SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Bigger crowds and blowouts highlighted the regional semifinals of the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
The NCAA was looking for an attendance boost by having teams host regionals, and they got it. The four sites averaged over 9,000 fans, up more than 2,000 from last season.
It's on pace to be the second-highest total ever, barely trailing the 2003 season. Nebraska, which didn't have a host team playing, drew 9,585 on Saturday. Over 11,000 turned out in Louisville on Sunday.
"I mean, what an environment we had here today for both games," Cardinals coach Jeff Walz said. "That's what I know we're trying to do is get as much publicity, as many fans as we can to come out and watch women's basketball and I thought our marketing department at the University of Louisville did a fantastic job. And I'm expecting an even bigger crowd for Tuesday night, which it's only good for our game."
While fans turned out in droves, they didn't get to see many close games. The eight Sweet 16 games had an average margin of victory of 17.8 points. That's the second-highest over the past 15 seasons, according to STATS.
The only game within single digits the entire round was North Carolina's seven-point win over South Carolina.
While the games might not have been close, the fans were treated to a few spectacular performances by some of the game's best players.
Alyssa Thomas carried Maryland to the regional final, scoring a career-high 33 points against Tennessee. Chiney Ogwumike had 29 points and 15 rebounds in the Cardinal's rout of Penn State. Odyssey Sims had 25 points in Baylor's victory over Kentucky.
Five takeaways from the regional semifinals:
STEP CLOSER TO PERFECTION: Both UConn and Notre Dame won their regional semifinal games by comfortable margins. It took the Huskies a while though to put away 12th-seed BYU. Connecticut (37-0) only led by one at the half and didn't seal the game until midway through the second half. Notre Dame (35-0) had a bit of an easier time scoring the first 14 points against Oklahoma State en route to the 17-point win.
ACC DOMINANCE: It was projected to be the top conference in the nation this season with the addition of Notre Dame to an already strong group. Three of the eight remaining teams still playing are members of the ACC. If Maryland, North Carolina or Notre Dame can get one more victory, it will end a seven-year Final Four drought for the conference.
"For the ACC, you know, nobody goes into these games thinking about conferences, obviously with the shifts that are taking place, but we do feel like our conference has prepared us for postseason," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "When you get to have the battles that we've had all year with Notre Dame and Duke and Carolina and the depth of our conference, we feel like it's prepared us for this time, so we're really proud."
SINKING SEC: While the ACC had a good Sweet 16, it was a rough one for the SEC.
Top-seeds Tennessee and South Carolina both lost while No. 3 seed Kentucky and No. 7 seed LSU also fell. Eight teams from the Southeastern Conference made the NCAA tournament and only Texas A&M is left. The Aggies are hoping to break a five-year Final Four drought for the conference, but for that to happen, they will have to find a way to pull off a monumental upset of UConn.
CLIMBING THE SCORING CHARTS: Baylor's Odyssey Sims became only the second player to reach 1,000 points in a single season. She's 41 behind Jackie Stiles' record set in 2001.
"I'm 41 points away, but at the same time I'm just trying to play basketball. If I get it I get it, if I don't then I'll be fine with it," she said.
Chiney Ogwumike isn't that far behind as Stanford's star has 932 points this year. That's the seventh-highest total ever. She's only three points behind Alysha Clark and 23 behind Sheryl Swoopes.
UNLUCKY ONES: For the third time in five seasons, two No. 1 seeds got knocked off in the Sweet 16. Tennessee was routed by Maryland and South Carolina was taken out by North Carolina. Only once since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994 have all four top seeds made the Final Four, and that was in 2012.
Teresa M. Walker in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.
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