Mar 15, 2021
- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
Stanford, UConn, North Carolina State and South Carolina were awarded No. 1 seeds for the women’s NCAA tournament, with the Cardinal earning the top overall seed.
The women’s bracket reveal on Monday night came on the heels of UConn’s announcement that head coach Geno Auriemma’s arrival in Texas would be delayed after he tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. He will remain in isolation for 10 days and can rejoin the team on March 24. The other members of UConn’s travel party have tested negative for COVID-19.
Auriemma will miss the Huskies’ opening game against High Point — one of four first-timers in the tournament — and a potential second-round matchup against either Syracuse or South Dakota State.
Longtime associate head coach Chris Dailey will serve as head coach in Auriemma’s absence.
“Our mindset doesn’t change,” UConn junior Evina Westbrook said. “It’s definitely going to feel different without him, but … we’ve prepared with him so many times that we know what to do.”
Stanford, which will open against Utah Valley, had quite the odyssey this season because of the coronavirus. It had to play on the road for nine weeks after Santa Clara County health officials announced they were prohibiting all contact sports in late November.
“I’m just excited that our team is healthy, and everyone is really enthusiastic about going to San Antonio,” said Tara VanDerveer, whose Cardinal won the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament championships. “We’re a very unselfish team, they really love to share the ball, and they play defense for each other. We have great leadership. They’re just all about winning.”
The Cardinal, looking for their third national championship, are the top seed in the Alamo Regional. The four regionals are named after San Antonio landmarks, with UConn in the River Walk Regional, NC State in the Mercado Regional and South Carolina in the Hemisfair Regional.
It is the first No. 1 seed for the Wolfpack, who made the 1998 Women’s Final Four as a No. 4 seed.
“The No. 1 seed is a great honor, obviously,” NC State coach Wes Moore said, adding with a smile, “You all know me. I’d just as soon stayed No. 2 and laid low. You still gotta go out either way and work.
“This whole year has been about adjusting and staying flexible. This team has done a pretty good job all year of handling things. Now is the fun part, to be able to play on this stage.”
NC State is the only one of the top seeds that has not won a national championship. UConn has 11 NCAA titles, Stanford two and South Carolina one. The Huskies have been to the past 12 Final Fours and last won the championship in 2016.
The No. 2 seeds are Louisville (Alamo), Baylor (River Walk), Maryland (Hemisfair) and Texas A&M (Mercado). All but Louisville are past national champions.
For the past few years, earning one of the top 16 seeds would give a team home games in the tournament’s first two rounds, but that’s not the case this year. Every game will be played in the San Antonio area because of the pandemic, with the last four rounds tipping off at the Alamodome.
This could be one of the most wide-open tournaments, with a dozen teams capable of winning the title. Five teams made it to No. 1 in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll this year, including the Huskies, who finished the season at No. 1.
The national semifinals take place on April 2, and the championship game will be held April 4.
Tennessee continued its streak of making every NCAA women’s basketball tournament in all of the event’s 39 years. Joining High Point as tournament rookies are Stony Brook, Utah Valley and Bradley.
Notre Dame’s run of 24 straight NCAA appearances came to an end. The Irish were one of the first four teams out of the tournament.
Even without Notre Dame, the ACC is represented with eight teams in the field, including Wake Forest, which is making its first appearance in the tournament since 1988. The SEC and the Big Ten each had seven schools earn bids. The Pac-12 had six. The Big 12 had five.
With no tournament last season because of the coronavirus, Baylor is still the defending champion. Coach Kim Mulkey’s team is very different from the one that won the title but still is talented, winning the Big 12 regular-season and conference tournaments.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.