As always, there were blowouts in the opening weekend of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Connecticut stretched its win streak to 108 games with a 116-55 victory over Albany. Duke rolled over Hampton 94-31. And Baylor beat Texas Southern 119-30 – the most lopsided score in tournament history.
But it was a much different story at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, where both first-round games were extremely close and kept fans captivated until the final buzzer.
Fourth-seeded University of Miami needed a tie-breaking layup with 1.5 seconds remaining to get past No. 13 seed Florida Gulf Coast 62-60. In the other opener, No. 12 seed Quinnipiac won its first NCAA Tournament game in school history by eliminated fifth-seeded Big East champion Marquette 68-65 to set up Monday’s late second-round game against the Hurricanes.
In other first-round games around the country, tenth-seeded Oregon edged past No. 7 Temple 71-70, powerhouse Stanford needed a furious fourth-quarter rally to get past New Mexico State 72-64, and No. 5 seed Texas A&M battled back from a 21-point deficit to beat Penn 63-61.
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Over the years, the men’s tournament has been deeper, and known to have more big upsets. While UConn, Duke, Notre Dame, Baylor and a few other schools continue to dominate the women’s game, newer powers such as South Carolina, Mississippi State and Oregon State have emerged. Also, the gap between the power conferences and mid-majors appears to be shrinking.
Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri said upon beating Marquette, she received a lot of congratulatory texts and e-mails from other mid-major coaches.
“From the mid-major perspective, how they were all like, go in and represent us well, feeling that burden and what we talk about, you know, that upset, that 5-12, the respect, the mid-major shouldering that and winning,” Fabbri said. “I was so pleased and was just so proud to represent and see how excited they were for us. Getting that win and championing that cause for all of them. It was awesome.”
Fabbri said she sees a deepening of the women’s talent, and she suspects there will be more and more upsets in years to come.
“I believe there are continued elite programs, and they remain elite, but you're start to go see now maybe programs from five to ten, 11, 12, you're seeing Texas, more programs starting to bubble up, and starting to take that mantle.
“You're start to go see more upsets and you're certainly starting to see that now with the 5-12. Unfortunately, we were looking at another 5-12 (Texas A&M vs. Penn) that almost happened in another close one. It's happening. It's starting. The pendulum is starting to slowly happen and the more we can see the results in this tournament as it's slowly starting to shift, the better it's going to be.”
UM coach Katie Meier agreed, and said she may schedule more mid-majors in the non-conference part of the season to prepare for the varied styles come March.
“We've spent two months not playing against a certain style, and then poof, your first couple of rounds here it comes,” Meier said, after her team had to scrap and claw to beat the three-point shooting FGCU Eagles. “And you see it on the men's side, too. They have a hard time, the bigs get neutralized a little bit.
“And Quinnipiac and Gulf Coast are just so established, they're just such established programs that they go out of conference and they play against our style a lot more than we play against their style. That's what they do in the nonconference. And we went and played Ohio State, and Kentucky and St. John's, we didn't play that style so much. So, that was a real task...and maybe that's something we keep in mind scheduling moving forward.”