Stars pair up, deliver potent 1-2 punches in women’s tourney

Some of the best play in the women’s NCAA Tournament has come in pairs.

From Michigan’s Leigha Brown taking the scoring burden off of Big Ten player of the year Naz Hillmon to Iowa lighting up the scoreboard with the outside-inside threat of the Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano, talented teammates have stepped up to deliver potent 1-2 punches and knock out feisty opponents.

“When you’ve got balance on your team, you’ve got to make decisions as a coach on how you’re going to defend those players,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “You can’t give one all the attention and then another one lights you up.”

A look at some impressive duos in the tournament:

CAITLIN CLARK AND MONIKA CZINANO (Iowa)

Clark and Czinano have combined to put up 95 of Iowa’s 173 points in their two tournament wins.

Clark, who leads the nation in scoring at 26.5 points per game, followed up a 23 point first-round performance against Central Michigan with an Iowa-tournament record 35 against Kentucky in the second round.

Czinano, who is shooting 62.7% from the floor this season, chipped in with 14 points and eight rebounds against the Wildcats after putting up 23 in the first round.

“It’s nice playing with the best field goal percentage shooter in the country,” Clark said. “She has great hands, great vision. She knows when the ball is coming, even if I’m not looking straight at her. It’s special playing with her. She makes me look a lot better.”

NAZ HILLMON AND LEIGHA BROWN (Michigan)

The pair combined for 42 points in their first-round win over Florida Gulf Coast, then outplayed Tennessee’s vaunted duo of Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell in the second round, leading the Wolverines to the program’s first Sweet 16.

Brown, who missed 35 days this season because of coronavirus-related issues, had a season high 28-points in the first round and 23 points Tuesday.

“I do think that it opens things up for everyone,” said Hillmon, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds in the opener and 19 points and 15 boards on Tuesday. “She can penetrate and pass, score and that’s an added defender.”

ZIA COOKE and ALIYAH BOSTON (South Carolina)

Boston and Cooke came into Dawn Staley’s program together before the 2019-20 season.

Boston had 20 points and 18 rebounds in the Gamecocks’ first round win, then put up 19 points in a 17-point victory against Oregon State. Cook had 13 points in game one and 10 in the second round.

PAIGE BUECKERS and OLIVIA NELSON-ODODA (UConn)

While Bueckers (24 points, nine rebounds, six assists against High Point) filled the stat sheet in the Huskies first-round rout of High Point, Nelson-Ododa (22 points, seven boards) dominated the paint.

Bueckers, the Big East’s player of the year, led the Huskies again against Syracuse with 20 points. Nelson-Ododa had 17 points and eight boards, while containing the Orange’s 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso, holding her to 12 points.

“She does so much,” Bueckers said. “I give a lot of credit to her. A lot of people should, but obviously, sometimes it gets overlooked. But I don’t think it ever should.”

DIAMOND MILLER AND ASHLEY OWUSU (Maryland)

The sophomores entered the tournament averaging a combined 35 points a game for the nation’s highest scoring offense, which earned both on the All-Big Ten First Team honors.

They combined for 39 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists in their first NCAA Tournament game, a 98-45 victory over Mount St. Mary’s; Owusu scored 20 points with eight rebounds and seven assists. Miller had 19 points.

“You see that chemistry on the court,” coach Brenda Frese said. “I remember when Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman kind of had a neat combo like that.”

They put up 3 points in 1a 00-64 second-round rout of seventh-seeded Alabama that saw five players reach double figures.

DANA EVANS and HAILEY VAN LITH (Louisville)

The Cardinals guards have led their team to two come-from-behind wins.

Van Lith, a freshman, scored 17 points in her first tournament game, while Evans, a senior and the ACC player of the year, added 15 in a 74-43 rout of Marist.

Coach Jeff Walz trusted Van Lith to lead the team back from a nine-point second-quarter deficit, while Evans sat on the bench for much of the third quarter.

The pair led a bigger comeback in the second round Wednesday as the Cardinals erased an 18-point early deficit to beat Northwestern 62-53. Van Lith (13 points) hit all four of her shots and Evans added 14 points and made several key plays down the stretch.

“We’re never going to lay down and just let a team beat us,” Evans said.

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