March Madness has reached the Elite Eight! And unlike in the men’s bracket, two No. 1 seeds are still playing in the women’s bracket. Perennial contender UConn saw its streak of 14 straight Final Fours end, but there’s plenty of intrigue and sharpshooters left in the tourney. LSU has completed its rapid rise with Kim Mulkey, reaching the Final Four in its second season under the former Baylor coach. The Tigers are in the Final Four for the first time in 15 years after beating Miami 54-42. And what about Iowa’s Caitlin Clark? The star of the No. 2 seed Hawkeyes put on quite a show in Seattle, finishing with 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in a 97-83 win over fifth-seeded Louisville. Iowa is in the Final Four for the first time in 30 years. Here is what to know:
GAMES TO WATCH
No. 1 South Carolina (35-0) vs No. 2 Maryland (28-6), Monday, 7 p.m. EDT.
The Terrapins are next in the barrel against the defending champion Gamecocks, and it’s a rematch from the opening week of the season, when South Carolina cruised to an 81-56 victory. The Terps got 18 points apiece from Diamond Miller and Shyanne Sellers and beat Notre Dame 76-59 to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in eight years. They beat a team missing two starters, which won’t be the case against Dawn Staley’s team. South Carolina employed its defense-and-rebounding-first focus in beating UCLA 59-43. The Gamecocks held UCLA to 15 first-half points, got eight points and 14 rebounds from first-team All-American Aliyah Boston, and cruised to their 41st consecutive victory.
No. 1 Virginia Tech (30-4) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (28-7), Monday, 9 p.m. EDT.
The gritty Buckeyes slew one giant, but an unknown beast awaits in the No. 1 seed Hokies. Ohio State did what 14 previous foes have failed to do — ending the Huskies’ streak of reaching the Final Four for 14 straight years. The Buckeyes did it by forcing 25 turnovers. The Hokies sent home another blueblood women’s program, leading throughout, blowing most of an 18-point lead and beating the Lady Vols 73-64. Guard Georgia Amoore has been unstoppable. She scored a career-best 29 points against Tennessee. The Hokies have won 14 in a row but have never ventured this far in the NCAA Tournament.
The top four seeds in the tournament were given to South Carolina, Indiana, Stanford and Virginia Tech. Stanford was the first to bow out last weekend, Indiana was ousted a day later by Miami.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The women’s tournament field is filled with stars, including South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, last season’s AP player of the year. She will have plenty of competition for the honor this year, including sharp-shooting Iowa star Caitlin Clark, LSU’s Angel Reese and more.
The Cavinder twins, Haley and Hanna, gym rats who are wildly popular on social media, made their first tournament after transferring from Fresno State to Miami. The field is also remarkable for the high number of international players, a growing trend in women’s basketball.
Charisma Osborne scored a career-high 36 points to help UCLA rally after blowing an 18-point lead against Oklahoma to reach the Sweet 16. Alissa Pili had a career-high 33 points, eight rebounds and a career-high eight assists to lead Utah over Gardner-Webb.
Then there is Reese, who has 76 points and 52 rebounds for LSU through three wins, while fellow All-American Clark has 79 points and 32 assists over three wins for Iowa.
Gun violence has cost lives and disrupted college sports all season, touching some of the top programs in college basketball. Coaches have been thrust into uncertain and unwelcome roles in trying to navigate the topic — as well as the fallout from the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
On a lighter note, if you think you know the women’s tournament, try this 25-question quiz. And do you think that juggernaut teams are good for the game?
Want to hear from the athletes themselves? UCLA freshman Kiki Rice and injured UConn star Paige Bueckers have each written diaries for The AP about their “tourney journeys.”
HOW TO WATCH
The title game will be on a national network — ABC — for the first time since 1996. ABC plans to air at least a half-dozen other games, too.
Beside that, every game of the women’s tournament will be available on ESPN’s networks or streaming, with fans encouraged to navigate to the “Watch” tab on ESPN’s sites. There are multiple sites listing game times, channels and other details, including the NCAA site.
Who’s going to win the national championship?
Heading into the Sweet 16, the betting favorites (in order): South Carolina, UConn, LSU, Iowa, Maryland and Tennessee, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
With Indiana, Stanford and UConn gone, the Gamecocks are an even bigger favorite to become the first repeat champion in the women’s tournament since UConn won the last of four straight in 2016.
Where is the women’s Final Four? In Dallas, where the semifinals are March 31 and the championship game is April 2. As it happens, the men’s Final Four is a four-hour drive down the road in Houston that same weekend.
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25