- Charlie Creme projects the women’s NCAA tournament bracket for ESPN.com.
Chalk ruled the opening day of the 2021 women’s basketball tournament as higher seeds went 16-0. Day 2 was for the underdogs. Three double-digit seeds — No. 11 BYU, No. 12 Belmont and No. 13 Wright State — pulled big upsets to reach the second round, which made for plenty of change as we reseed the field.
Some of the movement was subtle. But whether it was higher seeds struggling (and moving down), or a shake-up near the top (we’re looking at you, Baylor), few teams were immune to changes.
The second round tips off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN, ESPN2 and the ESPN App. Until then, here is our reseeded field of 32 for the women’s NCAA tournament.
1. Stanford Cardinal (Original seed: No. 1. Reseed: No. 1)
Ten Stanford players scored in Sunday’s 87-44 win over Utah Valley in the first round, but none played more than 22 minutes. Other than senior guard Anna Wilson appearing to turn her ankle late in the game, it was an ideal evening for the Cardinal. Another senior, point guard Kiana Williams, led the way with 20 points. If Stanford is to maintain its status as a favorite and ultimately win the program’s first national championship since 1992, Williams will remain at the forefront.
2. UConn Huskies (Original seed: No. 1. Reseed: No. 1)
The Huskies saw what Baylor and South Carolina had done earlier in the day and did them each just a little bit better by scoring 102 points in a 43-point win over High Point. It’s the program’s 13th women’s NCAA tournament game of at least 100 points, and the fifth consecutive such game in the first round. Even without head coach Geno Auriemma on the sideline, the Huskies played like they were ready for a run at a 12th national championship. Paige Bueckers was great in her first NCAA tournament game; her 24 points were the most ever by a UConn player in her tournament debut. She did it on 9-of-13 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and six assists. Freshman guard Nika Muhl left the game with an ankle injury and didn’t return. She is questionable for the second round, and if she can’t go, UConn’s rotation is down to eight players. The Huskies have won titles with fewer.
3. South Carolina Gamecocks (Original seed: No. 1. Reseed: No. 1)
Defense and controlling the paint are the Gamecocks’ calling cards, and both were on display in the 79-53 win over Mercer. The Bears shot just 37%, South Carolina outrebounded Mercer 52-27 and the Gamecocks scored 42 points in the paint to just 16 by the Bears. That’s the formula for South Carolina whether the competition is in the SEC or in the Final Four. Center Aliyah Boston had 20 points and 18 rebounds, the kind of performance that the Gamecocks might need over six games to win a national title.
4. Baylor Lady Bears (Original seed: No. 2. Reseed: No. 1)
Baylor blowouts are a staple in the first round. In the previous five NCAA tournaments, the Lady Bears boast a 53.4-point average margin of victory in the first round. They didn’t quite get there on Sunday against Jackson State but were just as convincing in a 101-52 victory. Baylor leads the nation in field goal percentage defense (31.8), and it was on display again. The Lady Tigers made just 30.9% of their shots, with nothing coming easy. Baylor did what any high seed should do to eliminate any thoughts of an upset: get up early, exert physical dominance and don’t let up. The Lady Bears never trailed, jumped to a 19-6 advantage, held a 59-35 rebounding advantage and kept building their lead until the final minutes. Baylor’s starters shot 62.1% from the field, led by NaLyssa Smith (8-of-9, 18 points) and Moon Ursin (9-of-14, 24 points).
5. Maryland Terrapins (Original seed: No. 2. Reseed: No. 2)
It’s not just all the points Maryland scores that make the Terps a great offense. They also take care of the ball (12.1 turnovers per game) and lead the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. Maryland assisted on 21 of its 34 field goals against Mount St. Mary’s and turned over the ball only 10 times in an easy 98-45 win. Even the defense delivered, allowing its lowest point total of the season.
6. NC State Wolfpack (Original seed: No. 1. Reseed: No. 2)
Another slow start and a possible significant injury to senior Kayla Jones pushes the Wolfpack below South Carolina and Baylor on this list. NC State remains a legitimate national championship contender, but its odds might no longer be No. 1 seed-worthy. Before a 13-0 run late in the first half, NC State was trailing North Carolina A&T. A big third quarter put the game away for good, and the Wolfpack won 79-58. Jada Boyd started the second half in place of Jones and led the way with 18 points, but Jones’ status is going to be a situation to follow in measuring NC State’s prospects.
