March Madness is in full swing, as teams strive for victory in various pinnacle events. The biggest of these events are the women’s and men’s NCAA Division I National Championships.
Kiwi representation in these championships rests solely with Charlotte Whittaker (University of Colorado) after the championship exits of the four other teams with New Zealand players on their rosters.
In NCAA Division II, Ella Bradley and Texas at Tyler are making history as is Luke McDowell, with the Alabama University Roll Tide at the Wheelchair Basketball National Championship.
The Women’s National Invitation Tournament and Women’s Basketball Tournament also reach a climax this week, while the Junior College National Championships get underway tomorrow.
Men’s NCAA Division I National Championship
Ben Gold and Big East Conference champs Marquette University Golden Eagles, beat Vermont 78-61 in a first round contest but were ousted by Michigan State in the next round – going down 60-69.
Against Michigan State, Marquette were just one point adrift with five minutes to play (51-52), but were outscored 17-9 in the closing spell. The Wellingtonian wing tallied 3 points (1/2 from downtown) along with a rebound and assist in the loss. For his freshman season, Gold played in all 36 games; registering 96 points and 37 rebounds (19 offensive) in total.
Taine Murray’s University of Virginia Cavalier’s return to the championship – for the ninth time in Tony Bennett’s tenure as head coach – ended in disappointment, as they suffered the first major upset of the 2023 tournament. Furman University made a three with 2.4 seconds remaining to pinch a 68-67 first round win. For the season, Murray played 13 games in his sophomore season with the Cavaliers.
Women’s NCAA Division I National Championship
With Charlisse Leger-Walker held to just 5 points, Pac 12 Conference champions Washington State Cougars were bundled out in the First Round by Florida Gulf Coast 63-74.
Leger-Walker earned an All-American Honorable mention after leading the Cougars in points and assists this season. She scored 530 points at 18 per game and dished 124 assists at a shade over 4 per game. She now has 1,465 career points from 89 appearances – all starts – to sit fourth on New Zealand’s all-time list of scorers in Women’s NCAA Division I basketball. Those ahead of her are Tall Ferns past – and present – in Erin Rooney (1,647), Akiene-Tera Reed (1,624) and Megan Compain (1,497).
Also from the Pac 12, the University of Colorado Buffaloes enjoyed a better outcome. Charlotte Whittaker and the Buffs comfortably disposed of Middle Tennessee 82-60, setting up a second-round blockbuster against Duke.
West Coast Conference champions University of Portland Pilots, featuring Emme Shearer, Melika Samia and Florence Dallow, also exited in the opening round defeated 63-85 by Oklahoma. Shearer was one of three Pilots in double figures – finishing with 12 points – and in doing so passed 300 points for the season at 10 ppg. Her 309 points total is second best to Leger-Walker in total points scored by a Kiwi for the season.
> March 20, Colorado (Charlotte Whittaker) v Duke
Men’s NCAA Division I National Invitation Tournament
In the only game involving a Kiwi, Oregon University proved far too strong for Akiva McBirney-Griffin and the University of California Irvine, winning their first-round tie 84-58. In his freshman season the former Waikato and Otago Nuggets forward made 8 starts in his 29 appearances, averaging 2.3 points per game.
Women’s NCAA Division I National Invitation Tournament (WNIT)
In first round action:
Ella Brow had 7 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals as Southern Methodist used their homecourt advantage to beat Little Rock 68-42.
Helen Matthews produced a career first double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds as Wofford College were pipped 63-66 by Florida in a game that featured nine lead changes and six ties. The Cantabrian guard enjoyed an outstanding junior campaign for the Southern Conference regular season champions, scoring 301 points at 9.7ppg along with 5.3 rebounds per game.
Kaylee Smiler and Arielle Mackey-Williams scored 10 points apiece as Brigham Young University came up short against Rice University going down 67-71. Sophomore Mackey-Williams finished the season as BYU’s third highest scorer, averaging 8.8ppg and Smiler fourth highest with 7.2ppg. The former Waikato representative also shot the three-ball well across the season; 45 makes from 96 attempts at a 47 clip%.
Jess Moors and Colorado State University Rams also bowed out in the first round, defeated 76-88 by Northern Iowa. Moors, the former Harbour and Westlake Girls player, has redshirted the 2022-23 season. Also watching from the side-line was Olivia Williams as University of California Irvine defeated San Diego State 55-45. The sophomore guard incurred a season ending injury in January after starting the first 18 games for the Anteaters.
> March 20, Southern Methodist (Ella Brow) v Texas Tech
Women’s Basketball Tournament (NCAA Division I)
Ashlee Strawbridge pulled down a team-high 6 rebounds and also claimed a steal as New Mexico State beat University of Illinois Chicago in a low-scoring 51-41 affair. The Cantabrian forward followed up with three points in a 57-53 semi-final win against East Tennessee State.
> March 20, New Mexico State v California Baptist
Women’s NCAA Division II National Championship
Waikato’s Ella Bradley and her University of Texas at Tyler Patriots team are headed to St Joseph, Missouri to compete at the Elite Eight where they will have to take down number one seed Ashland University to progress to the semi-finals.
> Upcoming: March 21, Texas at Tyler v Ashland University
Men’s National Championship – Wheelchair Basketball
Manawatū native Luke McDowall and the Alabama University Roll Tide picked up a 73-68 win over number Arizona to win their fourth national championship. This came with Alabama defeating Mizzou in the quarter-final, Illinois in the semi-final before coming up against arch-rivals – and number 1 ranked – Arizona in the Final.
Women’s NJCAA (Junior College) National Championship
All three teams with Kiwi representation on top-20 ranked teams received ‘at large’ invitations.
> March 22, Collin College (Waiata Jennings) v Cochise
> March 22, Dodge City Community College (Leah and Jenna Rose Mafua) v New Mexico
> March 22, Eastern Arizona (Alana Paewai) v North Dakota State College of Science
Men’s NJCAA (Junior College) National Championship
Trinidad State and Midland College gained automatic entry following Regional Championship success.
> March 20, Trinidad State College (Finn Lally) v Tallahassee
> March 21, Midland College (Ollie Hayward) TBC