In the first Sweet 16 matchup in the Mercado Region, the No. 1 seed NC State Wolfpack will meet the No. 4 seed Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Upon the reveal of the 2021 NCAA women’s tournament bracket, NC State was a surprise No. 1 seed, with the committee unexpectedly vaulting them to a top line because of their ACC Tournament title.
Since then, Wolfpack have not exactly inspired confidence in their No. 1 seed selection, albeit they also have not shown themselves totally unworthy of the top billing. While they got off to slow starts in both their first-round and second-round games, the Wolfpack successfully steadied themselves in their second halves, allowing them to earn a pair of comfortable victories over NC A&T (79-58) and South Florida (79-67).
In their run to the ACC tournament championship, NC State trailed in the semifinals to Georgia Tech and finals to Louisville before finding ways to gut out wins, an indication that slow starts or notable deficits do necessarily prevent the Wolfpack from approaching their upside.
However, the possibility of the continued absence of Kayla Jones, who suffered an injury to her patella tendon in the first round, could hamper NC State against Indiana. With that said, ACC Co-Sixth Player of the Year Jada Boyd has more than stepped up for the Wolfpack. In her NCAA Tournament debut, Boyd shot a sterling 8-of-11 from the field on her way to a team-high 18 points. Then, in her first start of the season, Boyd again dropped 18 points, while also adding 10 rebounds for the double-double.
The only No. 4 seed to advance to the Sweet 16, Indiana has had arguably the most unassuming tournament run. And that’s a good thing! The Hoosiers took care business in the first round against VCU (63-32) and second round against Belmont (70-48). While playing locked in defense — allowing only 80 total points through two games, which is the best two-game defensive performance by a Big Ten team in tournament history — the Hoosiers have gotten the kind of balanced, team-wide offensive contributions that tend to get overshadowed by explosive individual performances.
But Grace Berger probably deserves more shine. The WBCA All-Region Finalist — and the nation’s leader in triple-doubles — stuffed the box score against Belmont with 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals after posting 20 points and eight rebounds against VCU.
Yet, Indiana also has enjoyed one of the easier paths to the Sweet Sixteen. The Hoosiers must be prepared to level up in order to upset the Wolfpack.
No. 1 seed NC State Wolfpack (22-2, 12-2 ACC) vs. No. 4 seed Indiana Hoosiers (20-5, 16-2 Big Ten)
When: Saturday, March 27 at 6 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome North Court in San Antonio, TX
How to watch: ESPN2/Radio: WHCC 105.1 FM (Indiana)
What to watch for: Is an Elissa Cunane breakout game on the way? The junior center, who recently was named a WBCA All-Region Finalist, has yet to find her offensive stride in NC State’s two tournament games. She has scored only 12 points in each contest as she has struggled to be efficient, a stark contrast to her season-long average of 16.3 points per game on 54.1 percent shooting from the field. However, it may be difficult for Cunane to get going against Indiana, as Mackenzie Holmes finished the season in the Top-10 in blocks nationally.