina and another Schaefer vs. Dawn Staley showdown. Schaefer spent the last eight seasons at Mississippi State, a constant SEC contender next to Staley's Gamecocks. Collier will go up against sophomore and Naismith finalist Aliyah Boston.
That game will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Louisville: Dana Evans back to form
Dana Evans is back.
The Louisville senior was not having her best tournament. Evans, an All-American two-time ACC Player of the Year and Naismith award finalist, came into the No. 2 ranked Cardinals' Sweet 16 meeting with No. 6 Oregon having made only 11 of 33 field goals. It was even more disappointing from 3-point range, where she hadn't connected on more than 28 percent since mid-February.
No matter rooting interest, you want to see top player play their best in March. So watching Evans struggle on shots she typically hits with ease was rough in the first two rounds. Her teammates stepped up to help them advance. And against the Ducks, Evans came alive again.
She tied a career-high with 29 points and made three of her eight 3-point attempts. Evans was hitting them from the logo.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) March 29, 2021
And crushing it in transition with some slick help from Mykasa Robinson.
Louisville has playmakers beyond Evans, but the Cardinals weren't going to get far without their top player in her best form. The Cardinals advanced, 60-42, coupled with major injuries to Oregon's stars. Their next foe is No. 1 overall seed Stanford, a task that will take all the offense Louisville can muster.
The two play in the 9 p.m. ET time slot on ESPN on Tuesday.
Stanford, South Carolina ride 3-pointers, depth
It was an afternoon of "anything you can do, I can do better" for the No. 1 seeds on the left side of the bracket.
South Carolina doubled up on its average 3-pointers in a game with eight against No. 5 Missouri State, which was helpful since Aliyah Boston didn't have her typical production. It was the most efficient field goal game (56.4 percent) for the Gamecocks since the season-opening blowout.
“Our offense carried us today with our ability to hit layups and stretch the floor and hit some 3s,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “Hope it continues to get better. You got some great programs here that can put a lot of points on the scoreboard.”
No. 1 overall seed Stanford followed in the second afternoon game of the day with 15 3-pointers. It tied a season-high and marks the third consecutive tournament game of at least 13 from range. The Cardinal were 46.5 percent from the floor.
Sometimes the shots aren't going to fall from outside. The biggest thing each No. 1 showed on Sunday was depth. The Gamecocks reached the tournament behind Boston down low and the backcourt duo of Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson. Cooke was clutch from behind the arc, but it was Victaria Sexton and Laeticia Amihere who really stepped in. Amihere had 15 of the bench's 21 points.
“The bench is a big part of who we are,” Amihere said. “Being able to go deep in our bench is going to be so important, especially down the stretch right now.”
Stanford's high scorer was Hannah Jump off the bench. She scored 17 going 6-for-9 overall, including 5-for-7 from 3-point range. Ashten Pretchel had a game-high 10 rebounds off the bench. There is no shortage of star power for Stanford and if someone is having an off game, or in foul trouble, there are plenty fill-ins.
Elite Eight schedule, TV, time
No. 1 UConn (27-1) vs. No. 2 Baylor (28-2)
Monday, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
UConn vs. Iowa was always destined to be a shootout. Now UConn vs. Baylor will be the opposite.
The Elite Eight matchup will feature some of the best defensive teams in the nation. Baylor is first in field goal percentage defense (31.7) and fourth in opponents points per scoring attempt (0.83). UConn is the swap of that, ranking fourth in field goal percentage defense (33.3) and first in points per scoring attempt (0.81).
"You're looking at two programs that value defense," Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said after the Sweet 16 win. "I think Baylor and UConn are in the top three in the country in field goal percentage defense. Then you look at rebounding. That might explain to you why both programs are respected across the country.
"So, yeah, it could be an ugly game. When I say ugly, it could be low scoring, it could be some turnovers. Some people want to say boring. It may not be 80 and 90. I don't know."
She added she wouldn't be out-coaching UConn's Geno Auriemma, so the Bears players need to compete and best the Huskies. Auriemma said Sunday he thought the Bears should have been a No. 1 seed and they were "physically intimidating."
UConn is riding high after three big wins, including a team effort against No. 5 Iowa and Caitlin Clark on Saturday. Baylor is wiping it brow after narrowly avoiding upset-minded No. 6 Michigan in an overtime game hours later. This is the game everyone wanted to see in January and were hoping would happen now in March.
It's only the second time they've met in the tournament. The programs' first-ever meeting was in the 2010 Final Four in the Alamodome. UConn, then led by Maya Moore and Tina Charles, defeated the Brittney Griner-led Bears, 70-50, and went on to win the title.
No. 3 Arizona (19-5) vs. No. 4 Indiana (21-5)
Monday, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
Neither Arizona nor Indiana have ever made it this far, guaranteeing a first-time Final Four team. It's the first time since 1997 that two newcomers are meeting in the Elite Eight. They are two programs with storied men's histories that have grown their own in recent years. Indiana won the WNIT in 2018 and Arizona won it in 2019.
The Hoosiers are one of the best in Division I on offense, averaging 75.3 points per game 45.7 percent shooting mainly from 2-point range. The Wildcats are one of the best defensively, allowing 55.2 points per game and keeping opponents to 39.1 percent inside the arc.
Each has a senior transfer leading the way. All-America point guard Aari McDonald put up 31 points in one of the best games of her career against Texas A&M. She's a problem on the defensive end as well and locked down the Sweet 16 berth with late steals against BYU. McDonald transferred from Washington where she was the 2017 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
“There is no other player that has impacted their team more than Aari has impacted Arizona,” head coach Adia Barnes, who took Arizona to its last Sweet 16 in 2005, said after the win.
McDonald is averaging 22.7 points in the tournament on 59.2 percent from the floor. She hit six of 12 3-pointers in the Sweet 16 and will likely be a first-round WNBA draft pick next month. She's complimented by Sam Thomas and Cate Reese.
Indiana is led by point guard Ali Patberg, an Indiana native who opted to play for Notre Dame out of high school. She transferred to Indiana after two seasons there, the first of which she sat out with an ACL injury.
Patberg is averaging 15.7 points on 51 percent shooting. She's been consistent next to Mackenzie Holmes and Grace Berger.
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