7. Louisville Cardinals (Original seed: No. 2. Reseed: No. 2)
Players across the country have learned patience as much as anything this season. Not being able to practice and missing games became all too familiar. But nothing prepares a team for the kind of patience the Cardinals must have needed in the past two weeks. It’s one thing to wait for the next game in January. It’s another to sit for 15 days with nothing but the memory of the heartbreaking loss the Cardinals suffered to NC State in the ACC tournament final. While it took a quarter, Louisville took that impatience out on Marist in a 74-43 victory. Freshmen Hailey Van Lith, who struggled in that game 15 days ago, got her first taste of the NCAA tournament and seemed to like it, with 17 points and four assists.
8. Georgia Lady Bulldogs (Original seed: No. 3. Reseed: No. 2)
Missing their two leading scorers to start the game and falling behind No. 14 seed Drexel by nine in the first quarter wasn’t an ideal way for the Lady Bulldogs to begin what they hope will be a long stay in the NCAA tournament. Then it all worked out for one of the most veteran teams in the tournament. Seniors Jenna Staiti and Gabby Connally both began the game on the bench. Staiti had an undisclosed medical issue and arrived in San Antonio later than the rest of the team. Connally injured an ankle in practice. Staiti entered the game midway through the first and went on to be Georgia’s leading scorer with 19 points in 19 minutes. The Connally situation might be something to watch. She didn’t score in 11 minutes, but that isn’t enough to change the Lady Bulldogs’ seed.
9. Texas A&M Aggies (Original seed: No. 2. Reseed: No. 3)
Texas A&M advanced to the second round to face Iowa State, but nearly made the wrong kind of history instead. The Aggies helped keep the record of No. 2 seeds perfect in the first round of the women’s NCAA tournament, but just barely. A tiebreaking bucket by Aaliyah Wilson with 1:11 remaining, four clutch Destiny Pitts free throws, and having a few key officiating decisions go their way was all that stood in the way of a first-round exit. Troy pushed Texas A&M for 40 minutes, but Texas A&M managed to survive.
10. Arizona Wildcats (Original seed: No. 3. Reseed: No. 3)
Arizona’s first NCAA tournament win in 16 years was a stress-free affair. The Wildcats took the lead for good just a minute and a half into the game, led by 16 after a quarter and held the defensive clamps on Stony Brook for the entire 40 minutes in a 79-44 victory. Arizona shot a season-high 58% from the field, but this is a defense-first team, as the Seawolves found out immediately in turning over the ball 11 times in the first quarter. Arizona scored 25 points off 25 turnovers. Now a second-ever trip to the Sweet 16 might rely on doing the same to BYU.
11. Tennessee Lady Vols (Original seed: No. 3. Reseed: No. 3)
Coach Kellie Harper’s halftime speech must have focused almost entirely on defense in Sunday’s win over Middle Tennessee, because what came out of the locker room was a different team. Behind 16 points from the nation’s second-leading scorer, Anastasia Hayes, the Raiders put up 39 points on the Lady Vols in the first 20 minutes. After halftime, Tennessee held them to 23 points. Hayes was held to just three more field goals, and Tennessee cruised to an 87-62 victory. Rennia Davis tallied 24 points and 14 rebounds and quietly might be playing the best basketball of her career.
12. UCLA Bruins (Original seed: No. 3. Reseed: No. 3)
The Bruins had become a bit of a one-woman show toward the end of the season with Michaela Onyenwere carrying most of the offensive load: 30 points against Washington, the lone double-figure scorer with 24 against Arizona, 30 more against Stanford. UCLA won two of those three games, but coach Cori Close must have been happy to see Charisma Osborne and Natalie Chou shoot the ball more confidently and score in double figures in the first-round win over Wyoming.
