Breaking down UConn women’s road to Final Four and contenders in the Seattle 3 Region
After much anticipation following a women’s college basketball season filled with parity and upsets, the 2023 NCAA Tournament bracket was officially revealed on Sunday.
The UConn Huskies landed as a No. 2 seed in the Seattle 3 region, part of the NCAA’s new two regional format. The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games will be played at Climate Pledge Arena, home of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.
Here is a breakdown of the Seattle 3 region with a look at all the potential opponents the Huskies could face.
Let’s start with the games in Storrs for the first and second rounds.
No. 2 UConn vs No. 15 Vermont
Tip-off: 3 p.m. Saturday on ABCHead coaches: Geno Auriemma, Alisa KresgeTeam records: UConn 29-5, Vermont 25-6
What to know: UConn will look to secure its 29th consecutive first round NCAA Tournament game victory against 15-seed Vermont. It will be the two programs’ 12th all-time meeting, the last result a 84-42 win for the Huskies on Dec. 3, 2009. They met a a little over sixth months prior in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament, in which Tina Charles led UConn to a 104-65 victory en route to its sixth national championship.
The Catamounts are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 (seventh all-time) following a 38-36 win over Albany in the America East Tournament title game. If that score was any indication, Vermont is led by its defense, which has held opponents to 53 points per game — good for seventh in the country. Catamounts head coach Alisa Kresge was named the America East Coach of the Year after winning a share of the regular season title, and her team has won 17 games in a row.
Vermont is led by senior guard Emma Utterback, who averages 14 points, 4.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game, and junior forward Anna Olsen, who averaged 11.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, the Huskies are coming off an impressive showing in the Big East Tournament. After a trying season filled with injuries, they had 10 players available with Azzi Fudd back and won their three games by an average margin of 23.3 points. The championship run was capped off by an 67-56 win over Villanova, which is a 4-seed in the Greenville 2 region.
No. 7 Baylor vs No. 10 Alabama
Tip-off: 5:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2Head coaches: Nicki Collen, Kristy CurryTeam records: Baylor 19-12, Alabama 20-10
What to know: Baylor goes dancing as a No. 7 seed, which is the worst for the program in over two decades. Following departures of first-rounders NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, the Bears were ranked No. 18 in the AP preseason poll entering their second season under Nicki Collen, who returned to the college game after three years leading the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. However, Baylor’s star transfer portal additions didn’t pan out; forward Aijha Blackwell (Missouri) only played eight regular season games due to injury and forward Dre’Una Edwards (Kentucky) was ruled ineligible.
Still, the Bears have four players in double digit scoring: guard Sarah Andrews (15 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.5 rpg), forward Caitlin Bickle (12.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.1 apg), guard Darianna Littlepage-Buggs (11 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and guard Ja’Mee Asberry (10.8 ppg).
Alabama is in the NCAA Tournament field for the second time in three years — with a trip to NIT quarterfinals sandwiched in between in 2022 — after a drought that dated back to 1998-99. But the Crimson Tide have lost four games in a row, including an upset at the hands of 14-seed Kentucky in the second round of the SEC Tournament.
The Crimson Tide are led by guard Brittany Davis, who averages 17.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Guards Aaliyah Nye and Hannah Barber are both threats from deep, shooting 47.1% and 44.7% from 3-point range, respectively. As a whole, Alabama shoots 38% from deep, which ranks sixth in the country, and its 8.9 3-pointers per game are good for 12th.
The Huskies have only faced Alabama twice in program history, with the last meeting a 81-67 win on Dec. 3, 1995 on a neutral site. UConn also defeated Alabama, 87-56, in the 1995 Sweet 16 en route to its first national championship. UConn is 5-4 all-time against Baylor, with the series bookended by two meetings late in the NCAA Tournament. The first was when Huskies knocked off the Bears, 70-50, in the 2010 Final Four to reach the title game and their seventh national championship. The second came in the 2021 Elite Eight, a 69-67 thriller in which UConn overcame a double-digit deficit in the third quarter.
If the Huskies get past the first two rounds, they’ll head to Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle to face whoever makes it out of Columbus, Ohio, where No. 3 seed Ohio State is hosting. Let’s take a look at those four teams.
