South Florida's Courtney Williams doesn't need to start to bend the NCAA tournament to her will. Benched for the first five minutes of No. 6 South Florida's game against No. 11 Colorado State for what was reported only as a nebulous "coach's decision," ending a streak of 81 consecutive starts by the nation's 12th-leading scorer, Williams still finished with 31 points in a 48-45 win.
That's right, Williams scored 65 percent of her team's points. When Drake's Lorri Bauman set the NCAA tournament record with 50 points in 1982, it represented 64 percent of her team's points. When Sheryl Swoopes scored 47 points in 1997, it was 56 percent of her team's total.
Imagine what Williams could have done had she started.
With one round down and five to go, what else did we learn from Saturday's 16 games?
1. Texas A&M and Florida State earn another chance to live up to expectations
Ranked among the top baker's dozen of teams in the nation during the preseason, Texas A&M and Florida State took the court in November with Sweet 16 expectations.
They will meet Monday in the second round of the NCAA tournament, which means only one will get to the Sweet 16. For stretches Saturday, it wasn't clear either would get even that opportunity.
Minus starter Courtney Williams because of an indefinite suspension (it was an odd day for people with that name), No. 4 seed Texas A&M struggled early against 13th-seeded Missouri State. Minus surprise starter Shakayla Thomas because of foul trouble, fifth-seeded Florida State found itself in the weeds against No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee State.
Thomas returned from foul trouble in the second half, and the budding sophomore star helped put away the Blue Raiders. There are no indications the Aggies will get Williams back from suspension soon, but Courtney Walker made sure their season also continued.
After two weeks without a game, Florida State started Thomas for just the seventh time this season, but she picked up two fouls in the first quarter and was hardly a factor in a sloppy first half for the Seminoles. Fouls ultimately played a decisive role in the second half, too, but they didn't involve Thomas, who totaled nine points, three rebounds and three assists after the break. Instead, it was the fourth foul on Middle Tennessee freshman Alex Johnson that coincided, and perhaps precipitated, Florida State's 34-17 run over the final 13 minutes.
Leticia Romero played well, Adut Bulgak showed the 3-point range that endears her to pro scouts and the Seminoles cleaned up their ball control after 14 first-half turnovers. But they also didn't have much in the way of an answer for Johnson until the referee's whistle provided it.
Sloppy play marked a similarly disjointed first half from Texas A&M, whose 17 turnovers in the first two quarters exceeded the Aggies' season average for an entire game. The lineup upheaval can't be blamed for all of that, especially since Chelsea Jennings was arguably the team's best player in the first half while stepping in for Williams. Anriel Howard did enough work for two people en route to a tournament-record 27 rebounds.
Texas A&M had people step up, but especially early, the collective performance looked unsettled.
Only after halftime did normalcy return, when Texas A&M scored eight points before it committed its first turnover and Walker played like an All-American with 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting. There is something to be said for finding a way, particularly with efforts as impressive as Walker's and inspiring as Howard's. Yet it's also inescapable that a way needed to be found.
To be clear, Florida State and Texas A&M are not disappointments, not when that preseason poll also included Duke, North Carolina and Northwestern. But one of the two will soon wonder if its season held the potential for more than was achieved. Based on at least the first three quarters in each of Saturday's games, it isn't clear if either team is ready to change that.
2. Maryland struggles to make its case
At the risk of setting a negative theme, Saturday wasn't good enough from Maryland. Maybe that seems harsh after the No. 2 seed beat No. 15 Iona 74-58. And as the first high-profile contender to take the court after Connecticut opened the day with a brava performance, maybe Maryland was bound to suffer by comparison.
But Maryland played well enough only to beat Iona. For a team trying to reach a third consecutive Final Four, what's good enough to win a first-round game isn't the standard. It wasn't for Connecticut, but it also wasn't for No. 3 seed Kentucky, which rolled over No. 14 UNC-Asheville and looms as a potential opponent for the Terrapins down the road.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese said her team was able to "lock in with defense" in the second half of the win against Iona. The stats back her up in one respect -- Iona shot just 32 percent -- but it's hard to reconcile that assessment with what the game looked like on the screen.
Iona missed a lot of shots, yes, but it also committed just three turnovers in the second half. Time and again, as it repeatedly cut Maryland's lead into single digits, Iona had the benefit of 3-point shots that weren't closed out and lanes to the basket that weren't shut down.
