NEW YORK — Eight invitations to the Sweet 16 have been delivered and the other eight will be decided Monday night.
UConn’s back in the regional semifinals for the 26th consecutive year. The Huskies had to work for it as pesky Buffalo rallied from a 24-point, third-quarter deficit to get within eight in the fourth before the Huskies won by 12. It was UConn’s closest game in the second round since a two-point victory over Xavier in 1999. The next-closest was a 15-point win over TCU in 2003.
“It’s been kind of that type of year for us, where things just don’t naturally happen the way they have before, and for us that’s good preparation,” UConn senior Katie Lou Samuelson said. “That shows that when things go wrong, when things happen, we can always pick up what we need to do and pick up from the next person down.”
While reaching the Sweet 16 seems to be a rite of spring for the Huskies, other teams will be trying to make it there for the first time in a long time. The last time Missouri State advanced to the regional semifinals, assistant coach Jackie Stiles was leading the Lady Bears to an incredible Final Four run in 2001. For the team to get to the next round, they’ll have to contend with Iowa State and a rowdy crowd at ISU’s Hilton Coliseum.
Arizona State and Texas A&M needed big plays in the final few seconds to reach the next round in wins over Miami and Marquette, respectively.
Oregon had a little easier time advancing to its third consecutive Sweet 16. Sabrina Ionescu was a big reason why, getting her 18th career triple-double and second in the NCAAs. She became the second player to do it multiple times in the tournament, joining former Stanford great Nicole Powell.
Ionescu got her 10th rebound to reach the stat milestone in the final few minutes when she rebounded her own miss.
“I knew exactly where it was going to go,” she said. “Let me add a little more rotation on this shot so I can get it back.”
The Pac-12 has yet to lose in the postseason, improving to 8-0 after wins by Arizona State and Oregon. Throw in two victories by Arizona in the WNIT and the conference is unblemished.
“I was able to tell the team yesterday, there’s nothing that this team can show us that we haven’t seen and the conference hasn’t prepared you for this. How many close games has this group been in down the stretch of the year?” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “You have the confidence to get the stops and to score and to execute.”
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HOME SWEET HOME
Baylor has been dominant at home — during the regular season and in the women’s NCAA Tournament.
The California Golden Bears know all too well the difficulty of playing the perennial Big 12 champion Bears in Waco during the postseason. They are 0-2 there, with those losses by significant margins.
For the third time in six years, the Golden Bears won an opening-round game in the Ferrell Center to set up a matchup against the host team — they overcame an early 12-point deficit and beat North Carolina 92-72 on Saturday. Cal lost by 19 to Baylor in 2014, the year after an NCAA Final Four appearance, and two years ago ended their season with an 86-46 loss in Waco.
“We were very, very young when we came the last time, and I think that’s a huge difference, just players having been here before, having gone through a lot of different experiences in the life of a basketball player,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.
After overwhelming NCAA Tournament first-timer Abilene Christian 95-38 in the first round Saturday night, Baylor has won 15 consecutive NCAA Tournament games at home since 2011 and won those games by an average margin of 37 points.
The Lady Bears are 16-0 at home this season, and have won 38 in a row overall in Waco. They are 148-3 in non-conference home games in coach Kim Mulkey’s 19 seasons, and have won 48 in a row since losing in January 2014 to UConn, which was the No. 1 team in the country when losing at Waco this season.
Monday’s game will be played exactly 41 years after UCLA beat Maryland 90-74 to win the AIAW national championship, a precursor to the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s pretty amazing,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “I think it’s really good to pause and say thank you to the people that were involved in those games, thank you to the people that really lived out Title IX in an amazing, courageous way. Now we get opportunities that would have never been there without their sacrifice.”
GROWING THE GAME
Rueck spoke about how the NCAA Tournament allows women’s basketball to attract more fans — even in Corvallis, which is known for its support of the sport and the home team.
“That’s what I’ve loved about our community. They’ve embraced us,” he said. “I always joke, I know we’ve got the women’s basketball fans, and we’re going to do great things for them.
“I want the football fans,” he said. “I want the men’s basketball fan that maybe has never given us a chance. Give us a shot, and be careful because you’re going to get hooked.”
AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins and David Ginsburg contributed to this story.