13. Indiana Hoosiers (Original seed: No. 4. Reseed: No. 4)
The Hoosiers finished the regular season hot with nine straight wins. Then a poor showing early in the Big Ten tournament raised a question or two. Perhaps all they needed was the 11-day break. Indiana’s defense suffocated VCU into 23% shooting. Now coach Teri Moren is one game away from taking the Hoosiers to their first Sweet 16.
14. West Virginia Mountaineers (Original seed: No. 4. Reseed: No. 4)
It took Kysre Gondrezick a few minutes to find her footing, but once she did, Patriot League champion Lehigh had no answer. The Mountaineers are banged up. Gondrezick, who scored 26 points and had five assists, is playing on a sore ankle and seemed to suffer a hand injury late in the game. Guard Kirsten “KK” Deans (19 points Sunday) and forward Esmery Martinez (16 points, 11 rebounds) are also dealing with ankle issues. Point guard Madisen Smith is still sidelined with a more severe ankle injury. Perhaps because of the numerous health issues, the offense struggled in the Big 12 tournament even though West Virginia still reached the final. Sunday’s 77-53 win was a more positive sign.
15. Oregon State Beavers (Original seed: No. 8. Reseed: No. 4)
Continuing the momentum that they created at the end of the regular season, the Beavers were as impressive as any team in the 8-9 games. By the middle of the first quarter, Oregon State was in control against Florida State and rode a precision offense to an 83-59 win. All led by point guard Aleah Goodman, who had 24 points and five assists, the Beavers shot 55.2% from the field and 46.7% from 3-point range. They also had 15 assists and a 43-26 rebounding advantage. That’s why a reevaluation of Oregon State’s seed is in order. This is a team the committee might have undervalued. A slow start to the season, then a five-week pause and 10 missed Pac-12 games due to COVID-19-related issues inside and outside the program damaged the Beavers’ résumé. But now they’ve won nine of their past 11 games, with the only losses coming to No. 1 overall seed Stanford.
16. Kentucky Wildcats (Original seed: No. 4. Reseed: No. 4)
Not having to rely too much on Rhyne Howard and getting solid production from Blair Green (10 points) and Dre’una Edwards (nine points) off the bench are good signs for the Wildcats, who are trying to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2016. Turning over the ball 19 times and getting outscored 32-24 by Idaho State in an especially sloppy fourth quarter are not. Howard and Chasity Patterson each scored 14 in the 71-63 win, but the Wildcats were balanced, with 10 players scoring. With Tuesday’s second-round matchup against high-scoring Iowa (ESPNU/ESPN App, 3:30 p.m. ET) up next, spreading the wealth might not be sufficient. More firepower and a bigger game from Howard must be the formula.
17. Iowa Hawkeyes (Original seed: No. 5. Reseed: No. 5)
The Hawkeyes average 86.2 points per game and delivered 87 against Central Michigan. They usually allow over 80 points per game, but the Chippewas got to only 72. That improvement allowed Iowa to have a relatively stress-free trip into the second round despite some minor shortcomings. Caitlin Clark (23 points) scored below her average (26.7 PPG) and Monika Czinano (10-of-18) shot well below her nation-leading 67.9% from the field, but the Hawkeyes led from the 2:59 mark of the first quarter. Iowa has won five of its past six games, including an impressive run to the Big Ten tournament final. The Hawkeyes are the underdog in the second round, but a win over fourth-seeded Kentucky would likely set up a matchup with UConn that would pit freshmen phenoms Clark and Bueckers against one another.
18. Missouri State Lady Bears (Original seed: No. 5. Reseed: No. 5)
The Lady Bears are a team built on offensive balance and stiff team defense. Both sides were on display Monday in a businesslike 70-51 first-round win over UC Davis. The 19-point victory was the program’s largest in the NCAA tournament since 1994. Missouri State has won 18 consecutive games, tied with Baylor for the longest active streak among teams in the NCAA tournament, and plays Wright State in the second round with a second straight trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
19. Michigan Wolverines (Original seed: No. 6. Reseed: No. 5)
Without a big game from Naz Hillmon or starting point guard Amy Dilk, the Wolverines reached the second round with a 87-66 win over Florida Gulf Coast. It took a 23-5 run down the stretch to put away the Eagles, who had won 26 games in a row. Leigha Brown scored a season-high 28 points, while Hillmon struggled to a 3-for-10 shooting game and 14 points. Dilk didn’t make the trip to San Antonio because of an undisclosed medical issue, but given the convincing win without her over a FGCU team that thought it was underseeded, the Wolverines won’t get moved off the No. 6 line.
