The USC Gamecocks celebrate just after winning the championship. PHOTO: NCAA on Instagram

Held in Minneapolis, MN, the Women’s NCAA March Madness showcased exciting matchups, star players and many historic moments for the women’s game. Coming into the tournament, the one seeds were Louisville, South Carolina, Stanford and NC State, also accompanied by UConn as a two seed, projected to go far. Some early upsets shocked fans, including number 10 seed Creighton fighting all the way to the Elite Eight led by Morgan Maly and beating Iowa with a last-minute 3-pointer by Lauren Jensen. However, the majority of the favored teams made it to the Final Four, where Stanford faced UConn and USC faced Louisville. While USC easily cruised past Louisville led by Aliyah Boston, the national player of the year, UConn and Stanford had a tough matchup. With the Cardinal as the reigning champs from 2021 and UConn with a strong program history, the game went to double overtime until the Huskies were able to take control, led by standout sophomore Paige Bueckers. The final game was an exciting matchup that was sure to lead to a great game. Toward the beginning, the game remained tight, but after a dominant second half, the gamecocks pulled ahead, winning the championship 73-57. Zia Cooke and Aliyah Boston both had one of their best games of the season and led their team to victory despite the strong UConn team against them. This was the second program championship win and made Coach Dawn Stanley the first African American woman coach ever to win.

After the viral TikTok video from the 2021 women’s tournament displayed the discrepancy from the men’s tournament by showing the shockingly different supplies provided to both, the NCAA made some necessary changes for the past tournament. This was the first year that the women’s tournament included the “first four,” where 68 teams make the tournament instead of just 64 so they can compete in a play-in game. Despite this being new this year, this has been a part of the men’s tournament since 2011. In addition, the NCAA made sure to give equal equipment to the men’s’ and women’s’ teams this year, while last year the amounts were very unequal and the women were given significantly less. The players and fans have progressively been fighting for more equality within the two tournaments, fighting the long-held idea that the women’s game is more boring to watch. They were able to prove this wrong when over 4.46 million people viewed the women’s championship, more than the past two decades had ever been. 

As the women’s side of the sport has progressed, their opportunity to earn more money for playing has increased as well. Through NIL endorsements, a recent assessment has found that standout UConn player Paige Buekers can earn up to 69.2 thousand dollars for making one endorsed post on a social media platform. Her fan base is growing as she continues to succeed in the game, and she recently became the first NCAA women’s basketball player to have over one million followers on Instagram, something very rare for even men’s players. Another star player in the women’s league who continues to break the barrier is Hailey Van Lith on the Louisville women’s team, who also is breaking pay barriers with over 700,000 followers on Instagram and up to 44,000 dollars per post. Despite the national popularity of the men’s tournament, these two players earn more money through NIL than any of the men’s players in the Final Four, according to Opendorse. Of the top five players earning the most money throughout the NCAA tournament, four of them are women, including Cameron Brink of Stanford and Zia Cooke of South Carolina along with Bueckers and Van Lith. 

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