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Time to Shine: Women’s College Basketball NCAA Tournament

Time to Shine: Women’s College Basketball NCAA Tournament

Dominant teams. Legendary coaches. Record-shattering stars.

The 2023-2024 women’s college basketball season has been one for the ages — and the real excitement is just beginning.

Perhaps more than ever, the women’s game has grabbed the attention of college basketball fans from coast to coast, thanks to a long string of compelling storylines, charismatic characters and exceptional basketball.

As conference tournaments lead into the NCAA Tournament, this promises to be a month where more fans than ever tune in to see the game’s best on its biggest stage. 

It starts with the undisputed best team in the nation, the South Carolina Gamecocks. Coach Dawn Staley, who led her team to national titles in 2017 and 2022, guided this year’s squad to an undefeated regular season record. Despite having five players from last year’s team drafted by the WNBA, the Gamecocks finished a perfect 29-0.

They conquered their biggest obstacle twice, once in late January and again in the SEC championship when they beat the defending national champion LSU Tigers. The second game was not without controversy, though, after a shove between star players Kamilla Cardoso and Flau’jae Johnson turned into a bench-clearing brawl. The Gamecocks remained victorious despite the series of ensuing ejections.

This season also will be remembered for record-breaking moments when the biggest names in the women’s game surpassed not only women’s basketball records but men’s records, too.

In January, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer secured her place in history by claiming the record for most career coaching wins in college basketball history, surpassing legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Stanford finished the regular season ranked second in the nation and will be a team to watch in the tournament.

3 Teams Who Could Win It All

South Carolina

This one is a no-brainer. South Carolina has overpowered every opponent this season and shown no signs of letting up along the way. 

Senior center Cardoso leads the team on the court and on the stat sheet, averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds per game. She is suspended from the first game of the national tournament, but the Gamecocks have four other players averaging in double figures scoring, not to mention nine players averaging at least 14 minutes played per game. That combines to create a deep and balanced squad that will be difficult for any team to match up with in the tournament.

It helps that they have one of the game’s best coaches in Staley. A Hall of Famer as a player, she’s been every bit as good as a coach on both the collegiate and international levels. She’ll be looking for her third national title.

Iowa

When Clark gets hot, all bets are off. A year ago in the NCAA Tournament, Clark scored at least 30 points in four of the team’s six tournament games before the Hawkeyes ultimately fell to LSU in the championship game.

Iowa hovered near the top of the rankings most of this season, but suffered three conference losses that served as temporary setbacks. The Hawkeyes enter the postseason on a high note, having defeated then-No. 2 Ohio State in the regular season finale. 

Clark, along with fellow Iowa star Hannah Stuelke, will have a chance to soak up the spotlight if the Hawkeyes can challenge South Carolina for the title.

USC

The future is bright in college basketball because, just as Clark is moving on to the WNBA, USC freshman JuJu Watkins is poised to step into the spotlight.

The freshman guard and Los Angeles native has averaged 27.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. She is the engine that led the Trojans to a 23-5 record and a No. 5 ranking at the end of the regular season. Though USC was just 3-4 against ranked teams this season, if Watkins is on top of her game — she dropped 51 points in a win over Stanford last month — the Trojans can compete with any team in the nation.

It’ll take extraordinary performances from Watkins and fellow team leaders McKenzie Forbes and Rayah Marshall, but USC is definitely a team to watch.

A Cinderella Contender

Middle Tennessee State

While all eyes are on the game’s iconic teams and most electric stars, there’s always one team that catches fans off guard with an impressive showing in the tournament.

This year, don’t overlook Middle Tennessee State.

The champions of Conference USA, the Blue Raiders finished 25-4 overall and 15-0 in conference play. They haven’t lost a game since December 30 and haven’t won by less than 11 points since January 10.

The Blue Raiders have a balanced scoring attack, led by senior guard Savannah Wheeler, and they’re bringing plenty of momentum into the big dance.

No matter what happens in March, we’re surely in for an exciting few weeks of college basketball as the game’s best teams and brightest stars look to write new chapters in the record books.

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