March is upon us and the best of the best in women’s college basketball are set to go head-to-head to decide who takes home the prestigious NCAA Division I title – let the madness commence.
Since the addition of the women’s tournament in 1982, it has become an important part of the sporting calendar and already has a rich history of iconic moments.
None more so than when Arike Ogunbowale drained late shots from deep in consecutive “Final Four” games to guide the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to the 2018 title – arguably the most clutch moment in college basketball history.
Fans will be hoping for similar levels of drama in the 2023 edition of the tournament as they fill out their brackets for the upcoming ‘Big Dance.’
What happened last year
South Carolina was victorious in 2022 after defeating Connecticut 64-49 in the national championship game. Led in the final by Destanni Henderson’s 26 points and Aliyah Boston’s double-double, the Gamecocks were a dominant force throughout the tournament to seal the victory.
With Boston – who likely will be the top pick in the upcoming WNBA draft – leading the undefeated Gamecocks again this year, South Carolina will be looking to retain the title.
The Gamecocks also have the advantage of being coached by Dawn Staley. The 52-year-old was named Naismith women’s college coach of the year in 2022 and is now seen by many as the best coach in women’s college basketball.
As ever, March Madness would not be complete without a “Cinderella” upsetting the odds along the way.
Last time around it was the Creighton Bluejays’ turn to shock the world. The No. 10 seed beat the No. 2 seed Iowa in the second-round and then the third-seeded Iowa State in the Sweet 16 stage.
Their run came to an end during the Elite Eight but the Bluejays had already made history by reaching this stage as a double-digit seed – just the fourth team to ever do so.
The 2023 format
For the second year in a row, 68 teams will be taking part in the tournament – adopting the format the men’s competition has used since 2011.
Thirty-two of these teams will automatically enter as winners of their respective Division I conference.
The next 36 will be selected as at-large entrants by the NCAA. The Selection Committee will reveal the at-large teams as part of the entire field on Selection Sunday.
The opening round of March Madness is known as the First Four. This round is made up of play-in games with the four-lowest seeded automatic qualifiers and the four-lowest seeded at-large teams. Winners of those games will then determine the round of 64.
The top 16 teams will host the first and second-round games from March 15-19 – a slight difference to the men’s tournament – as all of the men’s games are played at neutral sites.
After this, the regional semifinals – called the Sweet 16 – and the regional finals – the Elite Eight – will decide who makes it into the Final Four.
This year, the regional rounds will be hosted at two arenas, a change from last year, with the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in South Carolina and the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle hosting games between March 24-27.
The regional winners advance to the Final Four – taking place on March 31 at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas.
The NCAA championship game will be held at the same arena two days later.
Players to look out for
With March Madness proving an audition for the professional leagues, there are always stars who impress during the tournament before going on to have successful WNBA careers.
Here are three key players looking to make their mark during the big dance:
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
The 6-foot-5-inch forward helped lead the Gamecocks to the 2022 title and South Carolina will be among the frontrunners to go back-to-back.
Last year Boston became the first player to win both Naismith women’s defensive player of the year and Naismith women’s player of the year awards, the title given to the best women’s basketball player at college, and she is set to have a huge impact on this year’s tournament at both ends of the floor.
Not only did the 21-year-old take home the NCAA championship last year, but Boston also won the 2022 Most Outstanding Player award in recognition of the senior’s efforts in the Final Four.
Caitlin Clark, Iowa
Clark has been lights out for Iowa in the Big Ten Conference.
The junior’s season was perfectly encapsulated in the Big Ten Championship final where in just 33 minutes, the 21-year-old stuffed the stat sheet. Clark dropped 30 points, 17 assists and 10 boards on the way to the Hawkeyes’ 105-72 demolition of the Iowa State Buckeyes – becoming the first player in Big Ten tournament championship history to record a triple-double.
The Iowa native will be hoping to take the Hawkeyes all the way in March Madness – possibly leading to a major individual accolade as a result; she was a finalist for the Naismith women’s player of the year award in 2022.
Cameron Brink, Stanford
There’s a block party whenever Brink is in town.
The 21-year-old is a defensive phenom for the Cardinals and will be a tough matchup for anyone thanks to her towering presence in the paint. Despite Stanford falling to the UCLA Bruins in the final of the Pac-12 tournament, the junior managed to record a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds on the big occasion.
Brink’s impressive footwork and touch in the paint means she is also a big threat on offense.