A No. 2 seed should be able to produce more than three turnovers against an inferior team, forcing the issue to try and get back into a game. Maryland instead looked like a team content that its offense could do the job. The offense succeeded on the day, but that might not be the case in the days ahead.
3. South Dakota State and Missouri finish what others could not
Did the first round of the tournament produce the kind of bracket carnage evident on the men's side? Not so much, and that continues to be a favored cudgel of critics. But for the second day in a row, a pair of double-digit seeds erased at least some of the chalk. Matching wins a day earlier by Albany and St. Bonaventure, No. 12 seed South Dakota State beat No. 5 Miami and 10th-seeded Missouri beat No. 7 BYU (putting aside that Missouri's win was simultaneously both an upset and a win for the establishment, a mid-tier SEC team beating the regular-season WCC champion).
Expect to see more of both Saturday winners, whether it's in the second round this year or NCAA tournaments in years to come. South Dakota State got 37 points from the combination of Macy Miller, the team's sophomore star, and Madison Gaubert, a freshman ranked as a top-100 national recruit. Missouri got 20 points, including 17 in the second half, from freshman Sophie Cunningham, the SEC's top newcomer this season.
But beyond the Jackrabbits and Tigers, we should expect to see more of these kinds of games, period. Four teams finished the job in first-round upsets, but many more had the opportunity.
The shift to quarters makes this easier to illustrate. While all of these games ended up going to the better seed, consider where they stood entering the final 10 minutes (or thereabouts).
No. 4 Michigan State 52, No. 13 Belmont 47
No. 5 Florida State 43, No. 12 Middle Tennessee State 42 (1:35 remaining in third quarter)
No. 5 Mississippi State 46, No. 12 Chattanooga 40
No. 6 West Virginia 49, No. 11 Princeton 46
No. 7 Washington 42, No. 10 Penn 41
No. 10 Green Bay 45, No. 7 Tennessee 44
4. Washington gets Pac-12 off to a good start
The Pac-12 favorites advanced with relatively little drama. No. 2 seeds Oregon State and Arizona State cruised at home on Friday. Third-seeded UCLA pulled away from Hawaii on Saturday, and No. 4 seed Stanford put aside Jennifer Azzi's homecoming to pick apart her San Francisco team.
But if the aforementioned teams will ultimately determine the perception of how the conference fared in the postseason by how they perform in later rounds, Kelsey Plum's first tournament win with Washington ensured the Pac-12 got off to the best start possible in the first round.
One of the nation's leading scorers didn't have her best shooting day against Penn. Plum scored 24 points but needed 25 shots to get there, a tally that included 1-of-8 shooting from the 3-point line. But Plum, who also had mixed results shooting the ball in her NCAA tournament debut a year ago in a loss against Miami, made sure the Huskies earned a second game this time as much through her passing as her scoring. She finished with seven assists and just one turnover, totals that included the assist on Talia Walton's go-ahead 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter and three more assists as her team maintained that lead through the fourth quarter.
If Plum's increased playmaking has been a theme all season, it culminated in her play Saturday.
As a result, the only Pac-12 team playing away from home in the first round survived a difficult game against the Ivy League champion and now gets to play the spoiler role against Maryland.
5. A tale of one city's two teams
A day that began with a rough morning for one Pittsburgh-area team, Robert Morris on the receiving end of a Connecticut blitz, concluded on a much happier note for the Steel City.
Looking very much like a team that has deserved the opportunity for a very long time, and not like a team nervous at finally getting it, No. 9 Duquesne nearly became the second team of the day in Storrs, Connecticut, to reach triple digits in a 97-76 win against No. 8 Seton Hall.
It is difficult to be as good as Duquesne over the past eight seasons in a league as consistently competitive as the Atlantic 10 and not make the NCAA tournament, let alone win a game. But the Dukes entered this season with only WNIT appearances to show for a 151-77 record and seven consecutive 20-win campaigns since the start of the 2008-09 season. An eighth such season finally earned the program's first NCAA tournament appearance. Deva'Nyar Workman totaled 25 points and 12 rebounds, and Kadri-Ann Lass, part of an international contingent key to the program's growth over the past decade, added 20 points.
It was a long time coming and worth the wait.