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NCAA Tournament Senior Watch: Sweet Sixteen

After 48 games over four days, the field of 64 has been reduced to just 16 … a sweet collection of 16 teams that are just two wins away from the Final Four in Dallas on March 31.

For the seniors playing in the tournament, they’ve already had two games to showcase their talents to WNBA teams, scouts and executives mulling over draft day decisions. Now they have another opportunity to show what they can offer to a professional team.

Let’s take a look region by region at some of the top prospects still alive in the NCAA Tournament, which resumes on Friday.

Bridgeport Region

3 Maryland vs. 10 Oregon (3/25, 11:36 AM)

– Brionna Jones, C, Maryland
– Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, G, Maryland

Looking Back

After being knocked out in the second round last year by Washington, Maryland is back in the Sweet 16 after picking up victories over Bucknell and West Virginia in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

The senior duo of Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough shined in their final home games at the XFINITY Center in College Park. In their opening round win over Bucknell, Walker-Kimbrough led the way with 28 points (12-18 FG, 3-4 3P) and five steals, while Jones finished with 25 points (11-17 FG), 10 boards, four steals and two blocks. They combined to score Maryland’s first 20 points of the game and first 13 points of the second half to put the Terrapins in full control.

In the second round against West Virginia, Jones notched another double-double (her 24th of the season) with 22 points (10-13 FG) and 11 rebounds as well as three blocks and two steals. The NCAA leader in field goal percentage (.698) was right on point by going 21-30 (.700) in Maryland’s first two contests. Walker-Kimbrough finished with 19 points (7-16 FG, 2-3 3P), four assists, two blocks and two steals against West Virginia. She ranks fifth in the NCAA in 3-point percentage (.459) and improved those numbers by going 5-7 (.714) from beyond the arc in the first two games.

Of course, the 3-pointer most will remember from this game was the 70-foot, soccer-throw-in-style shot from freshman Destiny Slocum, but we’ve got to stay focused on the seniors here.

Looking Ahead

Up next for No. 3 seed Maryland is No. 10 seed Oregon, which upset No. 2 Duke in the second round. The Terrapins are trying to reach the Final Four for the third time in four years. But if they are able to get past the Ducks, they will face undefeated UConn if the Huskies can keep their 109-game win streak alive against No. 4 UCLA.

Oklahoma City Region

1 Baylor vs. 4 Louisville (3/24, 9:00 PM)

– Alexis Jones, G, Baylor
– Nina Davis, F, Baylor

Looking Back

Top seeded Baylor won its first two games by a combined 129 points – a composite score of 205-76 – including an NCAA Tournament record 89-point win in its opening game against 16 seed Texas Southern. With the top four seeds in the region all advancing to the Sweet 16, the Bears should get some tougher competition this weekend.

In the opening game, senior Nina Davis had 13 points (5-6 FG), six rebounds and four assists as she played just 17 minutes with her team well in control of the game. The blowout also saw the return of senior Alexis Jones to the court after she had missed five games with a bone bruise in her left knee. She finished with five points, three rebounds and an assist in 12 minutes off the bench in her first action since Feb. 20.

In their second round win over No. 9 seed Cal, Davis again had an efficient night while contributing all over the court – 16 points (7-12 FG), six rebounds, five assists and three steals in 23 minutes. Jones got some more run this time around as she logged 22 minutes off the bench and finished with eight points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals. The Bears did not need Jones at 100 percent for the opening rounds of the tournament, but will if they hope to advance to the Final Four.

Looking Ahead

With the win over Cal, Baylor made it to its ninth consecutive Sweet 16 and now looks to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2012. Up next is Louisville, which has knocked Baylor out at the Sweet 16 twice, most recently in 2013 in Oklahoma City, where this year’s matchup will also take place.

3 Washington vs. 2 Mississippi St. (3/24, 7:11 PM)

– Kelsey Plum, G, Washington
– Chantel Osahor, C, Washington

Looking Back

In Washington’s second round win over Oklahoma, Kelsey Plum broke another scoring record – this time setting a new mark for points in a single season. For more on that performance, click here. Plum can continue to raise that mark to new heights as long as she and fellow senior Chantel Osahor can keep the Huskies alive in the tournament.

While Plum (the NCAA’s leading scorer) racked up 67 points in her first two games of the tournament, Osahor (the NCAA’s leader in rebounds and double-doubles) collected two double-doubles with 34 rebounds as Washington defeated Montana State and Oklahoma to reach the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time in the program’s history. Osahor averaged 16.0 points, 17.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in the first two games of the tournament.

Looking Ahead

With 1:19 to play, Osahor and Plum both exited the final home game of their careers to a rousing ovation from the Seattle crowd. Now it is off to Oklahoma City for a chance to get back to the Final Four after their surprising run a year ago. Up first is a matchup with Mississippi State, the No. 2 seed in the region that had a pair of impressive wins of their own last weekend, defeating Troy and DePaul by a combined 62 points.

Lexington Region

1 Notre Dame vs. 5 Ohio State (3/24, 7:06 PM)

– Lindsay Allen, G, Notre Dame
– Shayla Cooper, F, Ohio State

Looking Back

Lindsay Allen had two solid performances as Notre Dame advanced to the Sweet 16 for the eighth straight season. In the Irish’s first round win over Robert Morris, Allen finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists as she was able to take advantage of the defense concentrating on slowing Brianna Turner. Allen followed that up with 12 points, eight assists and four rebounds as the Irish defeated Purdue in overtime.

