What we learned: Caitlin Clark and Iowa sail through, Notre Dame's big three show out


The first round of the 2024 women’s NCAA tournament is wrapping up Saturday.

Top-seeded Iowa rolled into the second round as Caitlin Clark scored 27 points. No. 1 seed USC handled business as JuJu Watkins scored 23 points leading the Trojans to a win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Catch the final action of the night on ESPN networks and the ESPN App.

We’re breaking down every game as the field is cut in half, and 32 teams are eliminated. And be sure to check out everything we learned Friday on Day 1.

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Is there a concern about Hannah Stuelke not playing in the second half for Iowa? The Hawkeyes’ starting forward played just over 10 minutes in the first half and didn’t score. She didn’t play in the second half. Stuelke said she was dealing with a migraine and tried to play through it, but just didn’t feel well. She said she expects to be fine for Monday’s second-round game. Stuelke is Iowa’s second-leading scorer (14.6 PPG) and rebounder (6.8 RPG) this season. But the Hawkeyes didn’t have any issues defeating the Crusaders without her, as Clark led the way with 27 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. And reserve post player Addison O’Grady had 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting, plus five rebounds. “She came off the bench and did some nice things for us,” coach Lisa Bluder said of O’Grady.

What it means for Iowa: The Hawkeyes are now 30-4 and did a pretty good job dealing with Holy Cross’ attempts to frustrate them defensively. The Crusaders packed in the paint, so Iowa made 10 3-pointers. And the Hawkeyes won the rebounding battle 50-37.

What it means for Holy Cross: The Crusaders, 21-13, finished their season as Patriot League regular-season and tournament champions. They also got a First Four victory in the NCAA tournament, beating UT Martin. — Michael Voepel

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JuJu Watkins smacks away the layup for USC

JuJu Watkins gets it done on the defensive end after she swats away the layup attempt.

Is McKenzie Forbes USC’s new go-to player? Of course, this question is mostly tongue-in-cheek. JuJu Watkins remains as “go-to” as any player in the country this side of Caitlin Clark. But Forbes’ play of late is worth examining. If she continues to play this well, the Trojans will have a significantly improved shot at winning the national title. Against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, her 23 points (9-of-14 shooting in 29 minutes) tied her with Watkins for the team-high mark. And Forbes is coming off a 26-point performance in the Pac-12 tournament championship game and 17 points against UCLA in the semifinals.

What it means for USC: The Trojans made sure there was no stress in their first-round game after a 21-4 first quarter. But taking the court as a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1986 is a big deal for a program that, because of Watkins, will be part of the national conversation for years to come.

What it means for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi: To call themselves Southland Conference tournament champs and NCAA tournament participants for the first time makes this the best season in Islanders’ program history. –Charlie Creme

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0:17

Hannah Hidalgo threads a pass to Sonia Citron for 2

Hannah Hidalgo makes a magnificent bounce pass to Sonia Citron, who lays in the rock for two.

How far can Notre Dame’s Big Three take the Irish? With just six healthy scholarship players, Notre Dame must rely heavily on Hannah Hidalgo, Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld. In the ACC tournament championship game, it was Hidalgo and Westbeld that carried Notre Dame to the title. Today, it was almost exclusively Citron who pushed the Irish to the second round. Her 29 points allowed the Irish to beat the Golden Flashes despite Hidalgo and Westbeld shooting a combined 9-of-27 from the field. Notre Dame got out ahead early and was never really threatened by Kent State, but for the team to make a deep run, every member of the big three will have to deliver.

What it means for Notre Dame: This was the art of shutting down a potential upset early. Notre Dame scored 18 straight points in the first quarter and never looked back. Even though Kent State outscored the Irish in the second half, the outcome of the game was never in jeopardy. Despite Citron, Hidalgo and Westbeld all still playing to the final buzzer because Niele Ivey simply has no other options, the minutes weren’t intense, so Notre Dame should be rested enough for the second round.

What it means for Kent State: The Golden Flashes finished third in the MAC and made their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2002. This was a successful season by any measure. — Charlie Creme

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2:05

Paige Bueckers notches 28-point double-double in tournament return

Paige Bueckers puts up 28 points and 11 boards to power UConn to a win in her return to the women’s NCAA tournament.

