By The Associated Press
March Madness has reached the Sweet 16! There is a twist this year for the women’s tournament: The NCAA picked two regional sites instead of four, with Greenville, South Carolina, and Seattle each hosting eight teams. Here is what to know:
GAMES TO WATCH
No. 4 Villanova (30-6) vs. No. 9 Miami (21-12), Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Fresno State transfers and NIL stars Haley and Hanna Cavinder can play, too, and have helped Miami earn a matchup with on-court star and first-team All-American Maddy Siegrist. She’s topped 1,000 points this season and is averaging 33 points for the upstart Wildcats in the tournament. Miami ousted No. 1 seed Indiana in the second round on Destiny Harden’s shot in the lane with 3.5 seconds left to get to its first Sweet 16 since 1992. The Wildcats’ only previous trip came in 2003.
No. 2 Maryland (27-6) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame, Saturday, 11:30 a.m. (ESPN)
Neither team is a stranger to deep runs in the tournament. The Terrapins had their hands full against Arizona in the second round until their second team All-American, Diamond Miller, took over. She scored 13 of her 24 in the third period and Maryland pulled away en route to their 11th Sweet 16. The Fighting Irish have lost their second team All-American, point guard Olivia Miles, with a knee injury, but the ACC regular season champs used defense and inside domination — two players with at least 15 rebounds and a 49-32 advantage — in dispatching Mississippi State. They’ll play in their 19th Sweet 16.
No. 1 South Carolina (34-0) vs. No. 4 UCLA (26-7), Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
The young Bruins are coming off a stirring victory against Oklahoma and now get to cross the country to face the uber-experienced Gamecocks, defending national champs, winners of 40 in a row and playing not far from home. They hope to show charisma – Charisma Osbourne, that is – whose 36 points led them back after they blew an 18-point lead against the Sooners. Reigning AP player of the year Aliyah Boston leads South Carolina, but with plenty of support.
No. 3 Ohio State (27-7) vs. No. 2 Connecticut (31-5), Saturday, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Buckeyes are heading to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row and will face a Huskies team that has been there 29 straight years. Gritty Ohio State has made a second-half comeback in four straight postseason games and beat North Carolina on Jacy Sheldon’s short jumper with 1.8 seconds left. UConn has been bolstered by the return of Azzi Fudd from a knee injury. She scored 16 of her 22 points in the third quarter to break open a tie game in their victory against Baylor. UConn’s Gena Auriemma leads all women’s coaches with 11 championships.
The top four seeds in the tournament were given to South Carolina, Indiana, Stanford and Virginia Tech. Stanford was the first to bow out last weekend and Indiana was ousted a day later by Miami.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The women’s tournament field is filled with stars, including South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, last season’s AP player of the year. She will have plenty of competition for the honor this year, including sharp-shooting Iowa star Caitlin Clark, LSU’s Angel Reese and more.
The Cavinder twins, gym rats who are wildly popular on social media, made their first tournament after transferring from Fresno State to Miami. The field is also remarkable for the high number of international players, a growing trend in women’s basketball.
Charisma Osborne scored a career-high 36 points to help UCLA rally after blowing an 18-point lead against Oklahoma to reach the Sweet 16. Alissa Pili had a career-high 33 points, eight rebounds and a career-high eight assists to lead Utah over Gardner-Webb.
Then there is Angel Reese, who scored 59 points and grabbed 40 rebounds for LSU through two wins, while fellow All-American Caitlin Clark scored 48 points and added 24 assists over two wins to help Iowa reach the Sweet 16.
Gun violence has cost lives and disrupted college sports all season, touching some of the top programs in college basketball. Coaches have been thrust into uncertain and unwelcome roles in trying to navigate the topic — as well as the fallout from the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
On a lighter note, if you think you know the women’s tournament, try this 25-question quiz. And do you think that juggernaut teams are good for the game?
Want to hear from the athletes themselves? UCLA freshman Kiki Rice and injured UConn star Paige Bueckers have each written diaries for AP about their “tourney journeys.”
HOW TO WATCH
The title game will be on a national network — ABC — for the first time since 1996. ABC plans to air at least a half-dozen other games, too.
Beside that, every game of the women’s tournament will be available on ESPN’s networks or streaming, with fans encouraged to navigate to the “Watch” tab on ESPN’s sites. There are multiple sites listing game times, channels and other details, including the NCAA site.
Who’s going to win the national championship?
Heading into the Sweet 16, the betting favorites (in order): South Carolina, UConn, LSU, Iowa, Maryland and Tennessee, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
With Indiana and Stanford gone, the Gamecocks are an even bigger favorite to become the first repeat champion in the women’s tournament since UConn won the last of four straight in 2016.
Where is the women’s Final Four? In Dallas, where the semifinals are March 31 and the championship game is April 2. As it happens, the men’s Final Four is a four-hour drive down the road in Houston that same weekend. ___ AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25