Women’s basketball

Report: NCAA makes progress on gender inequality at tourneys

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA has adequately addressed nine of 23 recommendations for creating comparable NCAA Tournament experiences for men’s and women’s basketball players, according to a progress report released Wednesday.

College sports’ largest governing body hired a third party to evaluate its response to a scathing report issued almost a year ago that criticized gender inequality in the tournaments.

Among the most visible changes noted in the progress report were “March Madness” branding and increased cross-promotion for both tournaments in 2022, as well as the addition of four teams to the women’s tournament to create a “First Four” event to bring it in line with the men’s tournament structure.

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball committees jointly rejected a recommendation to hold simultaneous Final Fours in the same city, the report said, and NCAA leadership decided against changing the Division I basketball administrative structure. That means vice president of women’s basketball Lynn Holzman continues to report to senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt.

An outside firm was hired to conduct the assessment and that the NCAA was honoring the firm’s request to not be identified, as per company policy, NCAA Associate Director of Communications Meghan Durham told The Associated Press in an email.

“The findings of this assessment illustrate our commitment to advance gender equity at NCAA championships. Thanks to a collaborative spirit, significant accomplishments were achieved this past year,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “We have said it before – our work is not finished. Gender equity must remain a priority for leaders throughout college sports and we look forward to continuing to support these efforts moving forward.”

The initial report published in August was done by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, which was hired after the NCAA failed to provide similar amenities to the teams in the 2021 men’s and women’s Division I tournaments.

The tournaments were played in “bubbles” because of the pandemic, and players blew up social media with complaints that showed disparities between men’s and women’s weight-training facilities, food, lounge areas and gifts – prompting apologies from NCAA executives.

The Kaplan report said the NCAA failed to uphold its commitment to gender equity by prioritizing its cash-cow men’s tournament “over everything else” and put forth the recommendations that the NCAA has enacted or considered.

The issues that women’s players drew attention to have been addressed, the progress report noted. And in addition to the branding improvements, the NCAA increased full-time staff working on women’s tournament; improved communication between men’s and women’s basketball committees; began a program to identify and track areas that need to be the same, comparable and different in men’s and women’s tournament experiences; hired a third party to produce an annual report on gender-equity initiatives; and issued statements on how gender-equity issues are or will be addressed.

The progress report also pointed out the NCAA increased the 2022 women’s tournament expenses budget by $6.1 million and that an additional $1 million would be added.

Among areas in progress: hiring a full-time employee to focus on women’s and gender-equity issues; initiating third-party assessments of gender-equity progress every five years; emphasizing new corporate sponsorships for the women’s tournament; pursuing promotional and marketing opportunities that benefit both tournaments; building on the increased branding visibility with “March Madness” courts and hoops at the women’s First Four and first and second rounds.

In the future, the NCAA is looking to pursue standalone rights for the women’s tournament once existing media and marketing contracts expire in 2024, the report said, as well as hiring a senior vice president for revenue focusing on both tournaments and creating a women’s tournament revenue distribution plan that’s more in line with that of the men’s tournament.

NCAA revenues surpassed $1 billion in the year before the pandemic and almost $900 million of that was tied to the media rights deal with CBS and Turner for the men’s tournament.

The women’s tournament is part of a package with more than two dozen other NCAA championships that ESPN owns and pays about $34 million per year for through 2023-24. But according to an assessment done for Kaplan by a team of sports media and marketing experts, the women’s tournament will be worth between $81 and $112 million annually beginning in 2025.

Stanford’s Belibi becomes third woman to dunk in NCAA game

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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STANFORD, Calif. — Stanford’s Francesca Belibi became the third woman ever to dunk in the NCAA Tournament, slamming one down with one hand in the second quarter Friday night for the top-seeded, defending champion Cardinal in their first round game against 16th-seeded Montana State.

Belibi’s dunk marked the first by a woman in the tournament since Brittney Griner in 2013 and just the third overall along with Candace Parker’s feat in 2006. A 6-foot-1 junior who routinely dunks in warmups and practice, Belibi had a pair of slams last season – on Dec. 13, 2020, at rival California in Berkeley and again at week later at UCLA.

She blocked a shot at the 3-point line then drove the length of the floor and pounded it through the rim for her third career dunk, thrilling her teammates and earning a roaring standing ovation at the next timeout as she came off the floor.

Stanford began its title defense by holding the Bobcats scoreless in the opening 10 minutes for a 20-0 lead after the first. It marked the first time in the Cardinal’s storied history holding an opponent to no points in any period and just the second ever in the NCAA Tournament.

South Carolina did so against Texas in the 2021 tournament.

Dayton beats DePaul 88-57 in inaugural women’s First Four

Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

AMES, Iowa — Erin Whalen scored a career-high 28 points, hitting seven of Dayton’s 13 3-pointers and the 11th-seeded Flyers eased past DePaul 88-57 on Wednesday night in the inaugural women’s First Four.

Dayton (26-5), making its 10th NCAA Tournament appearance, advanced to play No. 6 seed Georgia on Friday in the Greensboro Region.

Jenna Giacone scored 19 of her 21 points in a dominate first half for the Flyers.

Dayton made 11 of 13 3-pointers in the first half while holding DePaul, the nation’s scoring leader at 88.3 points a game, to just 11 of 37 from the field. Whalen made Dayton’s eighth straight 3-pointer of the first half for a 46-27 lead. The Flyers entered averaging 5.9 3-pointers per game.

Whalen and Giacone combined for three 3-pointers during a 9-0 run in the first quarter and they added five 3-pointers in the opening seven minutes of the second quarter. Whalen and Giacone scored 19 straight Dayton points in the second quarter before a Makira Cook basket gave the Flyers a 19-point lead with 1:41 left.

Giacone made all four of her 3-point attempts in the first half and 6 of 8 shots overall. Whalen added 17 points and Cook had 14 to help Dayton build a 55-32 lead at the break.

Cook finished with 16 points and Tenin Magassa had eight points, 14 rebounds and seven of Dayton’s season-high 15 blocks. Giacone added five blocks. The Flyers, the Atlantic 10 regular-season champs, held opponents to 54.7 points a game this season.

DePaul shot just 27.1%.

Star freshman Aneesah Morrow had 28 points and 17 rebounds for her nation-leading 27th double-double of the season in 33 games for DePaul (22-11). Lexi Held added nine points for the Blue Demons, who had just eight players available.

Howard beats UIW 55-51 in first women’s First Four game

Gerry Melendez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Brooklynn Fort-Davis had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Krislyn Marsh added 14 points and 17 rebounds and Howard beat fellow No. 16 seed Incarnate Word 55-51 on Wednesday night in the first women’s First Four game.

Howard (21-9), in its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001, advanced to play overall No. 1 seed South Carolina (29-2) in the Greensboro Region.

Iyanna Warren made a floater in the lane and followed with a long jumper on Howard’s next possession to extend the lead to 47-42 with 4:53 left.

Fort-Davis ended Howard’s three-minute scoreless stretch with a shot under the basket for a 49-46 lead with 1:20 remaining. She added a basket at 43 seconds and a free throw with 35.8 left for a four-point lead. Kaniyah Harris gave Howard a seven-point lead in the closing seconds before Destiny Jenkins beat the final buzzer with a long 3-pointer.

Destiny Howell, the MEAC tournament most outstanding player, picked up two fouls in the first quarter and played just nine minutes in the first half before finishing the game with 11 points for Howard. The Bison shot just 30.9% from the field, but held a 53-34 advantage on the glass.

Tiana Gardner scored 16 points for Incarnate Word (13-17) in the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance. Jaaucklyn Moore, who led the Southland Conference at 17.6 points per game, added 14 points. Chloe Storer beat the third-quarter buzzer with a long 3-pointers, following an offensive rebound, to give Incarnate Word a 38-35 lead.

Howard missed 14 straight shots in the first half, going six-plus minutes without a point, before Fort-Davis’ putback ended the field-goal drought to get within 22-19. Howard shot just 28.6% in the first half, including 1 of 12 from 3-point range, but outrebounded Incarnate Word 27-15 to stay within 28-26 at the break.

Howell gave Howard its first lead, 35-33, since it was 17-15 with a steal and fast-break layup to snap her string of 10 straight misses with 1:36 left in the third quarter.

Howard and Incarnate Word are two of the four automatic qualifiers in the First Four games, after winning conference tournaments, as he NCAA expanded the tournament field to 68 teams.

Virginia fires women’s hoops coach Thompson after 4 seasons

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia dismissed women’s basketball coach Tina Thompson after four seasons on Thursday,

Athletic director Carla Williams made the announcement. It came one day after the 14th-seeded Cavaliers were eliminated 61-53 by Wake Forest in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. Thompson has one year remaining on her contract.

The Cavaliers were 5-22 this season and 30-63 in four years under Thompson, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and four-time WNBA champion. They were 15-38 against conference competition.

“Unfortunately, we have not experienced the kind of success this program has come to expect and deserve,” Williams said in a statement released by the school. “I am thankful for Coach Thompson’s efforts and I wish her the very best.”

Thompson’s tenure included an 0-5 mark last season, before the Cavaliers opted out of the season, and a a 2-16 conference ledger during the regular season this year that includes a pair of forfeits.

Virginia took a loss without taking the court after a game scheduled Feb. 10 at No. 4 Louisville was canceled following an announcement by the ACC that the Cavaliers’ plane had mechanical and staffing issues so the team couldn’t get out of Charlottesville in time.

The most recent forfeit became official last week when a rescheduled home game against No. 14 Notre Dame was not played. The game was initially scheduled for Jan. 25, but was canceled, Thompson said, to allow the Fighting Irish to play another opponent. However, Notre Dame ultimately played no one on Jan. 25.

Thompson said Virginia decided not to play the game after it was rescheduled for Feb. 22 because of the academic stress she believed it would have put on her players.

Arizona State’s Turner Thorne retiring after 25 seasons

Alex Gould - The Republic

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State women’s basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne is retiring after 25 years.

Turner Thorne announced her retirement Thursday, a day after the Sun Devils lost to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.

Turner Thorne turned Arizona State into a national powerhouse after being hired in 1996. She led the Sun Devils to the NCAA Tournament 14 times, including five trips to the Sweet Sixteen and two to the Elite Eight.

The 55-year-old Turner Thorne is the winningest coach in Arizona State history and second in the Pac-12 to Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, her former coach, with a record of 500-308.

Turner Thorne played four seasons at Stanford before embarking on a coaching career that started when she was a graduate assistant at Washington, followed by an assistant job at Santa Clara and four seasons as Northern Arizona’s head coach.

Arizona State went 20-60 in the three seasons before Turner Thorne was hired and she built the program back up, leading the Sun Devils to their first league championships in history during the regular season and Pac-10 tournament.

Arizona State had a school-record run of six straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2014-19 and qualified for the postseason 23 times under Turner Thorne. She took a leave of absence during the 2011-12 season and led the Sun Devils to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14.

The Sun Devils struggled with injuries this season, finishing 12-14 overall and 4-9 in Pac-12 play.