No. 3 Ohio State (25-7)
Head coach: Kevin McGuffFirst round: Vs. No. 14 James Madison in Columbus
What to know: UConn forward Dorka Juhász could potentially face her old team in a matchup with Ohio State. She played for the Buckeyes from 2018-21 before spending the final two years of her college career with the Huskies. Ohio State got off to a program-best 19-0 start this season and were ranked as high as No. 2 in the AP poll in January, but then lost five of seven games in the middle of Big Ten play. The Buckeyes knocked off top-seeded Indiana 79-75 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, but then were blown out by Iowa, 105-72 in the title game.
The Buckeyes have dealt with their fare share of injury struggles this year; they lost Madison Green to a season-ending knee injury in late December and guard Jacy Sheldon has been dealing with a lower leg injury all season. Sheldon saw the court for just six games in the regular season before returning for the first game of the Big Ten Tournament on March 3. The trio of guard Taylor Mikesell (17.3 ppg, 3 rpg, 2.5 apg), forward Cotie McMahon (14.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.6 apg) and forward Taylor Thierry (14 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.3 apg) lead the way for the Ohio State.
No. 14 James Madison (26-7)
Head coach: Sean O’ReganFirst round: Vs. No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus
What to know: Facing Ohio State in the first round is James Madison, which makes its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2016 after a dominating 30-point victory over Texas State in the Sun Belt Tournament Championship. The Dukes are led by senior guard Kiki Jefferson, who averages 18.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. James Madison ranks top-20 in the country in rebounds per game (42.5, 14th) and defensive field goal percentage (36%, 16th).
No. 6 North Carolina (21-10)
Head coach: Courtney BanghartFirst round: Vs. No. 11 Purdue / St. John’s in Columbus
What to know: Back in November, North Carolina won the Phil Knight Invitational with wins over then-No. 18 Oregon and then-No. 5 Iowa State as UConn won the Phil Knight Legacy in Portland. The Tar Heels were ranked as high as No. 6 in the AP poll after that, but finished as the seventh seed in the ACC and lost in the tournament quarterfinals to Duke, 44-40.
Two members of the Tar Heels starting lineup, guard Eva Hodgson (upper-body) and forward Alyssa Ustby (lower-body), missed time due to injury this season, but both were back for the ACC Tournament. Deja Kelly leads UNC with 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, but has been inconsistent as of late. The Tar Heels will need her to be playing at a high level in order to build off a Sweet 16 appearance in 2022.
No. 11 Purdue (19-10) / St. John’s (22-8)
Fellow Big East team St. John’s, led by head coach Joe Tartamella, will play in the First Four against Purdue, led by second-year head coach Katie Gearlds, on March 16. The winner will face No. 6 North Carolina in the first round. The Red Storm are back dancing for the first time since 2016, while it’s the Boilermakers’ first appearance since 2017.
Both teams produced notable upsets throughout the season that helped them get into the field. St. John’s defeated then-No. 13 Creighton, 66-62, on Dec. 4 and later knocked off then-No. 4 UConn, 69-64, on the road on Feb. 21. Purdue took down then-No. 22 Illinois, 62-52, on the road on Jan. 26, followed by a 73-65 win at then-No. 2 Ohio State on Jan. 29.
UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards (3) looks to shoot against St. John’s Jillian Archer (14) in the second half at the XL Center, Hartford, Conn., February 21, 2023. St. John’s won, 69-64. Cloe Poisson/Special to the CourantNow moving on to the rest of the Seattle 3 region. The Huskies could face any of the following teams in a potential Elite Eight matchup at Climate Pledge Arena on March 27. The teams are listed in order of seeding, starting with Virginia Tech as the No. 1 seed.
No. 1 Virginia Tech (27-4)
Head coach: Kenny BrooksFirst round: Vs. No. 16 Chattanooga in Blacksburg, Virginia
What to know: The Hokies are a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Virginia Tech enters March Madness on an 11-game win streak, including wins over Miami (9-seed), Duke (3-seed) and Louisville (5-seed) to win their ever first ACC Tournament Championship. The Hokies also have the second most wins against top-25 NET teams with 10, just behind UConn’s 11.
Virginia Tech is led by two-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley, who is now the program’s all-time leading scorer. The 6-foot-6 senior center averages 18.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. Junior point guard Georgia Amoore was named the ACC Tournament MVP after averaging 21.6 points per game and setting a record with 14 3-pointers. The Hokies haven’t made it past the first two rounds of the tournament since 1999, and will look to change that as the top team in the region this time around.
