NCAA Women’s Tournament: What to Watch as the Field Narrows to 16

The conclusion of the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament on Monday will feature established programs like Tennessee and Connecticut, unestablished programs trying to reach that level and players reaching out for March stardom.

Games begin at 4 pm, Eastern time, on ESPN, when the No. 1 seed North Carolina State plays the No. 9 seed Kansas State. Below are four games that are likely to be compelling. Wins don’t come easily at this stage.

All times are Eastern.

Villanova vs. michigan | 6 pm | ESPNU

The Michigan senior Naz Hillmon and the Villanova junior Maddy Siegrist have a lot in common. Both are smaller post players who have flown under the national radar for most of the season despite productive scoring and team-defining play.

On Monday, in Ann Arbor, Mich., what makes each player unique will become obvious. Hillmon is a force around the basket, using refined footwork and strength to score and defend efficiently. Siegrist has better range and 3-point ability and can cut quickly inside for easy layups.

Both put up good numbers in the first round. Hillmon had 24 points and 11 rebounds and sat in the fourth quarter after steering Michigan to a comfortable lead against American. Siegrist played 38 minutes to push 11th-seeded Villanova into the second round for the first time since 2018.

Michigan, a No. 3 seed, made it to the round of 16 last year for the first time in program history, as a No. 6 seed. Villanova has been to the tournament’s third round once before, in 2003. Whether Hillmon’s traditional post play or Siegrist’s fast breaks and deep shots prove more effective, a team with limited tournament history will add a crucial line to its record book.

Notre Dame vs. oklahoma | 6 pm | ESPN2

This game, in Norman, Okla., is one of the most evenly matched of the second round. Fourth-seeded Oklahoma and fifth-seeded Notre Dame struggled to contain their lower-seeded opponents in the first round, relying on 3-point shooting and offensive schemes to keep them in front.

Each team has a go-to sharpshooter. In Notre Dame’s case, it is Dara Mabrey, a sister of the WNBA player Marina Mabrey. Dara Mabrey, a senior guard, hit five triples in the opening round, which is more than her average but an indicator of what she is capable of.

Guard Taylor Robertson is fighting for a place in the 3-point-shooting record books, having etched her name all over Oklahoma’s. She made four of 10 3-point attempts in the Sooners’ first-round game, which was actually below her season average of 45 percent.

The game may come down to how the teams’ other contributors perform; neither team has a particularly strong defense, so aggressive rebounding could be crucial. The Irish freshman guard Olivia Miles recorded her second career triple-double in points, rebounds and assists in the first round.

Madi Williams, the Sooners’ leading scorer and rebounder, had six rebounds in the first round. The winner of this game may be the one that quells the potential shootout.

Belmont vs. Tennessee | 7 pm | ESPN

It took two overtimes, but for the second consecutive year, 12th-seeded Belmont made it to the second round.

Belmont played tougher defense than his opponent was expecting and hit timely baskets, trading the lead with fifth-seeded Oregon before outlasting it. The sophomore guard Tuti Jones led the Bruins with 22 points, while Destinee Wells — a 2021 tournament favorite — had 16 points and 7 assists.

Now, the battle for Tennessee will take place in that state’s women’s basketball mecca, Thompson-Boling Arena, in Knoxville, the house the Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt built.

Fourth-seeded Tennessee prevailed over Buffalo in the first round, 80-67, but it wasn’t effortless. The storied program last made it out of the second round in 2016 — before that trip, it had fallen short of the round of 16 only once, in 2009. The Lady Volunteers, then, are long overdue for a tournament run, and they are relying on guards Rae Burrell and Jordan Horston to force the issue.

Tennessee’s Tamari Key could be the difference maker. At 6-foot-6 center, she has several inches on the tallest players who play for Belmont. Although they defended Oregon’s 6-foot-7 Sedona Prince well, the Bruins could be vulnerable if Key and her teammates find a way to exploit the mismatch. Otherwise, Belmont is well positioned to slay another giant.

Central Florida vs. Connecticut | 9 pm | ESPN

The No. 2 seed Connecticut will play the No. 7 seed Central Florida for the first time in NCAA tournament play, but the teams are well acquainted after competing for years in the American Athletic Conference. The Knights are 0-13 against UConn.

Central Florida fields an experienced squad in its quest for the upset in Storrs, Conn. Central Florida has refined its defense and allows opponents 47.6 points per game, the lowest in Division I.

UConn will present a formidable challenge to that defense given the recent return of its sophomore Paige Bueckers, who missed much of conference play with an injury. This Huskies team will also test the Knights’ usually low-scoring offense, which caught fire against Florida.

  • No. 11 Princeton vs. No. 3 Indiana, 8 p.m., ESPNU

  • No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Louisiana State, 8 p.m., ESPN2

  • No. 5 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Arizona, 10 p.m., ESPN2

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