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March Madness: 5 takeaways from an action-packed Day 1 of the women's tournament

Day 1 of Women’s March Madness delivered near-upsets, actual upsets and second-half comebacks. It had a 52-point win by one team, and narrow victories from others. A freshman showed out and a 14 seed gave a 3 seed a scare.

Here’s everything you need to know about Friday’s results:

Audi Crooks scores 40 in win over Maryland

A year ago, Audi Crooks was playing high school basketball at a school with less than 500 students. On Friday, she set records on college basketball’s biggest stage.

Crooks, one of the country’s most dynamic freshmen, scored 40 points on an 18-for-20 shooting performance as Iowa State defeated Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament. She set her career high while also becoming the first player in 25 years to score 40 points in their NCAA tournament debut.

Her efforts also helped the Cyclones to a 20-point comeback win, which is the second-largest comeback in tournament history.

This is just one of many major accomplishments for Crooks this season. She also became the first freshman in program history to earn AP All-American honors. She was given an honorable mention after averaging 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest.

Crooks will now face two of the country’s other elite post players in Kiki Iriafen and Cameron Brink after Stanford advanced past Norfolk State in the first round. The Cardinal and Cyclones play Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.

Iowa State's Audi Crooks (55) put up a historic performance against Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by John Todd/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
Iowa State's Audi Crooks (55) put up a historic performance against Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by John Todd/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) (John Todd via Getty Images)

Rematch of the Carolinas set

Undefeated South Carolina’s first test of the tournament will come in the Round of 32 as the Gamecocks face North Carolina. The Tar Heels secured a 59-56 win over Michigan State in the first round thanks to two offensive rebounds on the final possession. Meanwhile, South Carolina made easy work of Presbyterian with a 91-39 win.

This matchup with UNC will be South Carolina’s second familiar opponent in two games, as it also played Presbyterian earlier in the season. That game, like the first-round matchup, was a blowout. But the Tar Heels challenged South Carolina when they played in November. In that game, the Gamecocks mounted a comeback after trailing by 11, ultimately topping UNC, 65-58.

When they played in November, North Carolina was led by Deja Kelly with 20 points and Alyssa Ustby with 18. Their attack will likely look similar when they play No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday, but the Gamecocks have changed a lot since then.

Expect more from freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley, who played just three minutes in the first matchup. Fulwiley was named SEC tournament MVP, and including the win over Presbyterian, she is averaging 16 points over her last four games. Her maturation could spell trouble for UNC as the Tar Heels try to contend with South Carolina’s depth.

Middle Tennessee nabs first major upset with win over Louisville

The Blue Raiders trailed by as many as 18, and at halftime their top scorer had just two points. But the No. 11 seed put on a master class in poise, chipping away at Louisville's lead before eventually pulling off a 71-69 victory. The comeback was the third largest in NCAA tournament history. Savannah Wheeler, who averages a team-high 17.3 points per game, erupted for 20 points in the second half, after scoring two in the first.

Middle Tennessee was a familiar foe for Louisville, as the two teams played in December of 2022, with the Blue Raiders winning 67-49.

The defending champion LSU Tigers await Middle Tennessee in the second round, but don’t expect the Blue Raiders to play scared. They’ve proven capable of playing with big-name competition this season. Middle Tennessee also defeated Tennessee, 73-63, on Dec. 6.

Ohio State's Celeste Taylor to play her former team

The selection committee seems to love a good storyline, and one of their creations is pitting Ohio State’s Celeste Taylor against Duke. The guard played two seasons as a Blue Devil before transferring to Ohio State. Taylor had 12 points, six rebounds, six steals and five assists in an 80-57 win over Maine.

Duke initially expected Taylor to return this season. After Duke lost to Colorado in the 2023 NCAA tournament, Taylor announced via social media that she planned to stay with the Blue Devils for a fifth season. She later changed her mind and entered the transfer portal, citing “unforeseen circumstances.”

Now, she will face her former squad in the Round of 32.

There was nearly a similar situation in Region 2, as Hailey Van Lith and LSU would have played her former team, but Middle Tennessee’s upset of Louisville foiled that matchup.

LSU survives close call with Rice

A 14 seed has never defeated a 3 seed in the women’s tournament, but Rice made a valiant effort against LSU. The Owls kept it close throughout before falling 70-60 to the Tigers behind a 10-point, 19-rebound effort from Angel Reese.

This is the second first-round scare LSU has endured at the hands of a 14 seed. In 2022, Jackson State took Kim Mulkey’s team to the wire before the Tigers eventually won, 83-77. They followed that up with a second-round loss to 6 seed Ohio State.

This time, LSU will play the Blue Raiders, who are hoping to keep their Cinderella story alive.

LSU will need to take better care of the ball after coughing it up 24 times against Rice. The Tigers typically commit 15.4 turnovers per game.