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NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen: Cinderella Canes keep dancing as LSU Lady Tigers also advance to Elite Eight

The No. 9 seed Miami Hurricanes earned the program’s first Elite Eight appearance, holding off a comeback from the No. 4 seed Villanova Wildcats. The No. 3 seed LSU Lady Tigers then escaped against the No. 2 seed Utah Utes, advancing to the program’s first Elite Eight since 2008.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Greenville Regional Semifinals - Miami vs Villanova
Jasmyne Roberts steals the ball and races to the hoop, scoring a bucket that would contribute to her career-high 26 points.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday afternoon in Greenville, SC, the Miami Hurricanes and LSU Lady Tigers both advanced to the Elite Eight. The Canes and Tigers will meet Sunday afternoon, with a Final Four berth on the line. Here are our recaps of the Sweet Sixteen action:

No. 9 seed Miami Hurricanes over No. 4 seed Villanova Wildcats, 70-65

While the Wildcats clawed back, the Hurricanes hung on!

Although Miami established a 21-point lead that Villanova would erase, the Hurricanes again came up clutch, triumphing by five points to earn the program’s first Elite Eight appearance.

The game began with efficient scoring from both teams. The Canes had no problem puncturing the Cats’ defense for easy buckets at the basket, epitomized by Lashae Dwyer coming off the bench to score six first-quarter points off layups. March Maddy Madness continued for Villanova, with Siegrist, the nation’s scoring queen, putting in nine points in the first period.

Miami led 25-19 after the first quarter, maintaining their edge into the second by exerting physicality and force. In the half court, the Canes continued to slice the Cats for points in the paint. Miami’s domination of the glass also extended. At the half, the Hurricanes had a 21 to nine rebounding advantage. However, the Wildcats remained in contact behind Siegrist until the Hurricanes reeled off an 11-0 run that gave them a double-digit lead. While Villanova salvaged a few late buckets, Miami entered halftime with a 13-point lead, 46-33.

Siegrist led all scorers at the half with 15 points. Jasmyne Roberts had 12 points for Miami.

The Canes appeared to exit the halftime break with an extra dose of aggression, allowing them to stretch their lead to 20 points in less than a minute. In the early moments of the second half, Miami stifled Siegrist and Nova’s jump shooters with inflating, infectious swagger. However, Miami foul troubles combined with improved effort and execution from Villanova to change the course of the contest. Villanova unleashed a fullcourt press that prevented Miami from effectively attacking in the half court. A Cats’ comeback remained more than conceivable as a 14-0 run cut the margin, which had swelled to 21, to six by end of the quarter, 57-51.

Mistakes and missed shots characterized the early fourth. Scoring troubles persisted for the Hurricanes, while the Wildcats were able to score just enough. Siegrist then gave Villanova the lead from the free throw line with her 30th point of the afternoon. From there, it was a back-and-forth affair.

Second-round hero Destiny Harden responded with a three to regain a slight advantage for Canes. Back on the other end, Siegrist earned another trip to the line, sinking the first before the second spun out (her first and only free throw miss of the afternoon). After an empty possession for the Hurricanes, the Wildcats scored to take a one-point lead on a layup by Christina Dalce, one of a number of scores the sophomore secured at seemingly critical junctures. Roberts then hit a pair of two free throws to swing the minuscule margin back to Miami.

Following several scoreless tries on both sides, Villanova’s Lucy Olsen drove and hit a contested layup, giving the lead back to the Wildcats. Harden then had the ball in her hands on the other end. She missed a layup attempt, but Roberts snagged the rebound, converted the putback, drew the foul and cashed two free throws to put Miami up by a pair.

Villanova then got Siegrist a relatively good look on the low block that did not fall, forcing the Wildcats to begin to play the foul game. With Haley Cavinder splitting the free throws, Villanova remained alive, down only three. The Wildcats again were able to get the ball to Siegrist down low, but, again, the nation’s super scorer could not convert her tough attempt. Siegrist finished the afternoon, and (presumably) her collegiate career, with 31 points and 13 rebounds.

Jasmyne Roberts, who scored a career-high 26 points, then sunk two free throws to seal the victory, 70-65, for the Cinderella Canes.

No. 3 seed LSU Lady Tigers over No. 2 seed Utah Utes, 66-63

In contrast to Kim Mulkey’s jacket, this was not a glamorous affair.

Yet, Mulkey’s Tigers prevailed in a physical contest that saw both team’s stars foul out. LSU advanced to the program’s first Elite Eight appearance since 2008 behind a career-high 24 points from LaDazhia Williams.

Things were choppy early on, with a fast start from the Tigers stalling out and allowing the Utes to tie the score, 16-16, at the end of the first. The unevenness continued as, midway through the second quarter, both teams’ superstars were forced to the bench with fouls, with Utah’s Alissa Pili and LSU’s Angel Reese each accruing two. Both All-Americans also had five points. Although the Utes had the advantage when Pili took a seat, the Tigers quickly closed the margin with a 7-0 run. The sharpshooting Utes responded with a couple of 3-pointers to earn the four-point halftime edge, 33-29.

After the half, the stars were back on the court, and both would influence the action. Pili struck early with seven points, while Reese revved up as the third period progressed, eventually scoring nine points. Reese also captained LSU’s ownership of the glass. At the end of the third, the Tigers had a 29-21 advantage, including nine offensive boards, with four coming from Reese. However, the Utes were superior from deep, resulting in a one-point, 47-46, Utah lead heading into the fourth.

Troubles arrived for Reese early in the fourth, but she persisted through a leg cramp and a (temporarily) lost shoe. Her Tigers then appeared to take control with a 10-0 mid-quarter run. A 3-pointer by Alexis Morris gave LSU an eight-point lead, the largest advantage for either team on the afternoon.

But the Utes prevented the Tigers from claiming all momentum. Minutes later, Gianna Kneepkens responded with a 3-ball of her own, followed by a transition bucket. After a pair of defensive stops from the Utes, she then drew a foul on the break and drained her two free throws. Kneepkens would end the game with a team-high 20 points.

Soon after, Utes retook the lead at the line with two free throws from Isabel Palmer. Reese then drew a foul, going 1-for-2 to keep LSU down by one. Back on the other end, Williams, the scoring engine for the Tigers, came up with a key defensive play, blocking Pili in the low post. After LSU regained possession, Reese struggled to convert several contested chances. Yet Morris would scoop up a loose ball and force up a shot that drew the consequential fifth foul on Pili, who exited the game with 14 points. Morris hit both freebies to give LSU the lead with 10 seconds remaining.

The Utes aggressively attacked the basket, drawing the fifth foul on Reese in the scramble for the rebound. Reese finished with a double-double of 17 points and 12 boards. At the line with just under five seconds to go, Jenna Johnson airballed her first attempt before missing the second. LSU recovered the rebound and Morris iced the 66-63 victory, coolly sinking the final two free throws.