March Madness: 7 women's basketball players to watch in the NCAA tournament

The NCAA tournament boasts an exceptional freshman class this year, along with a collection of upperclassmen who have hit a new groove. With the rapid growth of women's college basketball viewership, they're all poised to compete on a larger stage than ever.

Last season, South Carolina beat UConn in the most-watched women's title game since 2004. The momentum carried through this season, as South Carolina's defeat of LSU became the most-watched regular-season women’s college basketball game since 2010. Like all season, South Carolina's Aliyah Boston, LSU's Angel Reese, Iowa's Caitlin Clark and Villanova's Maddy Siegrist are must-see stars.

Here are additional players we’re excited to watch in the tournament — in no particular order.

[Free bracket contests for both tourneys | Printable Women's | Men's]

Aaliyah Edwards, UConn

Junior, forward

16.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg

Edwards won the Big East's Most Improved Player award earlier this month for a reason. The Huskies' injury woes have impacted the whole team, with Paige Bueckers (knee) and Ice Brady (knee) already out for the season. Azzi Fudd returned for the Big East tournament after missing 22 games with a knee injury. Sustaining a foot injury and a broken nose, Edwards has stepped up for UConn.

She came into the season with just three career double-doubles, all from her freshman campaign. She has recorded 14 this season. Aside from being named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East tournament, she's one of 10 finalists for the 2023 Naismith Player of the Year award. The No. 2 seed (Seattle 3) Huskies will look to Edwards as they look to win their 12th NCAA title.

Aliyah Edwards broke her nose in October and still wears a face mask after its healing. (David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)
Aliyah Edwards broke her nose in October and still wears a face mask after its healing. (David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

Zia Cooke, South Carolina

Senior, guard

15.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg

Like Aliyah Boston, Brea Beal and head coach Dawn Staley, Cooke has racked up plenty of awards and recognition for her role in the 32-0 reigning champions' success. Last season, she was even honored with her own street in her hometown of Toledo. Her senior season has seen a boost in efficiency, which makes her that much more fun to watch.

She is recording career highs of 47.9% effective field-goal percentage and 79.7% from the free-throw line, where she has landed more frequently than ever this season (four free-throw attempts per game). Arguably the most important improvement for the No. 1 seed (Greenville 1) Gamecocks, she's averaging a career-low 1.7 turnovers per game.

Flau'jae Johnson, LSU

Freshman, guard

11.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg

When LSU defeated Georgia to advance to the SEC tournament semifinals, Johnson stepped up with solid shooting and important defensive boards. She went 5-of-7 from 3, adding to her impressive 21 points and eight rebounds. Playing with upperclassmen stars in Angel Reese and Alexis Morris, the freshman was praised by head coach Kim Mulkey for her evolution into a confident and relaxed player.

Johnson is also a rapper. She'll incorporate the flair of entertainer into her play when the No. 3 seed (Greenville 2) Tigers go dancing.

Cotie McMahon, Ohio State

Freshman, forward

14.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg

McMahon does it all for the No. 3 seed (Seattle 3) Buckeyes. This was on display during the Big Ten tournament, where she recorded two double-doubles and two 20-point performances in three games. Across that span, McMahon averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.3 blocks. She was named to the all-tournament team after shooting 40% from 3 on only five attempts and 50% from the field. She's also efficient at the free-throw line, making 82.6% of her attempts.

With a deep range and the ability to finish in the paint, she'll continue to be difficult to defend.

Mackenzie Holmes, Indiana

Senior, forward

22.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg

Holmes is not just a quality scorer, she's also tough on defense. She led the No. 1 seed (Greenville 2) Hoosiers in scoring for more than 20 games this season and has recorded double-figure points in every matchup. Snatching a career-high 5.2 defensive rebounds per game, her 1.9 blocks per game rank second in the Big Ten and earned her the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

The Naismith College Player of the Year semifinalist and John R. Wooden Award finalist demonstrated her approach to playing inside the paint during an ESPN segment last month:

Alissa Pili, Utah

Junior, forward

20.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg

Pili made history for the No. 2 seed (Greenville 2) Utes when she was named the program's first Pac-12 Player of the Year. She leads the conference in scoring, putting up double figures in all but one game this season, including 16 with at least 20 points. She won the same award for a stellar 2019-20 season at USC and transferred to Utah after injury limited her playing time. Now, she's also a semifinalist for the 2023 Naismith Trophy College Player of the Year and John R. Wooden Award finalist.

Utah forward Alissa Pili will be a force during the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/Tyler Tate)
Utah forward Alissa Pili will be a force during the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/Tyler Tate)

Desi-Rae Young, UNLV

Junior, center

18.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg

Young is the first player in Mountain West history to average 18-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and shoot better than 60%. She led the conference in double-doubles with 17, when no one else in the conference had more than nine. Earlier this month, she won the conference tournament MVP award as she led her team to its second consecutive Mountain West title with 28 points and 17 rebounds.

After her major role in the No. 11 seed (Greenville 2) UNLV's success last season, she has improved in every statistical category. This season, she's a finalist for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year award by Her Hoop Stats.