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Michelle Smith's Pac-12 women's basketball Sweet 16 preview

Mar 22, 2023
Photo courtesy Colorado Athletics

In an NCAA Tournament full of surprises, what’s not a surprise has been the performance of Pac-12 teams in the postseason. While the second-round elimination of top-seeded Stanford by Ole Miss will go down as one of this tournament’s biggest upsets, there are three strong teams still standing in the regional semifinals after tough second-round wins.

It is the sixth time in the last seven tournaments that at least three Pac-12 teams reached the Sweet 16. And each of them has their own very interesting storyline.

Second-seeded Utah will be taking on No. 3 seed LSU, which features one of the nation’s most exciting players in Angel Reese. No. 4-seeded UCLA will face off against title favorite South Carolina for the second time this season in Greenville, where Gamecocks fans will fill the gym. And No. 6 seed Colorado will take on No. 2 seed Iowa and star Caitlin Clark.

If any of these teams can advance to the Final Four, they will be at least the seventh different Pac-12 program to make a Final Four appearance since 2013.

No. 2 Utah (27-4) vs. No. 3 LSU (30-2)

  • Region: Greenville 2
  • Date/Time/TV: Friday, March 24, 2 p.m. PT/3 p.m. MT, ESPN
  • History Lesson: Utah and LSU have never faced one another.
  • Recap: After moving easily past Gardner-Webb in the first round, the second-seeded Utes played what might have been their worst game of the season (statistically) and yet still managed to pull out a second-round win against Princeton to reach their first Sweet 16 since 2006. Against the Tigers, Utah made a season-low one 3-pointer, committed 20 turnovers and allowed 20 offensive rebounds. Yet they led for all but 16 seconds of the game and got a 28-point, 10-rebound effort from Alissa Pili to lead the way. Pili has scored 61 points in two NCAA Tournament games, making her the NCAA Tournament’s second-leading scorer through two rounds and also affirming her status as one of the elite players in the nation.
  • Outlook: Utah will be taking on an LSU team that finished second in the SEC behind defending national champion South Carolina, and boasts one of the country’s best individual talents in Angel Reese. In two NCAA Tournament wins, Reese has scored a combined 59 points with 39 rebounds, nine blocks and six assists. She became the first player with 25 points, 24 rebounds and 5 blocks in an NCAA Tournament game in LSU's second-round win over Michigan. Containing Reese will be a top priority on the defensive end. Taking care of the ball will also be key as LSU forces 17.7 turnovers a game. LSU has reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014 and won its 30th game of the season for the first time since 2008.
  • Take Note: Utah has advanced to the Elite Eight once before (2006).

No. 4 UCLA (27-9) vs. No. 1 South Carolina (34-0)

  • Region: Greenville 1
  • Date/Time/TV: Saturday, March 25, 11 a.m. PT, ESPN
  • History Lesson: UCLA is 1-3 against South Carolina all time. The two teams faced off earlier this season, with South Carolina beating UCLA 73-64 on Nov. 29 in Columbia.
  • Recap: The Bruins rolled past 13th-seeded Sacramento State 67-45 in the first round at Pauley Pavilion, but the second round wasn’t so stress-free. UCLA needed a career-night from senior Charisma Osborne, whose career-high 36 points helped the Bruins hold off 5-seed Oklahoma for an 82-73 win on Monday night.
  • Outlook: Knocking off the defending national champions, who also happen to be riding a 40-game winning streak, will be no easy task. But UCLA has to be as confident as anyone that they could pull it off given that they had a 10-point second-quarter lead and were tied after three quarters when the two teams battled earlier this season on the Gamecocks' home court. Osborne scored 24 points in that game. Freshman Kiki Rice had 16. UCLA will need that and more from Emily Bessoir and Gina Conti if they are going to keep pace with the Gamecocks, who are the No. 1 overall seed. South Carolina easily won each of its first two NCAA Tournament games by 30-plus points.
  • Take Note: This is UCLA’s first time in the Sweet 16 since 2019.

No. 6 Colorado (25-8) vs. No. 2 Iowa (28-6)

  • Region: Seattle 4
  • Date/Time/TV: Friday, March 24, 4:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
  • History Lesson: The Buffs and Iowa have split six previous meetings, the last being an 80-62 Hawkeye win in Iowa City in the 2017 WNIT.
  • Recap: The Buffaloes punched their first ticket to the Sweet 16 since 2003 thanks to a gutty effort against Duke in Durham, a game which senior point guard Jaylyn Sherrod and junior post Quay Miller led the way. Colorado had a double-digit lead only to see Duke claw back into the game and take a lead. But it was Sherrod’s poise and decision-making down the stretch that pushed the game into an overtime that Colorado dominated, the Buffaloes’ defense holding Duke without a field goal for five minutes.
  • Outlook: It’s hard not to view the second-seeded Hawkeyes as the Final Four favorite out of this region. And it’s hard not to view Iowa’s Caitlin Clark as the favorite for National Player of the Year, a status she cemented after the first two tournament games. In Iowa’s hard-fought second-round win over Georgia, Clark finished with 22 points and 14 assists. Iowa is looking for its first trip to the Final Four. Colorado will be tasked with slowing down a team that averages 87.4 points a game. But that is the Buffaloes’ speciality. CU holds opponents to just 58.5 points per game.
  • Take Note: The Buffaloes have been seeded sixth in three of their last five Sweet 16 appearances. They are now 5-3 as a No. 6 seed in tournament history.

WNIT Super 16

Oregon (19-14) vs. San Diego (19-13), Thursday at 6 p.m. PT in Eugene
Oregon took a three-point lead at halftime on Monday and busted it open for a 78-53 win over Rice to reach the WNIT Super 16. The Ducks are one win away from their seventh straight 20-win season. Senior Endyia Rogers is averaging 17.5 points a game over the past four games. Backcourt mate junior Te-Hina Paopao averaging 20.5 points a game over the same stretch. Oregon has won five of its last six games.

Washington (17-14) vs. Kansas State (19-16), Friday, 7 p.m. in Seattle
The Huskies, who are in the WNIT for the first time since 2017, have also reached the quarterfinals after defeating New Mexico 67-56 in the second round on Sunday in Seattle. Three Huskies scored in double digits — Lauren Schwartz (15 points), Elle Ladine (15), and Haley Van Dyke (10). Washington outrebounded New Mexico 41-26, led by Dalayah Daniels’ 11 rebounds.