Saturday’s March Madness: South Carolina Stays Perfect

SEATTLE — Third-seeded Ohio State romped past second-seeded Connecticut to advance to the round of 8, grabbing hold of the game early and unceremoniously ending UConn’s long streak of reaching the final weekend of the N.C.A.A. women’s tournament.

Ohio State won, 73-61, stopping the Huskies from reaching the round of 8 for the first time since 2005 and the Final Four for the first time since 2007, a streak that includes six national championships, including four straight from 2013 to 2016.

The Buckeyes took control in the second quarter with a game-defining run that started when they was 8 points down late in the first.

They found their flow with a swarming press defense that forced a flurry of turnovers and sparked a 17-point run. Perhaps more jarring than Ohio State’s scoring in that stretch was its ability to hold the Huskies without even a field-goal attempt for nearly five minutes to start the second quarter.

“We lost our balance and we lost our equilibrium a bit, and I don’t think we ever got it back,” Geno Auriemma, UConn’s longtime coach, said after the game.

UConn turned the ball over on eight straight possessions at the beginning of the second quarter, and watched one of its most important players get hurt.

Lou Lopez Sénéchal, a transfer student who took on a leadership role when Paige Bueckers was lost for the season with a knee injury, left the court limping after crumbling to the floor with pain in her right knee as she tried to set up a play. She returned in the second half and led the Huskies with 25 points.

UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards, the team’s leading scorer this season, also hit the bench for key stretches because of foul trouble. She was held to just 4 points — and four shots.

Ohio State, led by 23 points from Cotie McMahon, was able to stem several pushes by UConn in the second half, mostly by keeping up its aggressive defense.

Anxiety on the UConn bench built in the fourth as Ohio State players tried to keep their cool. The Buckeyes played with the confidence of a team that knew its strengths, and with the hunger of an underdog facing a program that has been a dynasty.

With 90 seconds remaining, Ohio State slowed the pace as some players on the UConn bench struggled to watch the game come to a close.

Ohio State has appeared in the N.C.A.A. tournament’s round of 16 twice in a row. This was UConn’s 29th consecutive appearance. The last time Ohio State advanced to the round of 8 was in 1993, when it made it to the championship game and lost to Texas Tech.

Last season, UConn lost the championship game to South Carolina. The Huskies have not won the title since 2016.

Ohio State will face Tennessee or Virginia Tech in the round of 8 on Monday evening. — Talya Minsberg

GREENVILLE, S.C. — U.C.L.A. began its women’s regional semifinal against South Carolina with the defensive strategy that nearly every team this season has tried against the undefeated Gamecocks. The Bruins sat in a zone defense, dropping their guards below the free-throw line to help defend against South Carolina’s towering forwards.

South Carolina struggled, shooting just 38 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range, but U.C.L.A. couldn’t turn the reigning champion’s mishaps into points, falling 59-43 to send the Gamecocks to the round of 8.

South Carolina capitalized on second-chance opportunities and smothered the Bruins’ offense, and its star forward, Aliyah Boston, led the way with 8 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks.

The Gamecocks’ size difference was evident throughout, as South Carolina bullied the smaller Bruins in the paint, often knocking them down. One of the most notable plays of the game came when 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso chased down and swatted a layup attempt by U.C.L.A. guard Londynn Jones, which sent Jones flying to the floor.

“We always talk about like we don’t want to get punked, like don’t step out on the floor and let any team punk us,” Boston said. “So I don’t think we look at ourselves as the bully, I think we just play our game and that’s just being dominant.”

South Carolina guard Zia Cooke added that the team had too many pleasant players to be considered bullies.

“We have a lot of cheat codes on our team,” she said. After listing off the specialties of each player on the roster, she added: “Everybody’s got a superpower. It’s a blessing to have.”

During the first three games of this combined regional at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, on Friday and Saturday, a smattering of fans had filled in only the sections near midcourt, with most of the arena remaining empty. That changed on Saturday afternoon. Just as Maryland and Notre Dame’s game was finishing up and South Carolina’s game was set to begin, fans wearing garnet T-shirts packed the arena. They roared with their team’s every score and booed anything in favor of fourth-seeded U.C.L.A.

The arena is considered a neutral regional site by the N.C.A.A., but it serves effectively as a home game for South Carolina, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. Cori Close, U.C.L.A.’s coach, acknowledged the disadvantage before the game but said that the regional sites were “important to keep growing our sport.”

“Look how many upsets we had on home courts in the first two rounds,” she said. “So bottom line is you’ve got to play your best basketball, and you’ve got to be a tough team, you’ve got to be a together team, and you’ve got to find ways to win.”

Cooke said that she did not think the regional format was unfair and that South Carolina deserved to play in front of the fan base that Coach Dawn Staley built.

U.C.L.A. seemed poised to threaten South Carolina’s quest for a second straight title. When the teams played in November, the Gamecocks overcame a 10-point first-half deficit and ended up winning by 9. After the game, South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley told Close that they would see each other again.

Staley’s words were prescient, but this matchup was never close. South Carolina proved why it has been the best team in Division I all season, with the height and physicality to overwhelm U.C.L.A.

South Carolina will play Maryland on Monday. — Kris Rhim

GREENVILLE, S.C. — When Notre Dame and Maryland matched up in December, the game quickly became the Diamond Miller show. Miller, a 6-foot-3 guard, scored her 31st point on a game-winning, one-legged fadeaway jumper. She ran around Notre Dame’s home court with her index finger on her lips to silence the crowd.

On Saturday, in the round of 16 of the women’s N.C.A.A. tournament, Notre Dame seemed hellbent on stopping the Miller show. The Fighting Irish doubled-teamed — and sometimes triple-teamed — Miller when she got the ball in the post.

But Notre Dame’s stop-Miller-at-all-costs strategy left room for other players, who capitalized on open looks and kept the game close while Miller struggled. In the second half, Miller eventually got into a groove, and second-seeded Maryland beat No. 3 seed Notre Dame, 76-59. Maryland will advance to its first round-of-8 game since 2015. Miller and guard Shyanne Sellers led all scorers with 18 points apiece.

“I felt like they were daring me to shoot,” said Maryland guard Lavender Briggs, who scored 12 points.

Notre Dame threw the first figurative punch of the game. Down by 5, the Fighting Irish scored 13 straight points in the second quarter, neutralizing Miller and leading Maryland’s half-court offense into forced shots and errant passes that resulted in turnovers.

But in the second half, Miller got loose. And Maryland responded with a big third quarter, anchored by Miller and Sellers. Maryland cruised in the fourth.

Despite the eight-year drought, the round of 8 is familiar to Maryland and its coach, Brenda Frese. Since she started in 2002, Maryland has been among the best teams in college basketball. The Terrapins have made the round of 8 six times and won the program’s only national title in 2006. — Kris Rhim

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