Is Stanford’s stunning fall a sign of shifting basketball landscape?

Ole Miss sent shockwaves through the NCAA Tournament late Sunday night when it pulled off a major upset in the second round, beating Stanford on its home court, 54-49.

The Cardinal, who won the national championship in 2021, are the first No. 1 seed to miss the Sweet 16 since 2009 and are just the eighth No. 1 seed to lose in the first or second round of the women’s tournament

The 8-seed rebels, who pride themselves on defending themselves, were suffocating. The Cardinal shot 32.7% from the field and missed too many layups. Haley Jones, projected to be a top-five pick in April’s WNBA draft, and Cameron Brink combined for 36 points and 21 rebounds, while the rest of their team had 13 points and 18 bounces The Cardinal never led in the game, but tied it 49-49 with 1:19 left on a Brink free throw. Stanford turned the ball over 21 times, including three times in the final 24 seconds, ending any hopes of a victory.

Stanford was a questionable No. 1 seed to begin with, earning it over Caitlin Clark’s Iowa team, which was awarded a No. 2 seed in the same region. The Cardinal didn’t win the Pac-12 either, losing the outright title to second-seeded Utah and then falling to No. 4 seed UCLA in the conference tournament semifinals.

Ole Miss now returns to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007 and will face the winner of Monday’s matchup between No. 4 Texas and No. 5 Louisville. While this is an exciting time for coach Yolett McPhee-McCunin’s team, it also shows how the women’s game in general is growing, with more teams proving capable opponents of the usual powerhouses. There have been a few upsets in those early games, with No. 12 Toledo beating Big 12 champion and No. 5 seed Iowa State, as well as No. 9 South Dakota State and No. 10 of Princeton reaching the second round.

“I think the women’s tournament was really deep this year, deeper than last year, which is great to see,” Jones said. “We hate being the ones that happen to us – it leaves a greasy, sore taste in our mouths.

“I think there’s a lot of depth throughout the tournament, and we knew it was going to be that way. It’s just a shame we have to be on the other side.”

With Stanford out of the way, who will make it out of the Seattle Regional 4? Do Clark and the Hawkeyes have an easier path to the semifinals? How far can the rebels go? McPhee-McCunin, who has been at Oxford since 2018, has revamped the defense and turned it into a dangerous team. If they can ruin Stanford, they can do the same to other favored teams in the future.

“Everybody had a dream,” McPhee-McCunin told reporters after the game. “I’m a dreamer and I try to be a dream merchant for my players.

“But like, how cool is it to end up with someone you admire [in Tara VanDerveer]? Like it’s cool. I look up to Tara, so I’ll never forget that.”

Caitlin Clark didn’t let Iowa down this time

Well, it was a close call.

Caitlin Clark scored 22 points and added 12 assists and three steals as No. 2 seed Iowa narrowly beat No. 10 Georgia, 74-66, on its home court Sunday afternoon.

It was almost deja vu for the Hawkeyes, who were upset by a different No. 10 seed at this point in the NCAA Tournament last year. That game had to be on the team’s mind as the Bulldogs kept things tight.

In 2022, that same Iowa team (the top five are the same three years in a row) lost at home to No. 10 Creighton, the Cinderella of the tournament that ended up advancing to the Elite Eight. Clark had a double-double in that game, but it wasn’t enough.

This time, he had more help. While Clark accounted for more than half of the Hawkeyes’ offense, Monika Czinano had 20 points and nine rebounds, Gabbie Marshall scored 15 points and McKenna Warnock added 14 points and eight boards.

Georgia turned the ball over twice in 37 seconds down two with 1:07 left. That’s when Clark, one of the favorites to win player of the year, hit a jumper to give the Hawkeyes some cushion. He then sank four free throws down the stretch after two Bulldog fouls in the final three seconds.

Now, the Hawkeyes can take a deep breath as they advance to the Sweet 16, where they will face the winner of Duke-Colorado in Seattle.

South Carolina continues to look unstoppable

For anyone who was able to step away from their TVs for a couple of hours to get some fresh air on Sunday, here’s your NCAA Tournament update: South Carolina is still dominating and still very much in the hunt to defend the their national championship.

The No. 1-seeded Gamecocks defeated No. 8-seeded South Florida 76-45 at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, extending their current winning streak to 40 games, which dates back to defeating the SEC title last year over Kentucky.

Zia Cooke led all scorers with 21 points, National Player of the Year candidate Aliyah Boston had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Laeticia Amihere added 10 points, six rebounds and a block.

While the final score and stat sheet would suggest this was a typical South Carolina blowout, things were a little edgy to begin with. The Bulls led after the first quarter, making it just the seventh time this season that the Gamecocks trailed after 10 minutes.

Before the game, head coach Jose Fernandez said his team would not be intimidated by the moment or the atmosphere, playing in Columbia in front of a raucous crowd. USF beat Texas and Arkansas earlier this season, when those opponents were nationally ranked, and played other NCAA tournament teams like NC State, Ohio State and Villanova. They also played UConn close last season, so this group knew what it was like to play in a big game facing him.

“I look at it as they have all the pressure on them,” Fernandez said before the game. “It’s March. Anything can happen. We’ll do what we do and see what happens.”

The Bulls certainly tested the Gamecocks, attacking the glass, getting points in the paint, shooting 3s and generally not seeming afraid to go right at the defending champions on their home court. In the first and second quarters, South Florida played physical and made it difficult for South Carolina to get anything going inside, holding them to 12 points in the paint when averaging 44.5 points per game . South Carolina held a narrow 33-29 lead at halftime.

Any glimmer of hope South Florida had that might hang on was quickly dashed in the third quarter.

Legendary coach Dawn Staley showed her depth and used different combinations to put the game away. He has his starting lineup of Boston, Cooke, Victaria Saxton, Brea Beal and Kierra Fletcher, but can tweak things slightly to add speed, size and shake things up as the game dictates. For example, Bree Hall came off the bench and had seven points and six rebounds, including a team-high four offensive boards. He also hit a bell to end the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter with the game already out of reach, Amihere had a monster block on defense, came out in transition, called for the ball and made a layup to give his team a 22-point lead.

South Carolina’s bench, which ranks first nationally with a 36.8 PPG average, scored 30 points. As a team, they had 10 blocks, four of which came from Saxton, and outrebounded the Bulls 55-28, including 24 offensive boards.

Other notable numbers for South Carolina included 34 points in the paint, 17 second-chance points and holding the Bulls to 16 points in the second half.

As Staley’s team reaches its ninth straight Sweet 16, the question that has been asked all season remains: Can anyone finish off the Gamecocks?

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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