The Sweet 16 is set and the Pac-12 and SEC make up half the field. Those were the two best leagues all season and tournament play in the first two rounds seemed to confirm it. Yet for all that success from the two conferences, the overwhelming favorite remains that one team from the American Athletic Conference: UConn.
The Huskies played their final game of the season in Gampel Pavilion on Monday and sent All-Americans Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck out in style in a 46-point win over Duquesne. Or maybe it was the other way around. The Huskies' big three combined for 61 points and exited the court together with hugs for coach Geno Auriemma.
Seven other teams also advanced Monday. Here are five takeaways from some of the day's other action:
1. Sweet 16 has a West Coast flavor
The celebration at the Pac-12 offices on Selection Monday must have been loud. A season-long pursuit to get four teams among the top 16 seeds hit the mark. Eight days later it's time to turn up the volume even more.
The Pac-12, the No. 1 RPI conference all season, delivered on the expectations that come with having four host schools by putting four teams into the regional semifinals for the first time. One-quarter of the regional semifinals will be Pac-12 schools.
The SEC also has four schools left playing, but it started with nine in the field. The Pac-12 went 4-for-5.
Arizona State lost at home to Tennessee on Sunday, but on Monday, seventh-seeded Washington pulled the surprise of the second round, upsetting No. 2 seed Maryland 74-65 in College Park.
It was the kind of game that makes the NCAA tournament inexplicably great, an upset that had no business happening. Maryland was bigger, more physical, deeper, more offensively diverse, superior rebounders. Yet for 40 minutes, the Huskies played bigger and were better in all of those areas, especially in the second half when they outscored the Terrapins 45-31. And Washington had the game's best player: Kelsey Plum.
The junior point guard scored 32 points, but more importantly, controlled the entire contest. Plum was the conductor; the rhythms of the game came almost entirely from her. Of Washington's first 18 points, Plum had a hand in 17 of them.
Plum and teammates Alexus Atchley and Talia Walton played all 40 minutes. Chantel Osahor played 37. The Huskies have no depth, which makes coach Mike Neighbors' personnel decisions easy. Unfortunately, they might have gotten even easier as Mathilde Gilling, the only player to even get off the Washington bench, had to be carried off the court late in the game with an apparent knee injury.
The Huskies will certainly enjoy their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2001, but they could be playing Friday's game against Kentucky at Rupp Arena with essentially five players.
Later Monday, after UCLA and Stanford avoided being upset victims, the Pac-12 had its four teams in the Sweet 16, but the Huskies made it just a little more unconventional than planned.
2. Walker a bright spot for the Aggies
When Washington and Texas A&M joined six other teams for a Thanksgiving weekend basketball event in Las Vegas, most would have predicted that it would be the Aggies, not the Huskies, who would still be playing today. But a promising and largely successful season in College Station had a tough and disappointing ending. First, there was the loss to Kentucky in the regular-season finale. Then came a quarterfinal SEC tournament exit at the hands of Tennessee.
But the good news of receiving a top-four seed was tempered by the announcement that senior forward Courtney Williams, A&M's second-leading scorer, and reserve guard Shlonte Allen were suspended for a violation of undisclosed team rules the day of the Aggies' first-round game against Missouri State. The pair was never reinstated and their absence was felt in a 74-56 loss on Monday to Florida State. The Aggies shot poorly and played uninspired defense in front of their home crowd.
The one bright spot on the day and the biggest one all season was senior Courtney Walker. Her 18 points moved Walker to the top of Texas A&M's all-time scoring list with 1,989 career points. She passed Takia Starks for the top spot and also leaves as the Aggies' leader in free throw percentage and field goals made.
3. Horns headed on
If only Texas didn't have to play Baylor this season. Texas lost to Baylor three times, all by big margins. The Longhorns tripped up just one other time all year, to Oklahoma, and largely dominated the rest of the schedule.
Now Texas is in the Sweet 16 after another one of those comfortable wins, 73-55 over Missouri.
On Monday, Texas' guards did most of the damage. Other nights it has been the bigs. Texas has depth and coach Karen Aston uses it. When the Longhorns are at their best, Ariel Atkins is too. The 5-foot-11 sophomore guard was solid against the Tigers with 22 points; 5-foot-9 freshman Lashann Higgs was another key with 11 points.
But next time out it could just as easily be 6-7 Imani Boyette or 6-5 Kelsey Lang paving the way. Brooke McCarty, a 5-4 guard, is Texas' leading scorer.
Diversity makes Texas a tough matchup. Missouri found out immediately with the Longhorns grabbing a 36-21 halftime lead.
Texas' goal this season was to take another step forward after reaching the Sweet 16 a year ago. Last March, UConn blocked the path. This time neither the Huskies nor Baylor is in the way just yet. The Longhorns, knowing UCLA is certainly formidable, can still be happy about that.
4. Night of the Samuelsons
These are good problems to have, but if you are Jon and Karen Samuelson, Monday evening could not have been easy. Two of their daughters, Karlie at Stanford and Katie Lou at Connecticut, were playing NCAA tournament games at the same time on different coasts. Technology gives us many advantages in keeping up with such things, but it still hasn't allowed anyone to be in two places at once.
Fortunately for the Samuelsons, both daughters won. The Cardinal needed every bit of Karlie's nine points, four assists and 38 minutes in a harrowing 66-65 win over No. 12 seed South Dakota State. Katie Lou wasn't nearly as impactful in her 22 minutes in UConn's 97-51 clinic over Duquesne. Scoring three points, it was her least productive game in awhile and came after a 22-point effort in the opening round against Robert Morris.
Stress for Jon and Karen -- whose oldest daughter, Bonnie, played for Stanford from 2011-15 -- will at least be split over a two-day span in the next round. Karlie and Stanford face Notre Dame on Friday, while Katie Lou's Huskies don't play again until Saturday against Mississippi State.
5. A-game for Allen
Speaking of sisters, Indiana junior guard Karlee McBride took the same court on Monday that older sister Kayla called home for four years when the Hoosiers met Notre Dame in the second round. It was one of Kayla's former teammates, not her sister, who stole the show in South Bend, however.
Notre Dame's Lindsay Allen was nothing but a distributor and facilitator on Saturday against North Carolina A&T. Monday she was Notre Dame's driving force. Two days after not even taking a shot in the opening round, Allen put up 13 field goal attempts against the game Hoosiers, and most of the shots were key in the 87-70 win.
Despite looking for her offense more, the junior point guard was still her typically efficient self. She hit 10 of those 13 attempts, still found teammates seven times for buckets, made five steals, and turned the ball over only twice. Allen finished with a game-high and season-high 22 points.
The Hoosiers were hanging with Notre Dame, trailing by just two with just more than two minutes left in the third when Allen made a steal and assisted on Arike Ogunbowale's short jumper. Eight seconds later, Allen had another steal and layup. The lead was back to six and the Hoosiers didn't threaten again.
For her part, McBride tied for the Indiana team high with 17 points, and she made four 3-pointers, but this game belonged to Notre Dame.
For the second straight tournament, the Irish will face Stanford in the regional semifinals. Allen had a career-high 28 points last time they met.