Post players are having a big impact on the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Teams that have reached the Sweet 16 teams are getting major contributions from their “Bigs.”
The impressive list includes:
— Aliyah Boston. The South Carolina All-American has had 39 points and 25 rebounds in her first two career NCAA games as the Gamecocks reached the round of 16 for a seventh straight year.
— Sedona Prince. Oregon’s 6-foot-7 Prince became the center of attention on sports shows with dunk during warmups before the Ducks’ rallied for a second-round win against Georgia to reach the regional semifinals for a fourth consecutive season.
— Olivia Nelson-Ododa. At 6-5, the UConn Huskie has 39 points through two games. UConn is in the Sweet 16 for a 27th consecutive season.
There will plenty of length on the court this weekend; 13 of the teams start at least one player 6-3 or taller.
“I’ll be watching that,” said Debbie Antonelli, college basketball analyst and broadcaster.
Boston, one of the Gamecocks talented sophomores, has been a steadying influence as her team dealt with high expectations after their success a season ago. South Carolina spent the last 10 weeks of the 2020 season at No. 1 and won their final 26 straight games before COVID-19 ended what seemed to be a deep tournament run.
During the offseason, Boston worked on improving her fitness and technique under the basket. The results were an All-American season in which she averaged a double-double.
“The energy that she puts into a game and the preparation, and the duration of the 40 minutes that’s being played is unmatched by any player on the collegiate level,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “Take that to the bank on both sides of the basketball.”
Boston and South Carolina, the top seed in the Hemisfair Region, will play Sunday against No. 5 seed Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets advanced in part due to 6-4 Lorela Cubaj, who has 35 points and 22 rebounds combined in the Yellow Jackets two tournament wins.
Oregon’s Prince has been a focal poin t both on and off the court this tournament. The Texas transfer who hadn’t played in two seasons because of a broken right leg in 2018, has gradually worked her into the lineup. She’s third on the team at 10.7 points a game.
She also started the calls for equal treatment between the men’s and women’s tournament with her video on social media showing the disparity between the weight and workout facilities at the two events. Spoiler alert — the men’s tournament throughout Indiana had the more lavish setup.
“I hope they see women’s basketball is not boring. It’s fun. It’s exciting,” she said earlier this week. “It’s different than men’s basketball, but in an amazing way. We play hard and with our hearts and there’s so many fundamentals.
“It’s such a different game, so we wanted to show that we’re fun to watch.”
Prince and the sixth-seeded Ducks will play No. 2 seed Louisville in the Alamo Region on Sunday.
The buzz when top-seed UConn plays No. 5 seed Iowa is the high-profile matchup between heralded freshmen Paige Bueckers for the Huskies and Caitlin Clark for the Hawkeyes. But there will be plenty of action closer to the basket, too, with UConn’s Nelson-Ododa and Iowa’s 6-3 Monika Czinano, who is averaging 18.5 points and seven rebounds in the tournament.
Czinano leads the country in field goal percentage (66.9 %) and has become a favorite target for Clark’s passes inside.
Antonelli believes versatility is key for post players.
Gone are the days when a player could plant themselves inside and make basket after basket. Complex schemes and swarming defenders make it essential that bigs make outside shots or pass to open teammates.
“It’s the way the game has evolved,” she said.
The women’s field is filled with versatile post players.
Defending champion Baylor, seeded second in the River Walk Region, relies on 6-3 Queen Egbo, who averages 11.3 points and 8.6 rebounds. She also has 35 steals, tied for third on the team. Baylor will face Michigan on Saturday.
North Carolina State, the No. 1 seed in the Mercado Region, features 6-5 Elissa Cunane, a strong junior who helped the Wolfpack back to the Sweet 16 for a third straight tournament. North Carolina State goes against Indiana on Saturday.
Cunane had to improve her outside shot and passing ability to thrive inside this season.
“I had to learn that,” said Cunane, who matched her career best in assists and cut her turnovers down from 76 last to 42 this season.
And don’t forget about the projected No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft: 6-5 Charli Collier.
She has helped the Texas Longhorns reach the regional semifinals for the first time in three years. Collier, a junior, plans to graduate this spring and has declared her intentions to go pro.
First, though, she and the Longhorns take on high-scoring Maryland for a spot in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
More AP women’s college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball