Women athletes made March Madness

The 2023 women’s tournament displays the bright future of the sport for players and viewers alike

March Madness has come and gone, but NCAA Division I women’s basketball showed off what is here to stay: stacked teams, talented stars and really great basketball. The 2023 women’s tournament games consistently broke viewership records, including the final, which drew in almost 10 million viewers.

It was exciting to see a tourney filled with upsets and close games across the board. Who would have thought that Ole Miss, ranked eighth in their quarter, would have beat top-seeded Stanford or that Louisville would decisively beat UT-Austin by 20 points? Whose bracket showed ninth-seeded Miami beating top-seeded Indiana and fourth-seeded Villanova to make it to the Elite Eight?

These upsets are just the tip of the iceberg; sure, they made watching the tournament more enjoyable, but more than that, they showed the depth of talent in today’s women’s college basketball.

Coming into the tourney, everyone’s eyes were on the South Carolina Gamecocks, last year’s champions, led by legendary coach Dawn Staley. After clinching the Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship (the program’s seventh SEC title in the last nine years) with an undefeated season, South Carolina was undeniably the favorite to win once again.

However, in the Final Four, the Gamecocks’ stacked lineup led on the court by almost-certain future WNBA star, Aliyah Boston, couldn’t stop the Iowa Hawkeyes. The solid program led by long-time coach, Lisa Bluder, had a not-so-secret weapon in Caitlyn Clark, AP’s 2023 player of the year. The combination of Clark’s 41 points and Iowa’s risky sag defense paid off: South Carolina went 20% from the 3-point line and an incredibly close game ended in an Iowa victory.

On the other side of the bracket, Miami’s improbable run came to an end with an Elite Eight loss to head coach Kim Mulkey’s LSU Tigers. Mulkey is a Basketball Hall of Famer and three-time NCAA Division I National Championship winner as Baylor’s head coach. In just her second season at LSU, Mulkey has completely rejuvenated the program. Most notably this year, she brought in sophomore Angel Reese, dubbed the “Bayou Barbie” and “Double-double Queen,” who transferred from Maryland. Then the Tigers played the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Final Four, the Hokies’ first appearance at this stage in the tournament. Mulkey’s coaching experience bested the solid Virginia Tech team with LSU’s outstanding performances by Reese and standout senior guard Alexis Morris.

So the championship game was set between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the LSU Tigers, two unanticipated finalists, but two unbelievably talented teams that put forth a final for the ages.

Both teams started off hot with quick possessions and trade-off jumpers. The game was slowed, however, by several foul calls early in the game, forcing both coaches to sub out their starters for the second string. LSU quickly showed off the depth of their bench with LSU guard Jasmine Carson’s electric performance of 19 points in the first half. Carson’s showing, alongside freshman Sa’Myah Smith and senior Last-Tear Poa, led to a 17-point lead at the half.

In the third quarter, the Hawkeyes began one of their infamous runs, cutting LSU’s lead to seven with Clark’s and her starter teammate Monika Czinano’s jumpers. However, the Tigers proved to be unstoppable with an outstanding fourth-quarter performance by Alexis Morris. LSU won 102-85 in their first basketball championship appearance (men’s or women’s) with a tournament record for scoring.

No doubt, there is still more work to be done in giving women’s basketball and its players the respect they deserve. But every coach, team and player performance in the 2023 NCAA Division I women’s basketball national championship tournament demonstrated the bright future of women’s basketball. Just two years after the 2021 tournament’s controversial lack of resources for the women’s in comparison to the men’s tournament, women’s basketball is finally being recognized for the talent and gameplay that it possesses. As generational players like Clark and Reese move on to the WNBA, there is an air of excitement about the momentum that women’s basketball has across the nation. This tourney was not a fluke, nor is women’s basketball’s star power new. People are just now recognizing it on a national level — it’s about time.