Iowa, Louisville bring March Madness experience to Seattle
Seattle — While most of the Sweet 16 is filled with top seeds, the Seattle 4 Regional is the landing place for teams that pulled off NCAA Tournament upsets to advance.
Caitlin Clark's second-seeded Iowa squad is the only one of the top four teams in this region to make it all the way West. And though No. 5 Louisville, No. 6 Colorado and No. 8 Mississippi knocked off the top seeds on their home courts to reach the regional semifinals, they're all from Power Five conferences and none see themselves as underdogs.
“You aren’t advancing to this time of the year if you aren’t a good basketball team,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “Ole Miss plays in a great league against great teams, same thing as we do. ... Am I completely shocked? No.”
Clark and the Hawkeyes will face the Buffaloes in the first semifinal Friday night. The Cardinals play the Rebels in the other one. The winners will square off Sunday with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Sweet 16 experience could be a factor in both matchups. The Cardinals are a regular in the regional semifinals, now appearing in the last six, while Ole Miss is making its first appearance since 2007. The Buffaloes advanced this far for the first time in 20 years after beating Duke in overtime. Iowa is making its third trip to the Sweet 16 in the past four tournaments.
Clark was a huge reason why Iowa didn't also lose in the second round. After being upset a year earlier in the round of 32, Clark wouldn't let that happen again in a tough game with Georgia. She either scored or assisted on 30 of Iowa’s 33 second-half points.
Now she'll try and get the team to its first regional final since 2019.
It's been a lot longer for the Buffaloes. Most of the players on the roster are too young to remember it — or weren't even born. Now they are writing their own piece of Colorado history.
“We have such a storied history of success when Ceal Berry was our coach,” Colorado coach JR Payne said. “We knew the potential was here. It had been a long time since we had been on this stage.”
The Buffaloes didn't have much time to soak in the moment because of the quick turnaround. Playing a late game at Duke on Monday night, Colorado flew home the next day before flying to Seattle on Wednesday.
“This week has been a whirlwind, we were up really late that night,” Payne said. “I was doing laundry, helping my kids with homework and get my children organized.”
Mississippi had an easier time as the Rebels stayed on the West Coast after upsetting Stanford on Sunday. The team got to explore Seattle on Wednesday, visiting the Space Needle and other local attractions.
“Yesterday we used it as a bonding experience," Mississippi guard Myah Taylor said. "That's very important. Those bonding moments outside of basketball fuel us on the court.”
Clark said she grew up playing soccer and probably could have been a Division I player in the sport but gave it up in high school.
Clark was clear that her role on the pitch was “definitely not defense."
“I was the forward; I scored the goals. Soccer was the first sport I played, and I actually played all the way through my sophomore year of high school,” she said. "It was really hard to give up, but in Iowa, soccer is in the spring which was when AAU basketball was, so I had to make a decision."
Clark credits her excellent passing — she led the nation in assists this season — to her soccer days.
“I’m able to anticipate a lot of things and know where I need to get my teammates the ball and on time,”" she said. “So I think understanding angles and anticipation is just like the biggest two things that help me be a good passer.”
Far away from home
Iowa is 1,500 miles from Seattle. Still, the Hawkeyes are the second-closest school of the eight teams at the regional. Colorado is 200 miles closer, earning the "most local” award here.
Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder would love to see a closer regional to Iowa.
“I would hope that Des Moines would bid for this. You look at Iowa, Iowa State and Drake, three of the four Division I schools from Iowa were invited to the NCAA Tournament with the automatic bids,” Bluder said. “With how well Iowa State and us draw, it would make sense. Des Moines should try for this, they hosted a site for the men this year ... we'd sell out.”
The NCAA has already locked in regionals through 2026.