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Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Breaking down NCAA Sweet 16 matchups and determining factors

Mar 28, 2019

For the second time in years, five Pac-12 women’s basketball teams took their place in the NCAA Sweet 16, meaning that five of the eight regional semifinal games will feature a Pac-12 team.

The conference that’s won more NCAA games the last four years than any other will play this weekend for the opportunity to make the trip to Tampa for the Final Four.

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

#2-seed Stanford (30-4) vs. #11-seed Missouri State (25-9)
Region: Chicago
Date/Time: Saturday, 3 p.m.
History: Stanford leads series 2-0. Last played 2015-16 season.

Prospects: The Cardinal, making its 12th-straight appearance in the Sweet 16, meets this year’s Cinderella to play for a chance at the Elite Eight. Missouri State, the only double-digit seed to reach the regional semifinals, is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001 and has one of the best comeback stories of the season, losing 7 of its last 8 games before rallying to reach the NCAA brackets. Stanford comes into this game with an 11-game winning streak and the surging play of junior guard DiJonai Carrington, who kept her team in the game in a rocky first-half against BYU in the second round on Monday evening with 14 points in the first two quarters. The Cardinal haven’t given up more than 65 points in a game since February 17 vs. USC.

X-Factor: Anna Wilson. Wilson has seen limited minutes through much of her Stanford career, but the guard who is best known as Russell Wilson’s younger sister, has found her role on this team as a spark with her strong perimeter defense and she could be in a position to play a key role in this game and beyond for Tara VanDerveer’s team.

The path forward: A Stanford win will pit the Cardinal against the winner of top-seeded Notre Dame and No. 4 seed Texas A&M.

#1-seed Mississippi State (32-2) vs. #5-seed Arizona State (22-10)
Region: Portland
Date/Time: Friday
History: Two teams split the series 1-1. Last played in 2018

Prospects: After a stellar defensive effort against Miami’s formidable post game, the ante has been upped for the Sun Devils, who are 2-2 in Sweet 16 games all-time. ASU will go against one of the nation’s best posts in MSU’s Teaira McCowan. The Bulldogs have been to the national title game two years in a row and come up empty. They are hungry to go back again and finish the job with McCowan and forward Anriel Howard, who are combining to average 34.8 points and 22 rebounds a game. Arizona State’s bench scored 29 points against Miami, providing the Sun Devils depth and fresh legs, which they will need against one of the nation’s best teams.

X-Factor: Sophia Elenga. The senior forward came up big against Miami in the second-round with nine points and four rebounds in 18 minutes including a key bucket with 1:53 left in the game. Elenga will give the Sun Devils needed depth in the post as they try to stop MSU star Teaira McCowan. Her minutes will be critical.

The path forward: A win by the Sun Devils would send them to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009 and would put them against the winner of No. 1 Oregon and No. 6 South Dakota State.

#2-seed Oregon (31-4) vs. #6-seed South Dakota State (28-6)
Region: Portland
Date/Time: Friday, 8:30 p.m.
History: South Dakota State leads the series, 2-1. Last played in December 12, 2018. (Oregon, 87-79).

Prospects: This may well feel like a home-court advantage for the Ducks at the Moda Center against the Jackrabbits, who knocked off third-seeded Syracuse and have won 18 in a row coming into their first-ever Sweet 16 game. This will be a battle against two offensively talented teams. Two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year Sabrina Ionescu, who had a triple-double in the second round against Indiana, has scored in double figures in 68 straight games. South Dakota State, with four players averaging double-figure scoring, is led by guard Macy Miller (18.1 ppg), who had 11 points and 10 rebounds against Syracuse. The Ducks’ narrow road win back in December will have them ready for a battle on Friday night in Portland.

X-Factor: Taylor Chavez. The freshman guard has made an immediate impact on the Ducks in her debut season and she gives them much-needed depth. Chavez hasn’t played since February 24 with a foot injury, but may be able to return to the court this weekend to bring the Ducks an offensive spark off the bench.

The path forward: A win by the top-seeded Ducks puts them in the Elite Eight for the third straight season and facing the winner of No. 2 Mississippi State and No. 5 Arizona State.

#4-seed Oregon State (26-7) vs. #1-seed Louisville (31-3)
Region: Albany
Date/Time: Friday, 6 p.m.
History: Louisville leads the series, 2-0. Last met in 2018 NCAA Elite Eight.

Prospects: Oregon State, playing in its fourth straight Sweet 16, played two tight games on their home floor to advance, and as their reward, they will face the top-seeded Cardinals in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. OSU was eliminated in the Elite Eight by Jeff Walz’s team last year. The Beavers completed what coach Scott Rueck called a gritty weekend, coming from behind in the first-round to defeat Boise State and grinding out a win against Gonzaga in the second round. Guards Mikayla Pivec and Destiny Slocum will need to lead the way against a stingy Louisville team that is seeking its eighth straight trip to the Elite Eight and features one of the best players in the country in guard Asia Durr, who was named a finalist for the Wade Trophy on Wednesday. Louisville is allowing its opponents an average of just 42.0 points a game in two dominant NCAA Tournament wins.

X-Factor: Taya Corosdale is not one of the marquee names on the OSU roster, but she is one of their most important players on the floor. Corosdale, has started 31 of 32 games this season and ranks second in minutes played. She led Oregon State with 15 rebounds against Boise State, and has a double-double in both of the Beavers’ postseason wins this season.

The path forward: The Beavers would reach the Elite Eight for third time in four years and will take on the winner of the UCLA-Connecticut game for a second trip to the Final Four in the last three years.

#6-seed UCLA (22-12) vs. #2-seed Connecticut (33-2)
Region: Albany
Date/Time: Friday, 4 p.m.
History: UConn leads the series, 5-0. Last played at UCLA in 2018.

Prospects: The Bruins continue to impress as they reach the Sweet 16 for the fourth year in a row. And now the biggest challenge of the season, a matchup against powerhouse Connecticut, which finds itself in the unusual position of being a No. 2 seed in this year’s tournament. The Huskies are led by seniors Napheesa Collier (22 double-doubles) and Katie Lou Samuelson, and were pushed hard in the second-round by Buffalo before winning, 84-72. UCLA has a burgeoning national star in sophomore forward Michaela Onyenwere, who had a career-high 30 points in the second-round win over Maryland and no one in the country pushes pace faster than point guard Japreece Dean.

X-Factor: Lindsay Corsaro. The redshirt freshman has hit 38 3-pointers this season at a 34 percent clip. Corsaro’s 3-point shooting will be necessary for the Bruins to be able to keep offensive pace with the explosive Huskies.

The path forward: If the Bruins pull off the upset and keep Connecticut from reaching the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005, they will take on the winner of No. 4 Oregon State and top-seeded Louisville.

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. For previous Michelle Smith features on, visit the archives page. She was just named winner of the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball.