BRADENTON, Fla. – The top four seeds are still alive, but the move to match play already looks like a winner after the four quarterfinal matches wrapped up Tuesday at the NCAA Women's Championship.
In the traditional 72-hole stroke-play format, Southern Cal would already have won the NCAA title. This time, the Trojans were locked in a taut match against Washington, a team they had played six times this season and split the head-to-head series, 3-3.
Knotted up at two points apiece at Concession, USC’s Gabriella Then won with a messy par on the 17th hole to propel the Trojans into the semifinals. They will face Pac-12 rival Stanford, which dispatched Arizona, 4-1.
“Now,” Then says, “I just have to try to restart and refresh in my mind.”
Her match against Washington’s Jennifer Yang was one of the most compelling quarterfinal matches.
Then moved her match to 2 up on two occasions, only to see it return to all square after a Yang rally.
After rolling in back-to-back 25-footers to square the match, Yang came undone on Nos. 16 and 17. At the par-4 16th, she bailed out to the right and was 60 yards behind Then. Her 151-yard shot with a hybrid was pulled left, into the hazard, and she conceded the hole.
On 17, Then tried to hammer a 230-yard 5-wood into the par 5, but the ball drifted left and kicked down onto the tightly packed mud in the hazard.
Yang inexplicably followed her, drop-kicking a hybrid short and left into the muck.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t work,” Washington coach Mary Lou Mulflur said. “But there’s nobody I’d rather have in that situation. She’s money. She’s nails.”
Yang slashed out into the bunker, blasted that shot over the green and ran her fifth shot 10 feet past.
Then chunked her shot from the hazard into the bunker, knocked it out to 12 feet and rolled in the putt for a clinching par and 2-up win.
“I knew they’d be tough to beat,” Then said.
It was an emotional exit for Washington, which won six times this season and spent much of the year as the top-ranked team. The Huskies, despite losing their two best players to the pro ranks at the midway point, won three times in the spring and survived the match-play cut as the No. 8 seed.
“I don’t want my time with them to end,” Mulflur said, wiping away tears. “That’s about as close and as good as it’s going to get.”
Playing in its first NCAA Championship in 19 years, Texas Tech gave Duke an early scare but didn’t have the depth to hang on. The Blue Devils, looking for their seventh national title, cruised to a 4-1 victory to move on to the semifinals.
They will meet Baylor, the lowest-ranked team (No. 18) remaining, but one of the hottest in the country. The Bears won Big 12s and regionals entering this week’s championship, and then rolled to a 3-1-1 win over Tennessee.
1:30 p.m.-2:10 p.m. ET: (2) Duke vs. (3) Baylor
2:20 p.m.-3 p.m.: (1) Southern Cal vs. (4) Stanford