KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- As they watched television and waited to practice in advance of a second-round game against Oregon State, Tennessee players took in parts of No. 9 seed Quinnipiac's eventual win against No. 8 Miami. It was Quinnipiac's third tournament win in the past two years. Or one more than the Lady Vols in that span.
While they watched, someone asked which team No. 11 seed Central Michigan would play next after its 78-69 win against No. 6 seed LSU earlier in the afternoon.
The longest-serving assistant coach in Knoxville, someone who worked alongside Pat Summitt, Dean Lockwood considered a world in which there could be a second-round game like Tennessee and Oregon State and in which the Central Michigans of the world could have their day. It was the world Summitt often said she hoped was coming.
"Every so often when I go past her pictures or the murals on the wall," Lockwood joked, "I just kind of grumble like, 'Are you happy now?' "
Talking about parity is tricky on a day that saw No. 1 UConn score nearly 100 points in the first half and set records galore in a 140-52 win against No. 16 Saint Francis (Pennsylvania). That's all the more true the night after a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed in the men's tournament for the first time. The women's tournament historically produces fewer upsets, but at least it always had that over the men's tournament, thanks to Harvard beating Stanford in 1998. No longer.
A lot of people who know a little about women's basketball will bemoan the state of the sport because of one result without bothering to pay attention to some of the other results Saturday.
Not noticing Quinnipiac's win on the same court as UConn. Not noticing that No. 11 seed Buffalo beat sixth-seeded South Florida 102-79 behind a career-best 36 points from Cierra Dillard, giving the MAC a second winner on the day. Not noticing that No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast beat 5-seed Missouri 80-70, fueled by 21 points from super-sub China Dow.
It's even worth including No. 11 seed Creighton's 76-70 win against sixth-seeded Iowa, the Bluejays no longer technically a mid-major in the Big East but a program still built very much on that model.
After a rough opening day in which they not only failed to spring upsets but twice failed to defend seeds, No. 7 Green Bay giving away a lead and No. 8 South Dakota State losing in overtime, mid-majors ensured they will be represented in the second round.
They showed in the process that the shadow UConn casts encompasses a more and more robust middle class.
Or to put it another way. Three teams scored 100 points in the first round: Connecticut, Tennessee and Buffalo. One of them hadn't won a tournament game before this season.
There are a lot of reasons for mid-major success, but start with Saturday's evidence that it continues to be where basketball's modern trends are most readily, and by necessity, embraced.
Buffalo, Central Michigan, Florida Gulf Coast and Quinnipiac made a combined 38 3-point field goals in their wins. Their opponents made a combined 15. It's not just a magic shot. FGCU barely even needed the 3-pointer, only the threat of it. The national leaders in attempts entering the tournament, the Eagles spread the court and instead drove the ball down the SEC's team throat. The shots that matter in modern basketball are 3-pointers and high-percentage two-pointers. That's almost all FGCU took.
It's why a team without a player who stands even 6 feet is 31-4 and in the second round.
A decade ago, only two Division I women's teams averaged more than eight 3-pointers per game during the 2007-08 season. Averaging eight per game this season barely gets a team into the top 50 -- with Central Michigan, FGCU and Quinnipiac each among the top 25, and Buffalo playing like it on a day when Dillard hit seven 3-pointers.
Taking and making the most valuable shots, 3s or 2s, is a good way to make up for not getting those deemed the most valuable recruits. It is a good way to level the playing field.
Look at it from the other side of the divide. Other than Creighton, only four major conference teams rank inside the top 40 in both 3-pointers and 3-point accuracy. One is Minnesota, one of only two double-digit seeds to win Friday. Two more are Oregon and Oregon State, programs that have grown as rapidly as any in recent seasons. The other is UConn.
And we certainly saw how well it works for the Huskies.
Player of the day: Oklahoma State's Jaden Hobbs
Hobbs was pretty much born to be a Cowgirl; the Oklahoma native's parents both went to Oklahoma State.
But what would have been her freshman season last year was over before it really began, as she suffered a knee injury in an exhibition game in October 2016.
Saturday, though, the redshirt freshman Hobbs was like fictional baseball hero Roy Hobbs from "The Natural." She made 8-of-9 3-pointers and scored a career-high 27 points in No. 9 seed Oklahoma State's 84-57 victory over No. 8 Syracuse in the Kansas City Regional.
What projected to be possibly one of the better games of the first round instead was a blowout win for the Cowgirls, who've had their ups and downs this season. The downs included a Feb. 21 loss at Kansas that followed defeats to Big 12 leaders Baylor and Texas. Oklahoma State also lost in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, meaning the Cowgirls had lost four of six heading into the NCAA tournament.
But the Oklahoma State team that triumphed Saturday looked more like the one that nearly beat Mississippi State back in December, falling 79-76. And guess who's next for Oklahoma State? The No. 1 Bulldogs, who cruised past Nicholls State 95-50 on Saturday.
The Cowgirls had 13 3-pointers and the Orange had 12, but Oklahoma State dictated pace of play and went to the line more, making 13-of-18 foul shots.
The Cowgirls' top scorers this season, Loryn Goodwin and Kaylee Jensen, each scored 19 points, and that was expected. Hobbs' heroics were not. But what great timing. -- Mechelle Voepel
Mixed bag for SEC
Seven SEC teams made the NCAA field. Five of them have advanced to the second round, but only three of them -- Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M -- really looked good doing it.
Out after one round are No. 5 seed Missouri, which fell to No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast 80-70, and No. 6 LSU, which lost to No. 11 Central Michigan 78-69.
No. 4 seed Georgia almost joined them in the upset pile Saturday, but the Lady Dogs pulled out a 68-63 victory over No. 13 seed Mercer. Leading the way for Georgia, though, was the forward duo of Caliya Robinson and Mackenzie Engram, who combined for 44 points and 26 rebounds.
The SEC team that looked dominating Saturday was, not surprisingly, No. 1 seed Mississippi State. The Bulldogs pounded Nicholls State 95-50 behind double-doubles from Victoria Vivians (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Teaira McCowan (18 points, 13 rebounds).
Friday, all three SEC teams who played moved on, but No. 2 South Carolina struggled to put away No. 15 North Carolina A&T 63-52. No. 3 seed Tennessee cruised over No. 14 Liberty 100-60, and No. 4 Texas A&M played well against a solid No. 13 Drake team, 89-76. -- Mechelle Voepel