SAN ANTONIO — The women’s NCAA Tournament regional semifinals field is set with many familiar faces like UConn, Baylor, Stanford and South Carolina. There’s also some fresh ones, including Michigan and Arizona.
The Sweet 16 will tip off Saturday with a much anticipated matchup between UConn and Iowa. The schools are led by heralded freshmen Paige Bueckers and Caitlyn Clark. Geno Auriemma, who will be coaching the Huskies for the first time in the tournament after being sidelined with COVID-19 the first two rounds, couldn’t remember a time when there was so much hype around two freshmen.
“It’s been a while since you have two kids that have had this kind of an impact, both on their teams and on the game itself nationally. To have one is kind of cool. To have two and to be so alike in so many ways?” Auriemma said. “And yet unfortunately, they’re going to be put in a situation where it’s like a big football game, where they say it’s (Tom) Brady versus Aaron Rodgers. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
“It’s two really, really young kids, really good players that do a lot for their teams.”
Clark has led Iowa back to the Sweet 16. The Hawkeyes are one of a record four Big Ten teams in the regional semifinals with. Michigan, Indiana and Maryland joining them.
Wolverines coach Kim Barnes Arico is happy to have her team in the regional semifinals for the first time as opposed to Connecticut, which is making its 27th consecutive appearance in the round of 16.
“Things have changed. You could go somewhere else and you could have the opportunity right away to make an impact and create something that’s never been done before,” she said. “Those kids are different. They are special in their own right and they wanted to do something that has never been done before and I’m thankful to coach a group of them.”
Arizona has made it back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1998 when coach Adia Barnes was playing for the Wildcats.
Asked how different the feeling was to get to the Sweet 16 as a coach as opposed to when she did it as a player, Barnes responded, “coaching is a lot harder than playing. Because as a player, you’re kind of oblivious to a lot of things. You just kind of go out and play.”
Barnes said it is also more meaningful and gratifying, getting to watch the players being rewarded for their hard work.
Some other things to know about this Sweet 16 field:
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
For the first time since 2013 three No. 6 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 with Michigan, Oregon and Texas all reaching the regional semifinals. At the other of the spectrum, for the third straight tournament all the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds reached the Sweet 16.
SHE SAID IT
“More and more people are noticing, more and more people are watching. I think a lot of people will tune in and watch this game and that’s exactly what you want for women’s college basketball.” — Caitlyn Clark, Iowa.
For the first time in the tournament the NCAAs will allow the public to attend games. That will be limited to 17% of the Alamodome’s capacity per game — which is roughly 4,800 tickets.
“We’re in Texas, so, I feel like we’re going to have a lot of fans,”″ Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith said. “People’s families finally start to get to come and everybody’s friends and everybody that weren’t on the ticket list, they finally get to come and watch the game. So, it’s about to be very exciting.”
The first couple of rounds only allowed each participant up to six tickets.