NCAA Women: Bibby reaches Final Four as last Aussie standing

Six schools featuring ten Australians reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division I women’s tournament, but by the end of the regional finals just one remained as Chloe Bibby and Mississippi State advanced to the Final Four in Columbus, Ohio.

Mississippi State secured their passage through to the Elite Eight with a 71-57 win over North Carolina State. After a tight first half which saw the #1 seeded Bulldogs take a 36-31 lead, a 22-10 third quarter put Mississippi State out of reach as they look to return to the national championship game and go one better than last year’s runner-up spot. Chloe Bibby played 14 minutes off the bench, shooting 1 of 3 from the field and converting an and-one on her sole made field goal.

The Bulldogs would then face Chantel Horvat and UCLA for a spot in the Final Four. The #3 seeded Bruins were coming off an outstanding 84-75 win over #2 seed Texas, a game in which Horvat played just two minutes but buried a corner three with her only shot of the game in the first half.

Mississippi State were always expected to secure the victory, with UCLA’s athletic frontcourt of Lajahna Drummer and superstar Monique Billings outmatched by the sheer size of 6’7” Teaira McCowan, who finished with 23 points and 21 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ 89-73 victory. Unfortunately, neither Australian saw much playing time, with Bibby featuring for two minutes whilst Horvat saw just a token few seconds once the result had become clear.

The Aussie pair of Anneli Maley and the injured Morgan Yaeger and their Oregon teammates faced the dangerous #11 seeded Central Michigan in the Sweet 16 after the Chippewas knocked off #3 seeded Ohio State in the second round, but a first quarter 24-12 onslaught led to an 83-69 win for the Ducks. Regular stars Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu each tallied double-doubles in the win, whilst Maley managed three minutes of playing time.

The Ducks then moved on to face a #1 seeded Notre Dame side that had somehow put together a 32-3 season to this point despite missing four players all season with ACL injuries. Oregon put together a six point lead in the second quarter, but Notre Dame shut down the Ducks’ offence in the third quarter, culminating in a 21-9 scoreline for the term and flipping the game on its head. Oregon rallied, but Notre Dame remained in control and iced the game at the charity stripe in an 84-74 win. Ducks coach Kelly Graves rolled with a short bench in this game, meaning there was no opportunity for Anneli Maley to see playing time.

Baylor had started the tournament well in spite of Kristy Wallace’s absence, but Oregon State proved to be a different challenge altogether. Despite possessing one of the nation’s best frontcourts in Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox, Baylor were unable to slow down Oregon State’s German centre Marie Gulich, who finished with 26 points and 9 rebounds. Baylor’s offence, on the other hand, was perhaps slightly off without Wallace controlling the play, and the Lady Bears were unable to overcome the challenge from the Beavers, falling 72-67 as their three-year run of Elite Eight appearances was snapped.

Stanford, and Alanna Smith in particular started well against Louisville, but were unable to keep pace with a rampant Cardinals side in an 86-59 loss. Smith connected on her first three shots of the game as Stanford trailed by just six after a quarter, but there was little to cheer about on offence for the remainder of the game as the Cardinal could only add 40 points in 3 quarters of play. 19 turnovers only added to Stanford’s issues as Louisville moved onto the Elite Eight, with Smith finishing her season with 8 points on 4 of 11 shooting and 5 rebounds. However, the future remains bright for Stanford with the unearthing of point guard Kiana Williams and Smith still with one season left to lead from the front.

Buffalo had done outstandingly to reach the Sweet 16 after knocking off Florida State in the second round, but facing the defending national champions in South Carolina was always going to be another step up in class, and it proved as much in a 79-63 defeat. The undersized Bulls were expected to find the going tough against expected #1 WNBA draft pick A’ja Wilson, and it came to pass as such with Wilson collecting 13 rebounds on her own in comparison to Buffalo’s team total of 21. Wilson and fellow frontcourt starter Alexis Jennings each scored 20 points as Buffalo hung with South Carolina in the early stages before the Gamecocks pulled away. Stephanie Reid finished her final college game with 8 points, and 5 assists, whilst Katherine Ups deserved to go out on a better performance than zero points and two steals in her final game. Twin sister Liisa Ups played token minutes in the dying embers of her final game, whilst junior Courtney Wilkins played 9 minutes but was unable to make a tangible impact.

Meanwhile, in the WNIT, Ella Hellessey and TCU knocked off Jasmine Trimboli and South Dakota to advance to the Final Four of that tournament. TCU rallied from a 42-39 deficit to take the lead in the second half and secure a 79-71 victory. Trimboli’s season finished with a solitary point and five rebounds in 16 minutes from a player known as much for her defensive intangibles as much as her box score production. Hellessey did not feature in the quarter-final matchup, but may yet get her chance as TCU face Indiana in the semi-finals.