20. Oregon Ducks (Original seed: No. 6. Reseed: No. 5)
Did the Ducks ever need that. After stumbling into the NCAA tournament with five losses in its last six games, Oregon found a team on which it could take out its frustrations. The Ducks held South Dakota without a field goal in the second quarter and to just nine first-half points before winning comfortably. This still wasn’t the Oregon offense that existed in December. The Ducks miss freshman point guard Te-Hina Paopao. But they have an NCAA tournament win for the fourth straight tournament, and that was no guarantee two weeks ago.
21. Texas Longhorns (Original seed: No. 6. Reseed: No. 6)
The Longhorns could have used a full season as much as any team. A new coach, a different system and some new players became a recipe for inconsistency. But just as the regular season was hitting its final two weeks, Texas looked better. A win over Iowa State and two competitive losses to Baylor indicated something was starting to click. It might have for real against Bradley. Texas got off to a good start, didn’t turn over the ball, made open shots, was not fully dependent on Charli Collier and never let the Braves back in the game in the 81-62 win. Collier had 23 points and 15 rebounds, but did it efficiently with just 11 shots.
22. Iowa State Cyclones (Original seed: No. 7. Reseed: No. 6)
Late in the first quarter against Michigan State on Monday, with Iowa State leading 25-16, Ashley Joens went to the bench with two fouls. By the time she returned with 7:15 left in the second quarter, the Cyclones trailed 27-26. Three minutes and six Joens points later, Iowa State was back in front. She stayed out of foul trouble the rest of the way, scored 33 points (the most in an NCAA tournament game in program history) and the Cyclones never trailed again. That’s the value of Joens, the leading scorer for Iowa State and in the Big 12.
23. Alabama Crimson Tide (Original seed: No. 7. Reseed: No. 6)
Seniors Jasmine Walker, Jordan Lewis and Ariyah Copeland accounted for 66.5% of Alabama’s point production during the season. So it was appropriate that the trio was the driving force behind Monday’s 80-71 win over North Carolina, combining for 56 points. Lewis’ 32 points — which is tied for the most by an SEC player in her NCAA tournament debut since 2000 — and dominating floor game were the catalyst. At one point she scored 10 straight Crimson Tide points as they took the lead for good midway through the first quarter. Alabama primarily earned its No. 7 seed on competitive games and no bad losses against the SEC’s best teams. But the Crimson Tide also didn’t have any wins to show for it. Beating Maryland on Tuesday would erase the disappointment of any of those close calls.
24. Virginia Tech Hokies (Original seed: No. 7. Reseed: No. 6)
The Hokies were the better team against Marquette for 37 minutes. Those other three minutes almost ruined it all. After a 15-point lead dwindled to three with 40 seconds left, Virginia Tech hung on thanks in large part to a Cayla King offensive rebound. The Hokies are on to the second round for the first time since 2006 despite the sudden slump of second-leading scorer Aisha Sheppard. After scoring in double figures in every game in the regular season, the 5-foot-9 senior has registered seven, six and seven points in her past three outings. Baylor, Virginia Tech’s next opponent, isn’t beatable without a return to form from Sheppard.
25. Northwestern Wildcats (Original seed: No. 7. Reseed: No. 7)
The Wildcats were likely going to be a No. 3 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament. They had won the Big Ten and it was supposed to be their time. Then they had to wait. It took an entire year, but Northwestern got the program’s first NCAA tournament win since 1993 with a 61-52 win over UCF. The Knights losing their best player, Diamond Battles, to a knee injury in the second quarter significantly hurt their chances, but perhaps not as much as the 25 points from Northwestern’s Lindsey Pulliam.
