Every year, the NCAA Tournament is good for more than its fair share of storylines. Whether it’s an under-seeded underdog knocking off a hands-down favorite or a player who has flown under the national basketball radar making a key play in front of countless fans, there are always a handful of favorites that emerge and etch their names into basketball history.
Thus far, the 2022 NCAA Tournament certainly hasn’t disappointed. Through two rounds, we’ve seen plenty of upsets; with everyone’s bracket already busted, let’s take a moment to appreciate some of the tournament’s individual standouts prior to the Sweet Sixteen.
Alexus Dye (Tennessee)
Tournament statistics: 19 points, 11 rebounds and 2 assists per game
Dye’s collegiate career began at Troy, where she quickly became a standout player — Dye averaged 10.1 points and 9.6 rebounds in just 19.1 minutes per game as a freshman and 16.6 points and 13.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore — so to say that she’s putting on a breakout performance in the 2022 NCAA Tournament wouldn’t be entirely correct.
However, within the context of her team’s success, Dye has proven to be invaluable. Her initial role as a Lady Vol wasn’t as large as it was when she was at Troy, but Tennessee has called her number more and more often in recent games, and she’s responded by playing her best basketball of the season. Dye has recorded healthy double-doubles of 18 points and 11 rebounds and 20 points and 11 rebounds in two NCAA Tournament victories, and with Tennessee’s depth suffering due to injuries to some of its other big-name players (Jordan Horston, in particular), you can bet she’ll once again be a major factor in the Sweet 16.
Lauren Jensen (Creighton)
Tournament statistics: 17.5 points and 5 rebounds per game
Sometimes it takes a change of scenery for a player to truly flourish, and it just so happens that Jensen is doing so on the country’s biggest stage.
In one of the most dramatic moments of the tournament thus far, Jensen hit a go-ahead 3-pointer to put Creighton, a No. 10 seed, ahead of the Iowa Hawkeyes with just 15 seconds remaining in the game. Jensen, who transferred to Creighton from Iowa last summer, has been quietly consistent for the Bluejays all season, averaging 12.6 points per game and knocking down 43.6 percent of her attempts from long range. There was nothing quiet about her play against the Hawkeyes, though, and she and her team now have countless fans rooting for what could be this year’s Cinderella.
Olivia Miles (Notre Dame)
Tournament statistics: 10.5 points, 9 rebounds and 11.5 assists per game
OK, so Miles probably isn’t catching anyone by surprise. The Fighting Irish’s prized freshman point guard was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press and received All-ACC First Team honors, ranking second in Division I in assists per game with 7.4.
This is Miles’ first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, though, and she’s electrified viewers with her play thus far. In her first-ever NCAA Tournament game, Miles became the first freshman in the history of the tournament to record a triple-double, racking up 12 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. She followed that performance with 12 more assists in a second-round blowout of Oklahoma. Miles’ future is clearly a bright one, and these games will likely be considered a foundation of her career as she shows out for years to come.
Hannah Sjerven (South Dakota)
Tournament statistics: 18 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game
The anchor of South Dakota’s Summit League-winning defense, Sjerven had one of the most demanding weekends of any player in the tournament, matching up against Ole Miss’ Shakira Austin in the first round and Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo after that.
It’s a challenge Sjerven passed with flying colors. She’s soundly outplayed her WNBA-bound competition thus far, particularly Austin: Sjerven scored a team-high 20 points in the victory over Ole Miss, shooting a perfect 7-for-7 from the field while also recording a trio of steals. Sjerven’s play against elite individual competition should help her own chances of making a WNBA team, but for now, she’s leading a Coyotes team that will play in its first Sweet 16 in program history.
Aaliyah Moore (Texas)
Tournament statistics: 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game
Moore was a member of a 2021 Texas recruiting class that featured four top-40 players (ESPN HoopGurlz), so expectations of her entering the 2021-22 season were understandably high.
Moore hasn’t quite met those expectations yet; her minutes fluctuated wildly during the regular season, and she frequently found herself behind multiple other frontcourt players on the Longhorns’ depth chart. She’s played a key role during the NCAA Tournament, though, leading Texas in scoring off the bench and doing so efficiently. In an opening-round Longhorns victory over Fairfield, Moore scored 18 points and connected on 10-of-10 free throws; one game later, she scored 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field. It’s hard to think of a better way for a highly-recruited freshman to come into her own.