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How did the shorthanded Huskies fare in their NCAA tournament opener? Jackson State went 10 deep and played a 6-foot-6 post in Angel Jackson, but the Huskies — who are down to eight active players (two posts) with six out for the year because of injury — rolled early in Saturday’s opener. UConn used a 17-0 first-quarter run to build its advantage and held a comfortable lead for the last 25 minutes of the game. Against a defensive-minded squad, the Huskies were impressive offensively, besting the Lady Tigers in the paint and from the 3-point arc as redshirt junior Paige Bueckers, senior Aaliyah Edwards and freshman Ashlynn Shade each hit the 20-point mark, and the team shot 50% as a whole.

Coach Geno Auriemma played four players for 34 or more minutes despite his squad being comfortably ahead for most of the game. UConn would benefit from having Qadence Samuels able to play more minutes (she played just seven Saturday) as the tournament goes on.

What it means for UConn: Lots of positives all the way around. Bueckers shined in her first NCAA tournament game since April 2022, finishing with 28 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, 1 block and 0 turnovers. Shade’s big game (her 26 points were the most by a UConn player in their NCAA tournament debut) has to give Auriemma, who turned 70 on Saturday, confidence moving forward with his younger squad. He’ll need Shade’s classmates KK Arnold, Ice Brady and Samuels to continue to gain confidence as the Huskies look ahead to Monday and whatever lies beyond.

What it means for Jackson State: Returning to the NCAA tournament was a goal for the Lady Tigers after missing out last season with their SWAC tournament loss to Southern — and they achieved that while compiling a 21-game winning streak along the way. She has a senior-heavy squad, but coach Tomekia Reed has shown she knows what it takes to win, and that her teams will never back down from the challenge of playing more highly ranked programs. — Alexa Philippou

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1:39

NC State Wolfpack vs. Chattanooga Mocs – Game Highlights

Watch the Game Highlights from NC State Wolfpack vs. Chattanooga Mocs

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What has happened to NC State’s offense? Scoring has become hard to come by in Raleigh as of late. The Wolfpack have hit the 70-point mark just twice in their past seven games. A 33.3% shooting day against the Mocs didn’t ease any concerns. Aziaha James paced the way with 19 points today and did make 5 of 10 3-pointers, but consistency behind her has been missing. Saniya Rivers failed to reach double figures in any ACC tournament game and despite 16 points against Chattanooga, she was only 4-of-11 from the field and had just one assist. With a Tennessee team up next that scored 92 points earlier in the day, the Wolfpack may need to regain their earlier-season form when they scored 92 against UConn and 78 against Colorado, quickly.

What it means for NC State: The term “Survive and Advance” was born in Raleigh, and that is exactly what the Wolfpack did against Chattanooga. In NCAA tournament play that is enough. After losing in the first round a year ago, this should feel good. These games are tough for coaches meeting their former programs, like Wes Moore was. He coached at Chattanooga from 1998 to 2013, getting the Mocs to nine NCAA tournaments.

What it means for Chattanooga: NC State did shut down the Mocs’ best player, Jada Guinn, holding her to 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting. With Guinn’s eligibility gone, earning a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament gets more difficult. — Charlie Creme

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0:20

Yvonne Ejim floats in and-1 for Gonzaga

Yvonne Ejim floats in and-1 for Gonzaga

Will Gonzaga get its 3-point shooting mojo back for the second round? The Bulldogs entered the NCAA tournament second in 3-point shooting percentage (40.0) and sixth in 3s per game (9.5) in Division I. But they missed their first 10 attempts from behind the arc Saturday, finishing 7-of-23 (30.4%).

Overall, Gonzaga started slow Saturday; it felt a little like a hangover from its unexpected loss to Portland in the West Coast Conference tournament final March 12. Gonzaga trailed the Anteaters 17-10 after the first quarter. But the Bulldogs switched to zone defense and took control of the second and third quarters to get the victory.

What it means for Gonzaga: The Bulldogs got their 31st win Saturday. That ties the 2010-11 Gonzaga squad — which was led by current New York Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot — for the most in program history. Yvonne Ejim had 25 points and 14 rebounds, her 14th double-double of the season. That’s the most double-doubles by a Gonzaga player in a season since 18 by — you guessed it — Vandersloot in 2010-11.

What it means for UC Irvine: The Anteaters got off to a good start Saturday, but struggled when Gonzaga moved to zone defense, as UC Irvine shot just 26% against it. Still, it was a terrific season for the Anteaters: They won the Big West tournament and made their second NCAA tournament appearance; the first was in 1995. — Michael Voepel

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0:18

Jordan Harrison sinks it from downtown

Jordan Harrison sinks it from downtown

Can the Mountaineers slow down Iowa’s offense in the second round? West Virginia averages 74.2 PPG compared to Iowa’s 92.8. If the Mountaineers hope to upset the No. 1 seed Hawkeyes in Monday’s second round, they need a big defensive effort. West Virginia entered the NCAA tournament second in the Big 12 in scoring defense.