26. Oklahoma State Cowgirls (Original seed: No. 8. Reseed: No. 7)
The 8-9 games are supposed to be close, but only one of them was this year, and each No. 8 seed prevailed. The Cowgirls dropped a 23-point win on an overmatched Wake Forest. Natasha Mack did all the damage on the Demon Deacons. The 6-4 senior scored 27 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked four shots, adding to her nation-leading total of 111. Mack now has a double-double in three of Oklahoma State’s past four games, and the Cowgirls have won five of their past seven. Both of those numbers get a real test with Stanford up next.
27. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Original seed: No. 5. Reseed: No. 7)
The word “escape” might not fully justify what the Yellow Jackets did in the first round against Stephen F. Austin. Georgia Tech scored just 17 points in the first half and never got its offense going. So the Yellow Jackets figured out another way, simply outdefending one of the best defensive teams in the country to win 52-50. Over the final 25 minutes, which included overtime, the Ladyjacks scored just 18 points. The 17-point comeback was the fourth-largest in NCAA tournament history and gave the Yellow Jackets their first tournament win since 2012. If they’re to get their second this March, trying to win ugly probably won’t be good enough against West Virginia.
28. Syracuse Orange (Original seed: No. 8. Reseed: No. 7)
Ninth-seeded South Dakota State probably would have gotten a better seed if Summit League player of the year Myah Selland hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury a month ago. Given Selland’s absence, Syracuse might have caught a break with that first-round matchup — but the Orange struggled to shake the Jackrabbits until the fourth quarter. Yes, Syracuse is without starter Priscilla Williams (8.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG), who suffered an upper body injury in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. But the Orange still have plenty of options, and all five starters scored in double figures in Sunday’s 72-55 win. Emily Engstler, who replaced Williams in the starting lineup, led the way with 18 points, and all of them (and then some) will be needed with UConn up next.
29. South Florida Bulls (Original seed: No. 8. Reseed: No. 8)
The Bulls haven’t been the same offensive team since their COVID-19 pause in January. They’ve hit 70 points just once since and scored in the 40s three times. Despite those struggles, South Florida still won the AAC regular-season and tournament championship and reached the second round for the fourth time under coach Jose Fernandez. Sunday’s 57-53 win over Washington State was another game in which the defense had to do most of the heavy lifting. Elena Tsineke scored 18 points and made some big plays in the final minutes for the chance to play No. 1 seed NC State next.
30. BYU Cougars (Original seed: No. 11. Reseed: No. 8)
Nothing like being the last at-large team chosen for the field and being the first underdog to win a game. After a day in which all 16 higher seeds won, the Cougars shocked sixth-seeded Rutgers 69-66 for the 2021 tournament’s first upset. And they did it with a big comeback. Down 12 late in the fourth quarter, and behind heart-and-soul senior Paisley Harding, who had nine of her game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, BYU made every big play late. The Cougars were a No. 12 seed when they reached the Sweet 16 in 2014. Jennifer Hamson was a senior center on that team. Younger sister Sara is the starting senior center on this year’s squad.
31. Belmont Bruins (Original seed: No. 12. Reseed: No. 8)
Back in January, when COVID-19 issues forced the Bruins to miss 11 games, just playing again was the dream. Now they are still playing, and it isn’t a dream — although freshman guard Destinee Wells is playing like one. After scoring 32 points in the OVC championship, she bettered Gonzaga’s veteran guards for 25 in Belmont’s 64-59 upset. She also had seven assists without a turnover and will forever be the player who led the Bruins to their first NCAA tournament win.
32. Wright State Raiders (Original seed: No. 13 Reseed: No. 8)
The anatomy of an upset: Grab defensive rebounds, don’t turn over the ball, have a star to make big shots. The Raiders executed the formula well, if not perfectly, and pulled off the biggest surprise of the opening round to grab the program’s first women’s NCAA tournament victory. Wright State had 29 defensive rebounds and pounded Arkansas on the glass overall, 44-30. Turning it over 16 times was a few too many, but having Angel Baker more than compensated. The junior guard scored 26 points, none bigger than the 3-pointer she hit with 56 seconds remaining and immediately after the Razorbacks had grabbed a one-point lead. Wright State becomes the lowest seed to win a game in the NCAA tournament since Marist beat Georgia as a No. 13 seed in 2012.
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