The column inches and server space given over to sports is, like the coverage of most everything in this madhouse we call the modern age, dominated by the achievements of male athletes. This is likely why you may not be aware that Portland will host part of this year’s NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball tournament, with two regional semifinal games going down this Friday, March 29 and the regional championship on Sunday, March 31 at the Moda Center.
By that point, the field of 64 teams will have been winnowed down to 16, with four of them arriving to battle it out for a shot at the Final Four in Tampa, Florida. And it’s anyone’s guess which squads will make it this far, as the competition is wide open. There have been plenty of dominant performances throughout the 2018-19 season, but when these teams cross paths this month with an eye on the big prize, anything can happen.
Even so, with what we’ve seen of the NCAA women’s basketball field and how they were seeded for this season’s championship tournament, we feel pretty comfortable making some predictions for which four teams will be battling it out at the Moda Center.
University of Oregon
The Ducks may have lost their final game to Stanford—and the Pac-12 championship as a result—but they still spent much of the season mowing over the competition, led by junior point guard Sabrina Ionescu. The 21-year-old is one of the most nimble and unselfish players in the college circuit, which is how she was able to break the NCAA record for triple-doubles this year. She was joined in the fun by forwards Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally, who each averaged 16 points this season.
The only other team that could have a potentially easy route to the Portland Regionals is Mississippi State. After winning their school’s first-ever SEC Championship for a women’s sport last season, the team improved on greatness, getting a second title earlier this month with a brutal 101-70 blowout of Arkansas. The key was a tournament-record-breaking performance by senior center Teaira McCowan. who scored 24 points on her way to a double-double.
Florida Gulf Coast University
The Eagles from Fort Myers, Florida, have been nearly unstoppable within the Atlantic Sun Conference this season. The team went on a 19-game winning streak and went 16-0 in conference play, netting their third straight title to boot. Their biggest weapon is redshirt junior Keri Jewett-Giles, who joined the Eagles this season and led all scorers, averaging 12 points per game. But keep an eye on the defense of Destiny Washington and Tytionia Adderly, who’s on pace to break the school’s rebounding records.
Point guard Tiana Mangakahia was impossible to ignore this season, if only because she was on the court for nearly every minute the Orange played. But her impact went much further as she used her time effectively, scoring with ease and authority, while distributing the ball (she had almost half of the team’s total assists) so her teammates Miranda Drummond and Gabrielle Cooper had room to rain down three-pointers. On paper they feel like the underdogs in this bracket, but don’t count them out.
If it all comes to pass and these four teams land in the Portland Regionals, we think U of O is going to be the last team standing after what will be a tough battle against Mississippi State. McCowan’s gonna get her licks in, but the Ducks have the more balanced attack and, in a sense, home-court advantage. Their victory is far from guaranteed, especially after stumbling against Stanford in the final game of the season, but that loss will likely only add fuel to their burning desire to go all the way.