After an opening day of top seeds holding serve, the women’s NCAA Tournament became a little less predictable Monday as double-digit seeds BYU, Belmont and Wright State advanced.
No. 11 BYU got things started with a 69-66 victory over sixth-seeded Rutgers for the tournament’s first upset. Wright State, seeded 13th, followed a short time later by eliminating No. 4 seed Arkansas 66-62.
Belmont, a 12th seed, won its first NCAA game, beating fifth-seeded Gonzaga 64-59.
All three teams shook things up after the favorites went a perfect 16-0 to begin the Texas-based tournament on Sunday.
The biggest stunner may have been BYU, one of the last teams — if not the last — to get an at-large bid into the field of 64. And they were matched up against Rutgers, led by Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer, who has led the Scarlet Knights to 17 NCAA appearances in 26 seasons.
Yet, Paisley Johnson Harding scored 28 points and the Cougars kept their poise down the stretch to reach the second round in consecutive tournaments. BYU will face third-seeded Arizona State for a spot in the Sweet 16.
“Coming into the NCAA Tournament, we just wanted to prove ourselves, and to everyone, to the nation, that we were going to fight and not let down and that we deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament,” WCC player of the year Shaylee Gonzales said.
The Cougars were beaten in the WCC title game on a last-second shot by Gonzaga. The Zags, though, lost to Belmont, which was 0-5 in its NCAA Tournament history.
The Bruins were the first Ohio Valley Conference women’s team to win an NCAA Tournament game since 1990.
Belmont guard Destinee Wells scored 25 points to lead her team into a second-round matchup with No. 4 seed Indiana.
“I came here to win championships and to make history, and we did that today,” Wells said. “I’m glad to see it’s paying off, all the hard work we put in over the season. We’ve been through a lot.”
Wright State, the Horizon League Tournament champions, figured to have little chance against offensive juggernaut Arkansas, which averaged 83 points a game to lead the Southeastern Conference. The Razorbacks also had dynamic star Chelsea Dungee and had defeated UConn and Baylor this season on the way to the NCAAs.
Yet, the Raiders were not intimidated.
Wright State took an early lead and then rallied after Arkansas went in front in the final minutes. Angel Baker’s 3-pointer with 29.1 seconds gave Wright State the lead for good as a 13th seed won a tournament game for the first time since 2012.
It was also Wright State’s first ever NCAA win in three trips to the tournament. The Raiders will play No. 4 seed Missouri State in the next round after the biggest upset of the first two days of the tournament.
“We stepped up to the challenge,” Baker said.
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