West Virginia had 11 steals in Saturday’s game and averages 13.7 per game this season. The Mountaineers beat Big 12 regular-season champion Oklahoma on Feb. 17; the Sooners — like Iowa — are a guard-oriented, quick-strike offensive team. West Virginia had 12 steals and forced 25 turnovers against the Sooners.

“There are some similarities in terms of how good they are in transition, how free they play on the offensive end,” West Virginia coach Mark Kellogg said of the Hawkeyes and Sooners.”So it will probably be a similar conversation from our game plan that we can use again.”

West Virginia needs to improve its free throw shooting against the Hawkeyes; they were 18-of-36 from the line Saturday against Princeton.

What it means for West Virginia: Last year, Georgia guard Diamond Battles played well against Iowa in the second round, scoring 21 points and helping push the Hawkeyes before falling 74-66. This year, it’s West Virginia guard JJ Quinerly who hopes to lead the way in upsetting Caitlin Clark and Iowa. Quinerly had 29 points vs. Princeton, tying the West Virginia program record for most points in an NCAA tournament game.

“I hope we can put the game away a little faster and don’t have to go shot-for-shot,” Quinerly said when asked if she was prepared to do that against Clark, the leading scorer in Division I. “But whatever happens, happens.”

What it means for Princeton: The Tigers won the Ivy League tournament and finished 25-5. It was another strong season for the program that has led the way for the Ivy League in women’s basketball. — Michael Voepel

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0:26

Lauren Jensen’s shiftiness rewards her the bucket

Lauren Jensen uses her handles to create space, then she rises to score the runner for Creighton.

How did Creighton dismantle one of the hottest teams in the nation? UNLV had the nation’s fourth-longest win streak (15) at the time of this game, following FGCU’s and Jackson State’s losses earlier Saturday. The Lady Rebels led early but Creighton used its hot 3-point shooting to go up by as many as 18 points. The Bluejays’ 15 3s (on 34 attempts, no less) were the most in a NCAA tournament game in program history and the second-most they’ve converted in a game this season. UNLV, on the other hand, nearly doubled up Creighton in the paint (46-24), with senior Desi-Rae Young managing 30 points and the team as a whole finishing with a better shooting percentage (51% vs. 48%). But 3 is more than 2, and UNLV managed just 5-for-20 shooting from beyond the arc.

What it means for Creighton: Coach Jim Flanery has to like what he saw after his squad’s semifinal upset loss in the Big East tournament to Georgetown, particularly on the offensive end — this was Creighton’s sixth-highest scoring output of the season. After last year’s first-round upset defeat, the Bluejays are back in the second round and, if chalk holds, will face 2-seeded UCLA. The last time they made the second round was the year they went on their magical Elite Eight run in 2022. The Bruins, and 6-foot-7 Lauren Betts, would pose a host of problems, but Creighton does have the edge in experience.

What it means for UNLV: The Lady Rebels have been a Mountain West power under fourth-year coach Lindy La Rocque, with three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances following a 20-year hiatus. The next step is to win a tournament game under La Rocque; none of their three losses have been blowouts, so they’re not all that far off. Young deciding to come back for her fifth year would help in that effort. — Alexa Philippou

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0:19

What a shot by Kennedy Todd-Williams

What a shot by Kennedy Todd-Williams

How far can the Ole Miss defense take the Rebels? In the NCAA tournament in the past two years, Ole Miss has allowed 55 points to Marquette, 48 points to Gonzaga, 49 points to Stanford — all good offensive programs. Only Louisville scoring 72 seemed to figure out Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s scheme. The Golden Eagles were the latest team to have the clamps put on them. Marquette scored just 22 second-half points and shot 34.5% from the field for the game. Coach Yo says that the Ole Miss defense is its best offense. The Rebels turned 17 turnovers into 13 points, a big number in such a low-scoring game. This also puts a stamp on a good first few days of the NCAA tournament for the SEC, which is 6-3 through the first round.

What it means for Ole Miss: Coach Yo vowed to turn the Ole Miss program around, and she has not only gotten the Rebels to three straight NCAA tournaments, she’s now 3-2 in them. This game was also an Ole Miss blueprint to success. Defense is the foundation. Let Madison Scott and either Marquesha Davis or Kennedy Todd-Williams drive the offense. Scott (20) and Todd-Williams (15) scored more than half the Rebels’ points. This is also the 328th-ranked 3-point shooting team in the country. Ole Miss only took five shots from beyond the arc.

