NCAA women’s tournament: Can No. 1 Baylor survive Dallas region?
STATE OF THE NO. 1
Baylor hasn’t lost since Dec. 30, a span of 20 games, and it enters the tournament with many of the assets you need to win a title. There’s veteran leadership at the point with senior Niya Johnson, who leads the nation in assists. Duke transfer Alexis Jones has really found her game late in the season. She was the Big 12 tournament's most outstanding player after averaging 15.7 points and 7.7 assists in three games. Then there’s Nina Davis, an All-America forward and a very tricky player to guard given she’s an undersized post with guard skills. Baylor can go nine deep, but it does start a pair of freshmen centers (6'4" Beatrice Mompremier and 6'7" Kalani Brown) so it will be interesting to see how the posts react deep in the tournament. Like UConn, the Lady Bears are very tough on defense, ranking third in the country in field goal percentage defense (33%). This is a legit No. 1 seed and should handle Oregon State in the regional final.
No. 4 Texas A&M over No. 3 Louisville
The women’s tournament is usually about chalk, so it’s tougher to find upsets compared to the men. This is mild one, but I like Texas A&M playing in Dallas knocking off a Louisville team that is very talented but still one year away from reaching its peak.
Gary Blair is a postseason magician and the Aggies can score a boatload behind the two Courtneys: Senior guard/forward Walker (18.1 PPG) and senior guard Williams (12.1). Texas A&M lacks depth but it can play three seniors in the starting lineup including guards Jordan Jones and Chelsea Jennings. The Aggies will be a tough out given top-20 wins against Duke, Cal, Oklahoma and Mississippi State, but the Aggies’ most impressive game this year was a one-point loss to South Carolina in Columbia in January, a game in which they led at the break. Two straight losses at the end of the season—they shot very poorly—isn’t a good omen, but never count out a Blair team at this time of the year.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Baylor’s Jones has averaged 14.6 points per game this season, but she’s raised her game against ranked opponents, averaging nearly 20 points per game against top-25 teams. She was named the Big 12 tournament’s most outstanding player after finishing with 16 points and eight assists in a win over Texas. A 5'11" redshirt junior who sat out last year after her transfer, Jones is super athletic with a great handle (when she’s under control) and great court vision.
“She can do things with a basketball that a lot of girls can't do,” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey.