2023 March Madness: What every women’s hoops fan needs to know ahead of Selection Sunday

Head coach Dawn Staley of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates as Aliyah Boston #4 of the South Carolina Gamecocks raises the trophy after defeating the UConn Huskies during the championship game.
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March Madness is officially here, with this weekend’s conference tournament action setting up an intriguing Selection Sunday where the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship bracket will officially be revealed.

The No. 1-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks – the only women’s or men’s basketball team in the NCAA go undefeated this season – look to defend their 2022 championship title, which would make them the first repeat champions since the Connecticut Huskies in 2015-16. Indiana, Stanford, Virginia Tech and Iowa are competing to round out the four top seeds.

As in 2022, 68 teams will compete in the single-elimination tournament, which features 32 automatic qualifiers and 36 at-large bids, and tips off with the “First Four” games on March 15-16. The tournament concludes at American Airlines Center in Dallas with the Final Four on March 31 and the national championship game on April 2.

To help you navigate all “the madness,” On Her Turf has compiled everything you need to know ahead of tournament tip-off.

What to know ahead of Selection Sunday

By the time the “NCAA Women’s Selection Special” airs Sunday evening on ESPN (8 p.m. ET), 32 teams in the 2023 NCAA championship field will be set following the conclusion of the conference tournaments (more on the automatic qualifiers below). But its those tournaments that are setting the stage for what should be an eventful Selection Sunday, where the 12-person women’s selection committee will fill out the 68-team bracket with the final 36 at-large bids.

Making the bracket reveal so intriguing were the results last weekend of several Power Six tournaments, where potential No. 1 seeds all failed to reach their respective championship games. Indiana, Stanford and Utah all lost early, and so did projected No. 2 seeds Maryland and LSU. Those losses open the door for ACC champion Virginia Tech to secure a No. 1 seed along with Iowa, whose run to the Big Ten title was highlighted by career performances by Hawkeyes’ star guard Caitlin Clark.

RELATED: March Madness 2023 – How to watch Selection Sunday

All about the 32 automatic qualifers

The single-elimination conference tournaments are always a big deal, but winning your conference means an automatic bid into the tournament. Thirty-two national tournament spots — one for each DI conference — are “automatic qualifiers.” For many teams, this is their only real chance to reach the NCAA tournament, making the stakes even higher during conference championships. Of the 32 automatic qualifiers, five teams will be making their tournament debut: Saint Louis (Atlantic 10), Sacramento State (Big Sky), Southeastern Louisiana (Southland) and Southern Utah (WAC).

America East Vermont 25-6 Seventh appearance
American Athletic East Carolina 23-9 Third appearance
Atlantic 10 Saint Louis 17-17 First appearance
ACC Virginia Tech 27-4 12th appearance, third consecutive
ASUN Florida Gulf Coast 32-3 Ninth appearance
Big 12 Iowa State 22-9 21st appearance
Big East Connecticut 29-5 34th appearance
Big Sky Sacramento State 25-7 First appearance
Big South Gardner-Webb 29-4 Second appearance
Big 10 Iowa 26-6 29th appearance
Big West Hawaii 18-14 Eighth appearance
CAA Monmouth 18-15 Second appearance
Conference USA Middle Tennessee 28-4 20th appearance
Horizon League Cleveland State 30-4 Third appearance, first since 2010
Ivy League Princeton 23-5 10th appearance
MAAC Iona 26-6 Second appearance
MAC Toledo 28-4 Ninth appearance
MEAC Norfolk State 26-6 Second appearance
Missouri Valley Drake 22-9 14th appearance
Mountain West UNLV 31-2 10th appearance
Northeast Sacred Heart 18-13 Fourth appearance
Ohio Valley Tennessee Tech 22-9 11th appearance, first since 2000
Pac-12 Washington State 23-10 Fourth appearance, third consecutive
Patriot League Holy Cross 24-8 13th appearance
SEC South Carolina 32-0 19th appearance, 11th consecutive
Southern Chattanooga 20-12 16th appearance
Southland Southeastern Louisiana 21-9 First appearance
SWAC Southern 17-14 Sixth appearance
Summit League South Dakota State 28-5 11th appearance
Sun Belt James Madison 26-7 13th appearance, first since 2016
West Coast Portland 23-8 Fifth appearance, first since 1997
WAC Southern Utah 23-9 First appearance

RELATED: How to watch, what to know about March Madness 2023

Spotlight on South Carolina … and the rest of the Power Six

Fun fact: All but three of the 40 women’s national titles ever awarded have been won by schools from a Power Six conference: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. And chances are, this year’s champion will likely come from one of these powerhouse conferences. We take a closer look at teams to watch and star players to follow as the tournament opens.

SEC: No. 1 South Carolina captured its seventh SEC tournament title in the last nine years last week, beating No. 23 Tennessee 74-58. But the Vols were a surprise contender in the final, after beating No. 9 LSU in the semifinals. That likely doesn’t mean much against this once-in-a-lifetime Gamecocks squad, which is led by Hall of Fame coach Dawn Staley and features five players — Laeticia Amihere, Brea Beal, Aliyah Boston,Zia Cooke and Olivia Thompson — who were part of the 2019 recruiting class and four of whom are starters. Boston won all five national player of the year awards in 2022.

ACC: The ACC featured some of the fiercest competition this season, led by No. 11 Notre Dame – who won the regular season title (15-3) — and its history-making head coach Niele Ivey. But the Irish struggled without star guard Olivia Miles (knee injury) in their conference semifinal and fell to Louisville. No. 4 Virginia Tech downed the Cardinals 75-67 last Sunday to win the program’s first ACC Tournament title, led by coach Kenny Brooks, tournament MVP Georgia Amoore and two-time league player of the year Elizabeth Kitley (18.6 points per game).

BIG 12: The No. 14 Oklahoma Sooners and No. 15 Texas Longhorns finished the regular season 14-4 to share the Big 12 regular season title. The Sooners are led by forward Madi Williams (15.7 points) while the Longhorns’ top scorer is Shaylee Gonzales (12.8 points).

BIG EAST: It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the No. 7 UConn Huskies, who won the regular-season title (18-2) despite not having stars Paige Bueckers (knee injury) and Azzi Fudd (knee injury) for most of the season. But guard Nika Mühl picked up the slack, recently breaking Sue Bird’s UConn season assists record, while Aaliyah Edwards leads the scoring with 16.6 points.. Azzi returned for the Huskies’ quarterfinal win over Georgetown, and UConn breezed to the conference title with a win over No. 10 Villanova.

BIG TEN: The No. 3 Indiana Hoosiers clinched the regular season title (16-2), which means a lot considering this cutthroat conference also includes No. 2 Iowa and No. 12 Ohio State. Iowa took the conference title with a 105-72 victory over the Buckeyes, led by the frenzy-inducing Caitlin Clark and her 10th career triple-double. Ohio State, who lost six of their last 10 regular-season games, knocked out Indiana in the semifinals — overcoming a 24-point deficit to win 79-75.

PAC-12: No. 8 Utah beat No. 5 Stanford in its last game of the season to share the regular season title, but both were edged out of the conference tournament early. The Utes lost their first matchup to Washington State, while Stanford fell to No. 17 UCLA in the semis. The Cougars capped off the tournament with a win over the Bruins to secure the school’s first conference title.

What’s new about the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship

Last year, the women’s tournament expanded to 68 teams, and this year’s championship also sees a significant change: Beginning in 2023, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will be held at two sites per year, with eight teams competing at each regional site.

Regional play will be staged at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, and at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, with each site hosting four regional semifinal games and two regional championship games. Like last year, the First Four opening-round games will be played at the campuses of teams seeded in the top 16, and sites will be selected based on “bracketing principles and procedures.” Last August, the NCAA announced the First Four, first and second rounds, and Selection Sunday will be conducted in this format through 2027, with the committee conducting a preliminary-round format review after the 2025 championship.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Remembering History — 1991 U.S. World Cup team signals start of three-decade USWNT dynasty

2023 LPGA Drive On Championship: How to watch, who’s playing in season’s first full-field event

Jin-young Ko of South Korea and Nelly Korda on the 17th tee during the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship.
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The LPGA Tour makes its return to the Arizona desert this week at the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club. The season’s first full-field event features eight of the world’s top 10 players plus a slew of fresh faces as this year’s rookie class gets its first taste of competition as tour members.

This week’s event features 144 players (plus two Monday qualifiers) competing for the $1.75 million prize purse in a 72-hole tournament that will implement the LPGA’s new cutline policy for the first time. Beginning this week, the 36-hole cut will change from the top 70 players and ties to the top 65 and ties advancing to weekend action. The LPGA says it hopes to “establish a faster pace of play” with the change.”

Arizona last hosted the LPGA for the 2019 Bank of Hope Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club, where Jin Young Ko earned her first of four LPGA titles that season. The tour last played at Superstition Mountain in the Safeway International from 2004 to 2008, where Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam (2004, 2005) and Lorena Ochoa (2007, 2008) each won twice, and Juli Inkster won in 2006.

The tournament marks the first of four events over the next five weeks (taking off the week of the Masters, April 7-10) and kicks off the crescendo that’s building to the LPGA’s first major of the season, The Chevron Championship, April 20-23 in its new location at The Woodlands, Texas. The 72-hole LPGA Drive On Championship features 144 players, in addition to two Monday qualifiers, who will compete for a $1.75 million purse.

How to watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

You can watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship on Golf Channel, Peacock, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

  • Thursday, March 23: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, March 24: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, March 25: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, March 26: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

Sitting out this week are world No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 5 Minjee Lee, but No. 2 Nelly Korda and No. 3 Jin Young Ko are back in action following Ko’s return to the winner’s circle two weeks ago in Singapore, where she held off Korda by two strokes. Also in the field this week are:

  • No. 4 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 7 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 8 In Gee Chun
  • No. 9 Hyo-Joo Kim
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka
  • 2022 major winners Ashleigh Buhai, Jennifer Kupcho, Chun, Henderson

Rookies and Epson Tour graduates making their first starts as LPGA members include 20-year-old Lucy Li, a two-time Epson Tour winner who might be best known for playing the 2014 U.S.  Women’s Open as an 11-year-old; South Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu, who took medalist honors at LPGA Q-Series; and 18-year-old Alexa Pano, who finished tied for 21st at Q School to earn her card but might be best known from her role in the 2013 Netflix documentary, “The Short Game.”

Past winners, history of the Drive On Championship

The Drive On Championship was initially created as a series of LPGA events that marked the tour’s back-to-competition efforts following the pandemic. Each tournament used the “Drive On” slogan in support of the tour’s resilience, beginning with the first series event in July 2020 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, where Danielle Kang won by one stroke over Celine Boutier. The second event, held in October 2020, replaced the three stops originally scheduled in Asia, and was held at Reynolds Lake Oconee Great Waters Course in Greensboro, Georgia. Ally McDonald captured her career first LPGA title by one stroke over Kang.

The last two “Drive On” events were staged in Florida, at Golden Ocala Golf Club (Ocala) in March 2021 and at Crown Colony Golf Club (Fort Myers) in February 2022. Austin Ernst cruised to her third career title at the 2021 edition, beating Jennifer Kupcho by five shots. The 2022 tournament marked a fresh start for the event (no longer including results or records from the 2020 and 2021 events), where Leona Maguire became the first Irish winner on tour with her victory in 2022.

Last year at the Drive On Championship

Ireland’s Leona Maguire gifted her mom and early birthday present with her first career win at the 2022 LPGA Drive On Championship. A 27-year-old Maguire, a standout at Duke and former No. 1 amateur, carded a final-round 67 to finish at 18-under 198 and won the 54-hole event by three strokes over Lexi Thompson. She became the first woman from Ireland to win on tour, and her 198 tied her career-best 54-hole score.

More about Superstition Mountain

Superstition Mountain’s Prospector Golf Course opened in 1998 and was a combined design effort by Jack Nicklaus and his son Gary. The course plays as a par-72 and stretches to 7,225 yards in length, with the women playing it at 6,526 yards. The course was home of the LPGA Safeway International from 2004-08, and was recently selected by Golfweek as one of the “Top 100 Residential Courses.”

Of note, Superstition Mountain is a female-owned facility, originally purchased in 2009 by Susan Hladky and her husband James, who died in 2011. Hladky has made a point of opening her courses to women and college players, twice hosting U.S. Women’s Open qualifying and the site of a 2025 NCAA women’s regional tournament. She’s also given membership to eight LPGA players, who play out of the club: Carlota Ciganda, Mina Harigae, Dana Finkelstein, Jaclyn Lee, Charlotte Thomas, Caroline Inglis, Jennifer Kupcho and Brianna Do.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 March Madness — Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

2023 March Madness: Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

Members of the Utah Utes celebrate their win over the Princeton Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament.
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The No. 2-seeded Utah (27-4) women’s basketball team held off a pesky 10th-seeded Princeton squad on Sunday, winning 63-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships for the first time since 2005-06 and just the third time in the program’s history.

“I’m proud of our team,” said eighth-year head coach Lynne Roberts after the second-round win at Utah’s Hunstman Center. “We set out to do this a year ago. We lost in this game at University of Texas and the goal was to be able to host (this year) so that we could have that home-court advantage and it made a difference.”

Utah’s fourth-year junior Alissa Pili backed up her recent second-team All-American honor with another 20-plus-point performance, scoring 28 on 8-for 13 shooting with 10 rebounds and going 11-for 13 on free throws. Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds.

There’s been a lot of talk this weekend about how the Utes’ previous few seasons have ended – beginning with a rough 14-17 season that was cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, followed by an abysmal 5-16 record in 2020-21. But the tide turned last year, as Utah rebounded with a 21-12 season that ended with a 78-56 loss to Texas in Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year ago.

So, what changed?

“Last year, everyone was new to the NCAA tournament, so I think everyone was just experiencing it for the first time,” mused Johnson. “Losing in the second round last year, we’re definitely a lot hungrier this year, and then obviously hosting in Salt Lake, it’s fun just being in your own environment, to be around your own fans. I think it gives us an elevated level of confidence, both knowing what it’s like to play in this tournament and also getting to be at home.”

“Yeah, freshman year was kind of rough,” added third-year sophomore Kennady McQueen, who chipped in nine points Sunday. “We did experience losing a lot. … Coach Roberts, she said we are not going to have another season like that. We all stood behind her — the people that stayed — and brought in great people like starting last year with Jenna and Gi (Gianna Kneepkens) and people like that who have had a huge impact in helping us to where we are today. …

“When you get together a group of people that have the same goal in mind and will do make anything to make it happen, I think that’s where we have seen our success rate going up. This past offseason, we just kept getting better, and of course, the addition of the Alissa Pili really helped. When you bring a group of girls that have the same dream and same goal at the end of the year and doesn’t care about personal stats more than winning, I think we get the season that we have today, and it prepares us for deep run in March.”

In particular, McQueen believe it was Utah’s improvement in their defense that was crucial to the turnaround. “Everyone knows how good we are on offense, but if we can’t get stops, it doesn’t matter how good you are on offense,” she said. “So that’s just been a key the whole past off-season and all of this season — just getting better on defense.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Alissa Pili revives her love of basketball with record season at Utah

Roberts credits their defensive improvement with a “philosophical mindset change,” explaining, “We worked on [defense] a lot differently, a lot more intentionally. Strategically we made some changes of how we are going to defend, and I won’t bore you with that. But there was a lot, just different things because you have to play to your strengths. You can’t be a run-and-jump pressing team if you don’t have the depth and athletes to do it. You can’t be a zone team if you are not super big. You have to figure out what fits your personnel, and so that’s what we did.”

There’s also the undeniable impact of Pili, a transfer from USC who has found her stride as a Ute, where she recently was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“She kind of is the straw that stirs the drink for us right now,” Roberts said regarding the 21-year-old Alaska native. “She’s a nightmare to defend because she can shoot the three, and she’s also really athletic and mobile, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing. I think you have to gameplan for her. But then with her three-point shooting, you know, you have to pick your poison.”

But Roberts also gave plenty of kudos to Johnson, whom she describes as “phenomenal.”

“She’s 19 going on 40,” Roberts said of Johnson. “She’s the most mature, even-keeled consistent player we have. What I love about her is she is who she is. She’s confident in who she is. She knows who she is. She also is incredibly busy off the court.

“We were talking as we were getting ready to watch film, just shooting the breeze a bunch of us, we were talking about movies. And she was like, Oh, I don’t watch movies. Why not? I don’t have time. I get bored. What do you mean you don’t have time? Do you watch shows? No, I don’t ever watch TV. It is because she is doing all of these other extracurricular activities.”

As for guiding the Utes to becoming a championship program, Roberts still sees it as an uphill battle – but one that she and her players are ready for.

“I always use the analogy of pushing the boulder up the hill,” she said. “And doing things for the first time, you have to have that mindset. You have to keep pushing. It’s been incredibly fun to see the support, and I think the swell is a perfect word for it. Most importantly, our players feel it.

“This is why you play, right? And it means so much. I know I say it over and over, but this is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan [season]. This isn’t going to be a ‘Oh, remember that year they had such an incredible year?’ We are going to keep doing it.”

RELATED: 2023 March Madness 2023 — Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship