Albany engineered the day’s biggest upset, the Lady Vols escaped and more from Day 1 of the 2016 NCAA women’s tournament
The 2016 NCAA women’s tournament tipped off with 16 first-round games on Friday. SI.com rounded up a few thoughts from the opening day of the women’s bracket.
1. Albany engineered the day’s biggest upset against Florida
No. 12 Albany entered Friday having never won an NCAA tournament game. Fortunately for the Great Danes, nobody informed No. 5 Florida. The Danes turned some heads by upending the Gators, 61–59, despite trailing by as many as 17 points. Albany also had to manage without leading scorer Shereesha Richards, who rode the bench for key stretches with foul trouble.
But Albany’s Imani Tate picked up the scoring slack by dropping 28 points on an afternoon in which the Gators struggled to close things out. In fact, Florida hit just six of its final 30 field goals while the Great Danes closed the game on a 15–2 run. Now Albany moves on to face No. 4 Syracuse in front of a home crowd, but don’t underestimate Richards & Co. This program has won five straight America East titles, so it knows how to win.
2. No. 2 Oregon State looked more like a No. 1 seed
Oregon State’s first Pac-12 tournament title wasn’t enough to convince the selection committee of its worth as a top seed. Instead, the Beavers used a matchup with Troy to deliver a strong opening argument. No. 2 Oregon State dominated the Trojans, 73–31, leading 23–4 after the first quarter and holding Troy to 16.2%. Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Ruth Hamblin earned her title against Troy, chipping in 18 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks as her squad grabbed a whopping 65 rebounds. The win means Oregon State, which has won 19 of its last 20 games, remains one of the hottest teams in the tournament.
3. Tennessee avoided what would have been an inexcusable loss
The Lady Vols kicked off the NCAA tournament boasting their worst seed (No. 7) in program history. That tourney berth followed a regular season in which Tennessee lost a school-record 13 games. So on Friday, the last thing UT coach Holly Warlick needed was a loss in the first round, a setback Tennessee had suffered only once.
But the Lady Vols flirted with disaster for much of the day’s matchup with No. 10 Green Bay. After the Phoenix grabbed a 49–48 lead with 6:11 to play, they went more than six minutes without scoring a point as Tennessee turned on its defense. A late 10–0 run, along with 15 points from Te’a Cooper, pushed the Lady Vols to a 59–53 win. Warlick spent much of the season catching heat for her underachieving roster, but for the moment at least, Tennessee’s season remains intact. The question is, do the Lady Vols have a vintage tournament run in them?
4. Danaejah Grant’s tournament is over, and that’s a shame
No. 9 Auburn won its first NCAA tournament game since 2009 on Friday with a 68–57 victory over No. 8 St. John’s. But that game’s best performance came from the losing team. St. John’s senior guard Danaejah Grant, a first-team All-Big East selection, scored a game-high 25 points against the Tigers. Grant knocked down 10 of her 19 shots, including 4 of 6 from three-point range, while also leading the Red Storm with six rebounds.
Grant was a prolific player during her senior season, leading the Big East in scoring (19.7 points per game) and tying for first in the league with 15 20-point games during the regular season. Now women’s college basketball fans won’t get to enjoy Grant’s high-scoring ways again. But let’s not place all the blame on Auburn; St. John’s committed 25 turnovers in its loss on Friday.
5. Watch out for DePaul’s offense
It’s no secret that DePaul knows how to score the basketball. The No. 6 Blue Demons entered the NCAA tournament as the country’s seventh-best scoring team (81 points per game), but they flirted with their third 100-point game of the season in their 97–67 win over James Madison on Friday. DePaul sunk 11 three-pointers against the nation’s top three-point shooting defense, including three treys from Jessica January. Meanwhile, the Blue Demons set season-highs in points (55) and field-goal percentage (61) in the first half. Is this offense dangerous enough for a Final Four run?
“[DePaul’s] system is fantastic,” James Madison coach Kenny Brooks told reporters after the loss. “It reminds me a lot of the L.A. Clippers.”