No. 4 Tennessee (23-11)
Head coach: Kellie HarperFirst round: Vs. No. 13 Saint Louis in Knoxville
What to know: While 10 of the Huskies’ 11 nonconference opponents made the NCAA Tournament field, the Volunteers are the only one in the same region of the bracket. UConn defeated Tennessee 84-67 on Jan. 26 in Knoxville behind 26 points from Lou Lopez Sénéchal and 25 points from Aaliyah Edwards.
The Volunteers won seven of their last 11 games following that defeat, including 69-67 upset over No. 4 LSU in the SEC Tournament semifinals. Two of those losses came at the hands of No. 1 overall seed South Carolina, including in the SEC Tournament Championship. Led by Rickea Jackson (19.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Jordan Horston (15.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.3 apg), Tennessee is hoping to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2016.
No. 5 Iowa State (22-9)
Head coach: Bill FennellyFirst round: Vs. No. 12 Toledo in Knoxville
What to know: The Cyclones begin March Madness after an impressive run in the Big 12 Tournament, where they beat Baylor (7-seed in NCAA Tournament), Oklahoma (5-seed) and Texas (4-seed) to win the program’s first Big 12 tournament title since 2001. Last season, the Cyclones reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010, and they’ll look to build on that success.
Big 12 Player of the Year Ashley Joens leads the way for Iowa State, averaging 21.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Six-foot-6 center Stephanie Soares, a NAIA transfer, also plays a key factor with averages of 14.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game.
No. 8 USC (21-9)
Head coach: Lindsay GottliebFirst round: Vs. No. 9 South Dakota State in Blacksburg, Virginia
What to know: The Trojans are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 in their second year under head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. USC finished sixth in the Pac-12, with its season highlighted by a 55-46 win over then-No. 2 Stanford on Jan. 15.
Led by their defense, the Trojans’ 5.7 blocks per game rank sixth in the country and they’ve held opponents to 35.4% shooting from the field, which ranks 10th. Much of that effort is behind sophomore G/F Rayah Marshall, who is second in the nation with 3.4 blocks per game and eighth with 11.4 rebounds per game. She also averages 12.6 points per game, third on the team behind graduate forward Kadi Sissoko (15.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and South Carolina transfer Destiny Littleton (13.8 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.3 rpg).
No. 9 South Dakota State (28-5)
Head coach: Aaron JohnstonFirst round: Vs. No. 8 USC in Blacksburg, Virginia
What to know: The Jackrabbits went undefeated in Summit League play to win both the regular season and the tournament title. And they did so in dominant fashion, winning their 21 games by an average margin of 27.9 points. South Dakota State ranks sixth in the country in field goal percentage (48%) and its 79.4 points per game are 10th. Redshirt senior forward Myah Selland leads the way with 15.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game while shooting 44.1% from deep.
No. 12 Toledo (28-4)
Head coach: Tricia CullopFirst round: Vs. No. 5 Iowa State in Knoxville
What to know: The Rockets make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017 after winning both the MAC regular season and tournament championships. They swept the awards too, with guard Quinesha Lockett (17.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.6 apg) named both the MAC Player of the Year and tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and Tricia Cullop selected as the MAC Coach of the Year. Toledo has won 16 games in a row to tie a school record and will look to extend that with an upset in the first round.
No. 13 Saint Louis (17-17)
Head coach: Rebecca TillettFirst round: Vs. No. 4 Tennessee in Knoxville
What to know: The Billikens are going dancing for the first time in program history in their first season under head coach Rebecca Tillett. Saint Louis was picked to finish 12th in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, but finished third and then upset top-seeded UMass in overtime of the Atlantic 10 Tournament title game, 91-85. Senior guard Julia Martinez recorded a triple-double with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in that win. Senior guard Kyla McMakin (17.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and Brooke Flowers (12 ppg, 9.4 rpg) are the team’s top-two leading scorers.
No. 16 Chattanooga (20-12)
Head coach: Shawn PoppieFirst round: Vs. No. 1 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia
What to know: The Mocs make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017 after winning the Southern Conference Tournament. Under first-year head coach Shawn Poppie, Chattanooga knocked off Wofford in the title game after falling to to the Terriers twice in the regular season. Senior guard Yazz Wzeerud-Din (15.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg) and freshman Raven Thompson (15.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) lead the way for the Mocs.