What it means for Marquette: A promising season fizzled down the stretch as the offense disappeared. But this was the program’s third trip to the NCAA tournament in four years under Megan Duffy. — Charlie Creme

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0:28

Oklahoma survives as Florida Gulf Coast misses tying shot

Florida Gulf Coast gets a good look from deep, but Uju Ezeudu clanks her shot and Oklahoma moves on in the NCAA tournament.

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How does Oklahoma hit the reset button? The Sooners themselves play one of the most unique styles of offense among the major conference teams. But Florida Gulf Coast might be THE most unique offense in the country — shooting 3-pointers, layups and free throws are the only acceptable ways to score. Oklahoma coach Jennie Baranczyk remarked after the game how difficult it is to play against the Eagles. At their essence, both teams like to spread the floor and either shoot 3-pointers or get cuts to the basket. There were 48 3’s taken in this game, 30 by FGCU. The Sooners only made six of their 18, but where they finally started to deliver was in the paint, outscoring the Eagles, 34-26. Oklahoma didn’t take a lead until there was 2:46 left in the third quarter and then had to hold off a late FGCU rally, which included a good look to tie the game at the buzzer by senior Uju Ezeudu. Indiana plays a more conventional style even if the Hoosiers will be happy to run at Oklahoma’s pace. The Sooners will have to shake off the mental strain of playing a team as challenging as the Eagles.

What it means for Oklahoma: Despite winning the Big 12 regular-season title, there were some questions about the Sooners because of a loss to Kansas in the regular-season finale and their decisive defeat to Iowa State in conference tournament semifinals. This win, given the challenge, has to be gratifying, and now Oklahoma has an NCAA tournament win for the third time under Baranczyk. Skylar Vann scored 14 of her 24 points in the second half, including two key fast-break layups in the fourth quarter.

What it means for Florida Gulf Coast: That FGCU got an open look at a 3-pointer with under a second to play speaks to the coaching acumen of Karl Smesko. This wasn’t even a typically great 3-point shooting team for Smesko (175th in the country at 30.8%), but he adjusted and got the Eagles to this place again. He was three points from winning a first-round game as No. 12 for the third consecutive year. — Charlie Creme

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Dyaisha Fair shines with 32 pts in win vs. Arizona

Dyaisha Fair helps bring Syracuse to a first round NCAA tournament win with 32 points vs. Arizona.

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How far can Dyaisha Fair take Syracuse this March? Somewhat lost in the shuffle this season has been that there are two active players who rank in the top five of the NCAA DI women’s all-time scoring list: Caitlin Clark and Dyaisha Fair.

Fair led the Orange in scoring the whole night Saturday, but her fourth-quarter heroics — she scored 13 points in the final frame to help Syracuse pull ahead — added to the fifth-year senior’s still-growing legacy in her final NCAA tournament. Especially considering she went down with an apparent knee injury at the end of the third quarter and had to be helped off the floor before returning in the fourth.

Fair’s 32 points are the most by a Syracuse player in an NCAA tournament game in program history. With 3,383 points for her career, she’s now 11 away from passing Jackie Stiles (3,393) for fourth on the all-time scoring list. She also got it done on the defensive end, with her six steals also a program-best for an NCAA tournament game.

Fair next faces a UConn team that has a history of letting guards go off. Can she put together more heroics to catalyze Syracuse to a historic upset?

What it means for Syracuse: Syracuse is back in the second round for the first time since 2019, and the first time since second-year coach Felisha Legette-Jack took over. The Orange have a chance to make their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2016; Legette-Jack took her Buffalo team to the second weekend in 2018. Legette-Jack’s Buffalo and Geno Auriemma’s UConn met in the tournament the year after in the second round, coincidentally, with the Huskies winning by 12.

What it means for Arizona: The Wildcats’ up-and-down season — they were left with just seven scholarship players because of injuries and midseason departures — still ended on a high note. After all, their chances of making the NCAA tournament didn’t look so hot a month ago. Once they got to the Big Dance, they showed they belonged, with their win over Auburn in the First Four making them the first 15-loss team to win an NCAA tournament game. While Esmery Martinez and Helena Pueyo have finished out their collegiate careers, Adia Barnes now gets to build around her promising freshmen in Jada Williams, Breya Cunningham and Skylar Jones, plus top-10 recruit Montaya Dew, who was lost for the year because of injury. — Alexa Philippou

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Taiyanna Jackson drives in for the go-ahead Kansas bucket

Wyvette Mayberry finds Taiyanna Jackson to give the Jayhawks the early overtime lead.

