The action is heating up in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, as Monday's two Elite Eight contests will determine half of the Final Four field.
One undefeated No. 1 seed in Notre Dame was the first to punch a ticket to the national semifinals by dominating Baylor in the opening contest. Fellow perfect-record powerhouse Connecticut then joined the Fighting Irish for next week's spectacle in Nashville by easily disposing of third seed Texas A&M.
Read on to find out how each of Monday's games unfolded, along with a schedule of what's to come on Day 2.
Note: To view the complete bracket, visit NCAA.com.
Day 1 Scores
|No. 1 Notre Dame||No. 2 Baylor||88-69|
|No. 1 Connecticut||No. 3 Texas A&M||69-54|
|Time (ET)||Matchup||TV||Live Stream|
|7 p.m.||No. 3 Louisville vs. No. 4 Maryland||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|9 p.m.||No. 2 Stanford vs. No. 4 North Carolina||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
Notre Dame 88, Baylor 69
Outstanding proficiency (30-of-33 shooting) from the free-throw line and excellent balance from their starting lineup allowed the Fighting Irish to improve to 36-0 on the season.
Jewell Loyd was the top scorer for Notre Dame with 30 points to go with five rebounds, but forward Natalie Achonwa created a big mismatch on the inside. Achonwa put up 19 points of her own and pulled down 15 rebounds.
Unfortunately, she went down late in the game on a drive to the basket with a knee injury, causing her to leave the floor for the rest of the contest.
WNDU's Angelo Di Carlo reported what coach Muffet McGraw said about Achonwa's status after the game:
Muffet McGraw says Natalie Achonwa will have MRI tomorrow on her knee. Status not known outside of that.— Angelo Di Carlo (@angdicarlowndu) April 1, 2014
Lady Bears star guard Odyssey Sims was going to need a big performance for her young squad to pull the upset and advance. Sims did score a game-high 33 points, but committed nine turnovers and was one of many Baylor players in foul trouble, which hurt the underdogs' ability to mount a second-half surge.
Dave Zirin of The Nation pointed out how valuable Sims' leadership was as the team trailed:
If Odyssey Sims gets frustrated, Baylor's done. Everyone looks at her for a lead.— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) April 1, 2014
Sims discussed how well the young members of her team stepped up throughout the season before the game, per the AP's Doug Feinberg (via Yahoo! Sports):
...This team has grown faster than all of us really expected. The freshmen came a long way and stepped up to the plate. They learned their role and are giving us a lot of production. It would feel unbelievable.
None of Sims' teammates scored in double figures, and the Lady Bears shot just 33.8 percent as a team. Between her individual giveaways and the lack of production from her supporting cast, it's hard to imagine the senior Sims wasn't feeling a little bit of frustration.
But Sims was exemplary in being the driving force for this Baylor squad. It's helped lay a foundation for the young Lady Bears to build on entering next season and eased the transition from last year's experienced team.
As for the victorious Fighting Irish, they will await the winner of Tuesday's contest between host Louisville and Maryland in the Louisville Region.
While Notre Dame won't have home-court advantage any longer, until an opponent proves it can be defeated, it's hard to imagine the Fighting Irish not advancing to the national final.
Connecticut 69, Texas A&M 54
In another unsurprising development, coach Geno Auriemma's Huskies kept their record unblemished by crushing the Aggies.
For the first time in a decade, both the men's and women's teams from UConn will play in the Final Four, which the team's official athletics Twitter account made note of:
All five Connecticut starters scored in double digits on Monday. Forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 17 points to top all scorers, but center Stefanie Dolson had the biggest impact down low.
Dolson patrolled the paint and put up 14 points and 10 rebounds to go with a whopping eight blocked shots. Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com feels Dolson's skills will translate well to the WNBA level:
How good a pro will UConn center Stefanie Dolson be? I think she will be valuable and durable. Great passer, team player.— Mechelle Voepel (@MechelleV) April 1, 2014
Texas A&M doesn't shoot well from the outside, so it was an uphill battle to pull the upset in the first place. With the defense Dolson was playing on the inside, though, the Aggies couldn't manufacture points at the charity stripe often. They shot just nine free throws and made four.
Courtney Walker led her side with 14 points in defeat. Ball movement wasn't great, as Texas A&M lacked crispness in half-court sets, assisting on just nine of 24 field goals, compared to the Huskies who had dimes on 20 of 27 baskets for the game.
UConn will face second-seeded Stanford or No. 4 North Carolina in the national semifinals. Given how well the Huskies are playing, it seems they are on a collision course with the Fighting Irish for the NCAA title game.
In last year's Final Four, Notre Dame lost to the Huskies by 18 points, so it will be pining for revenge if that dream matchup comes to fruition. There's a good chance it will happen, since no team has beaten either of these women's basketball powerhouses yet in 2013-14.