2024 NCAA Women's Tournament: Winners and losers from opening weekend

Although the top seeds are still dancing, the first and second rounds of the 2024 NCAA Women’s Tournament were not short of excitement and nail-biting finishes. Just like they have all season, the top-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks are taking care of business, but not everyone is cruising through March like Dawn Staley’s team.

Stanford would not have gotten past Iowa State if KiKi Iriafen had not registered a career-high 41 points on Sunday. Meanwhile, Iowa survived an upset scare against West Virginia on Monday thanks to Caitlin Clark sinking eight foul shots down the stretch on a night she was a sub-par shooter from the field. Other teams such as Louisville and Tennessee were not as fortunate.

There are too many great storylines to mention, but here are 10 winners and losers from the first two rounds:

Winner: South Carolina

We all know the Gamecocks were a deep team coming into the NCAA Tournament but Dawn Staley’s squad still managed to turn heads as they blew North Carolina out of the water with a 88-41 win on Sunday. Nine South Carolina players scored at least two points, while freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley put up 20 points along with nine rebounds, three steals and three blocks. She was coming off the bench, which as a whole put up 51 points. 

South Carolina grabbed a 91-39 win over Presbyterian in the fist round, which means the Gamecocks registered a +99 scoring margin through their first two NCAA Tournament games — a new program record over the Round of 64 and Round of 32. This was also the first time South Carolina wins back-to-back tournament games by 40+ points.

Loser: Louisville’s Elite Eight streak is gone

Middle Tennessee pulled off an 18-point comeback to win 71-69 on Friday, giving Louisville its first loss in the Jeff Walz era (starting in 2007). That was the third biggest comeback in tournament history and, coincidentally, it was also the Blue Raiders first NCAA Tournament victory since 2007. Before this loss, the Cardinals had registered an impressive five consecutive Elite Eight appearances. 

Loser: Lower seeds

The first round of this tournament was mostly all chalk. The only seed upset in the First Round happened on Friday, when 11-seed Middle Tennessee defeated 6-seed Louisville. The 31-1 record is the best Round of 64 record by better seeds since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994.

Middle Tennessee wasn’t able to make it past the second round as the Blue Raiders suffered a 56-83 loss to defending national champion LSU on Sunday. The final score shows a blowout, but it doesn’t represent how competitive Middle Tennessee was for a significant part of the game. In fact, the Blue Raiders were up 36-32 at halftime.

Winner: USC back in the Sweet 16

“I remember my freshman year, we couldn’t even qualify for the WNITs,” said USC’s Rayah Marshall. To now hosting at home going to the Sweet 16. It’s just unreal.”

Marshall is only a junior, but it hasn’t taken long for head coach Lindsay Gotlieb to turn the program around. Before she took over in 2021, USC had not gone dancing since 2014. The Trojans were back in it last season, and this year they appear to be set up to make a deep run. Following a win over Kansas on Monday, the Trojans are advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994 — when Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller was the head coach. 

A key part of USC’s success this season has been freshman JuJu Watkins. She has been outstanding all year and she hasn’t slowed down while competing at the biggest stage. She averaged 25.5 points and eight rebounds in her first two NCAA Tournament games. During the first round, she broke USC’s single-season scoring record, which coincidentally was set by Miller in 1986.

Winner: Kiki Iriafen takes over Stanford

The Cardinal were dangerously close to missing their second consecutive Sweet 16 after Cameron Brink — the Pac-12 Player and Defensive Player of the Year — fouled out late in the fourth quarter against Iowa State. However, Kiki Iriafen lifted the team to a 87-81 overtime victory with a career-high 41 points. She completed the double-double with 16 rebounds, and did a little bit of everything else by adding four assists, one steal and three blocks. Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer’s opening statement said it all: “Kiki Iriafen. Woah.”

Winner: Iowa … barely

The No. 1 seed Hawkeyes almost fell to eight-seeded West Virginia during the Round of 32. That game was a little too close for comfort for Lisa Bluder’s squad, but Caitlin Clark helped the Hawkeyes advance with 64-54 knocking down eight key free throws late in the game. Here is a closer look at what West Virginia taught us about defending Clark, the Division I all-time leading scorer. Iowa made it to the championship game last season for the first time in program history, and the Hawkeyes are hoping to make it there again before Clark enters the WNBA. 

Loser: Virginia Tech losing Kitley

The Hokies were such a promising team and it was heartbreaking to see Elizabeth Kitley get emotional after Virginia Tech fell to Baylor, 75-72, on Sunday. She and Georgia Amoore have been the key pieces for the Hokies’ success, but she was ruled out of the NCAA Tournament due to a torn ACL. 

Matilda Ekh put up 19 points for the Hokies, while freshman Clara Strack and Amoore added 18 points each. Virginia Tech fell just four points short of advancing to their second consecutive Sweet 16. Kiltey was averaging 22.8 points per game this season, so it’s hard no to wonder if the result would have been different if she had been in the game. 

However, Kitley’s absence should not take away anything from Baylor because the Bears played hard and definitely earned their win. Junior guard Jada Walker was outstanding with career-high 28 points. 

Winner: Gonzaga representing mid-majors

The Zags are the last mid-major team standing, but they are playing just as well as other teams from bigger conferences. Their tough non-conference schedule certainly prepared them for the Big Dance and now they are going to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015. Their 77-66 victory against Utah in the Round of 32 was their 32nd win this season, which is a new program best. This is a tough team to stop, as all five starters are averaging double figures. Senior forward Yvonne Ejim leads the team with 20 points per contest while making 60% of her shot attempts. Gonzaga is one of four programs with both the men’s and women’s teams still competing in the NCAA Tournament.

Loser: Tennessee out of Sweet 16

While Tennessee is one of the top programs in women’s basketball history with eight national titles, the Vols have not lifted the trophy since 2008. They were looking for their third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, but they fell short of that goal with a 79-72 loss to NC State on Monday.

It was a tough loss to swallow as the ending was a bit controversial. Senior guard Jewel Spear hit a 3-pointer that cut Tennessee’s deficit to four with 46 seconds left in the game. Soon after, the most ideal scenario for a comeback was set up for the Vols when Spear stole the inbound pass and was wide open to shoot. However, officials granted NC State a timeout that killed Tennessee’s momentum.

Winner: The Pac-12’s winning record

The conference has the best winning percentage in the women’s tournament with a 12-2 record after the second round. This is the last season of the conference as we know it and it has been quite the farewell tour. The Pac-12 got seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, which tied a conference record. Also, for the first time in Pac-12 history, three teams were seeded No. 2 or better. 

Pac-12 teams in the Sweet 16:

  • (1) USC
  • (2) Stanford
  • (2) UCLA
  • (3) Oregon State
  • (5) Colorado

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