The win that sent them back to the Sweet 16 was their 16th in a row this season, but it came at a high price. Turner, the Irish’s leading scorer, suffered a knee injury late in the first half and never returned. After an MRI, it was confirmed that she suffered a torn ACL and is out for the remainder of the season. Notre Dame will face No. 5 seed Ohio State without Turner’s 15.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.46 blocks per game, which means the Irish will have to rely on Allen and the rest of their guards even more.

On the other side of the matchup is Shayla Cooper of Ohio State, who helped lead the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 with wins over Western Kentucky and Kentucky, which hosted the first two rounds in Lexington. In the opener, Cooper had just six points, but made her presence felt with a season-high 15 rebounds and six assists as the Buckeyes held off the Hilltoppers.

She followed that up with a 15-point, eight-rebound performance against the host Kentucky, which also put up a late rally that the Buckeyes had to fend off. Cooper scored eight of Ohio State’s final nine points as they secured the win and a second straight trip to the Sweet 16.

Looking Ahead

The Irish enter Friday’s matchup having been forced to overtime in the second round and lost their leading scorer for the remainder of the tournament. Are they vulnerable to an upset-minded Buckeyes team with hopes of reaching the Elite Eight for the first time since 1993?

3 Texas vs. 2 Stanford (3/24, 9:00 PM)

– Erica McCall, F, Stanford
– Karlie Samuelson, G, Stanford

Looking Back

The No. 2 seed Stanford Cardinal avoided what would have been a historic upset as New Mexico St. tried valiantly to become the first No. 15 seed to advance in the NCAA Women’s Tournament. Stanford was plagued by a slow start and trailed by as many as nine points but finally found its groove in the second half, outscoring the Aggies 41-26 to earn a 72-64 win and advance. Erica McCall had just nine points on 3-10 shooting but did chip in 12 rebounds and three blocks. Karlie Samuelson had a good shooting night from beyond the arc, going 5-9 as she finished with 17 points, five assists and three steals.

Although the Cardinal earned the right to host the first two rounds of the tournament like other top seeds, they were forced to go on the road due to the Pac-12 gymnastics championships being held at Maples Pavilion. Being halfway across the country and coming off a two-week layoff may have played a role in Stanford’s slow start. Whatever the issue was, it appears to be resolved as Stanford dominated early in its second round game against Kansas State and cruised to the Sweet 16 with a 69-48 win.

McCall had a better shooting night, going 5-11 from the field and finishing with 10 points, six rebounds and a block. Samuelson took only three shots on the night as the Kansas State defense concentrated on her throughout the game. She made two of her three shots – all from 3-point range – to finish with six points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. In the first two games, Samuelson has attempted only one shot that was not a 3-pointer as she has gone 7-12 (.583) from beyond the arc.

Looking Ahead

With the win over Kansas State, the Cardinal advance to the Sweet 16, where they will face No. 3 seed Texas on Friday night. The two teams met earlier this season with Stanford defeating Texas 71-59 back in November. After opening the tournament in Manhattan, Kansas, the scene shifts to Lexington, Kentucky this weekend. Two more wins will send the Cardinal to Dallas for the Final Four, which they are trying to reach for the first time since 2014.

Stockton Region

3 Florida St vs. 2 Oregon St (3/25, 6:00 PM)

– Leticia Romero, G, Florida State
– Sydney Wiese, G, Oregon State

Looking Back

No. 3 Florida State had a fairly smooth path to the Sweet 16, winning a pair of home games by 21 and 22 points. This is the third straight trip to the Sweet 16 for senior guard Leticia Romero and the Seminoles, who are seeking the first Final Four appearance in the program’s history.

Romero was not the leading scorer in either of FSU’s wins in the first two rounds of the tournament, but she continued to show her consistency, as she has now scored in double figures in all nine of her NCAA Tournament games with Florida State. In FSU’s first round win over No. 14 seed Western Illinois, Romero finished with 12 points (5-11 FG, 1-5 3P), three assists, three steals and a block. She followed that up with 14 points (4-9 FG, 2-3 3P), six rebounds, two assists and a steal.  While ACC Player of the Year Shakayla Thomas puts up the big numbers and gets most of the attention from opposing teams, Romero continues to provide scoring (12.3 ppg) and playmaking (3.7 apg) on a nightly basis.

Stanford wasn’t the only No. 2 seed to have to fight off a feisty No. 15 seed in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, as Oregon State eked out a 56-55 win over Long Beach State in its opening game. The one-point win helped senior guard Sydney Wiese avoid having a poor shooting performance at home end her college career. She finished with seven points, six rebounds and five assists, but shot just 1-8 for the game, with all of her attempts coming from beyond the arc.

Armed with a second chance and knowing it would be the final home game of her career – win or lose – Wiese had a much better showing in the second round, scoring 13 points on 4-9 shooting, including 2-6 from deep, while adding seven boards, four assists, a steal and a block for good measure. She ended up leaving the court dancing and blowing kisses to the crowd as her team advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.

Looking Ahead

No. 2 seed Oregon State will meet No. 3 seed Florida State on Saturday in Stockton, California as both teams look to keep their seasons alive and pursue a Final Four berth. For the Beavers, it would be their second trip to the national semifinals, while Florida State is seeking its first Final Four appearance.