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Isn’t this better than the WNIT? The Jayhawks won the WNIT a year ago but throughout that run seemed like a team that belonged in the NCAA tournament. A strong finish to this season left no doubt about a bid and an even stronger finish to this first-round game puts Kansas in the second round for the second time since 2013. Michigan appeared to have complete control with a 10-point lead with six minutes remaining, but a 17-7 run sparked by Zakiyah Franklin to end regulation sent the game to overtime. A Wolverines offense that was already sputtering down the stretch, completely faded in an overtime that Kansas dominated.

What it means for Kansas: Kansas’ best player this year was freshman S’Mya Nichols, but the Jayhawks also have four fifth-year seniors who do not want to see their careers end. Franklin is one of those super seniors and her 22 points marked only the third 20-point game of her final season. Taiyanna Jackson and Holly Kersgieter are also trying to extend their careers, and they combined for 23 points and 17 rebounds. With size, experience and the willingness to grind in a slow-pace game, the Jayhawks could be a difficult matchup in round two for No. 1 seed USC.

What it means for Michigan: Letting this one slip away will sting. The inconsistency of an entire season played out in one 10-minute stretch for the Wolverines. But if Laila Phelia, one of the Big Ten’s best players, Jordan Hobbs and Cameron Williams return, the Wolverines will be set up for a return to the NCAA tournament next season. —Charlie Creme

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1:40

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Fairfield Stags – Game Highlights

Watch the Game Highlights from Indiana Hoosiers vs. Fairfield Stags

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Can Indiana take this shooting into the later rounds? The Hoosiers lifted their energy a level toward the end of the first half and a 12-3 run gave them a four-point lead at the break. That energy turned to execution in the second half, leading to a blowout win over Fairfield. With Sara Scalia leading the way, Indiana made seven of its 14 3-point attempts in the second half and more impressively assisted on 14 of 17 field goals. Scalia scored 18 of her 27 points in the second half and made five 3’s. The Hoosiers’ 10 3-pointers were the most they have made in a game in a month.

What this means for Indiana: Health has been a problem late in the season with injuries to Mackenzie Holmes, Sydney Parrish and Lilly Meister. Teri Moren said that even practicing has been a challenge. But all looked well in Bloomington on Saturday afternoon. All three of those players played double-figure minutes. Most importantly, Holmes seemed to move well and even blocked three shots to go with her 13 points and six rebounds.

What it means for Fairfield: The Stags played well in the first half. For stretches, they were the better team. Their 31-2 record won’t soon be forgotten and with coach Carly Thibault-DuBonis signing a contract extension this week, Fairfield should be playing more meaningful games in March very soon. — Charlie Creme

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0:18

Jewel Spear buries a 3 from the top of the key for Tennessee

Jewel Spear pulls up and knocks down a triple from the top of the key for the Lady Volunteers.

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How well did the Lady Vols bounce back from the loss to South Carolina in the SEC tournament? As the saying goes, time heals all wounds. At least, it did for Tennessee. Having two weeks to recover from the heartbreak of losing to the Gamecocks in the SEC tournament semifinals on Kamilla Cardoso’s banked-in 3-pointer did the Lady Vols well. They dominated Green Bay. Sometimes one team is just bigger, stronger and faster. That was the case for Tennessee against the Phoenix. Green Bay’s tallest player is 6-foot-2. Tennessee has five players that tall. And the Lady Vols dominated in all the associated categories — rebounding (43-26), points in the paint (40-26) and second-chance points (14-10). Having the best player on the court also helps. Rickea Jackson, whose pro stock seems to be rising with every game, did whatever she wanted on her way to 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting in 29 minutes.

What it means for Tennessee: The Lady Vols’ rebounding dominance was not surprising against Green Bay. Tennessee’s hot shooting was. Before the benches emptied with the game out of reach, Tennessee was shooting nearly 65% overall and 50% from 3-point territory. This from a team that was 43.0% and 31.9%, respectively, on the season. A Tennessee team that shoots like this and has Jackson playing at this elite level is a threat to make its first Elite Eight since 2016 or first Final Four since 2008.

What it means for Green Bay: The Phoenix are well established as one of the top mid-major programs in the country under Kevin Borseth, but this was their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2018. After beating Washington State and Creighton in the regular season, losing by 29 points will certainly come as a disappointment. — Charlie Creme



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