3:00 PM – (3) Texas Tech vs Auburn
Texas Tech won’t enjoy near as easy a time as they had against Prairie View A&M in the opening round of the tournament. The Red Raiders probably should have had a tougher first round matchup, even with a national seed, but they benefitted from geography and pounded the stuffing out of the SWAC team as a result. It’s pretty hard to discern anything from that win, other than that TTU is pretty good at beating up minnows. A last chance to cash in on the combination of Jaelene Hinkle and Janine Beckie together on the same team is on the table, with SEC foes Auburn unlikely to be too accommodating.
Auburn looked like a clear candidate for an upset going into the NCAA Tournament against a surging Florida Gulf Coast team. But the Tigers tossed conventional wisdom aside in a 1-0 win where they jumped on the Atlantic Sun side early before holding off any attempts at a comeback. It was an impressive showing for a Tiger side that had much to prove after an early flameout in the SEC Tournament. Karen Hoppa’s side has never been beyond this stage of the NCAA Tournament but will fancy their chances against a Texas Tech side that is one of two representatives remaining from the Big XII after a disastrous opening weekend for the conference.
LB – Hinkle (TTU) vs RF – Dodson (AUB)
You could also add in right-back Samantha Solaru to the list on Auburn’s side, as it’s pretty likely Jaelene Hinkle will be spending as much time in the Tigers’ end of the pitch as her own. Hinkle is one of the nation’s premier full-backs and will be counted on to provide attacking width for the Red Raiders. Auburn’s Kristen Dodson has shown potential as a rookie, but her job will be as much about defense as it is offense on Friday. Letting Hinkle run riot down the line is a recipe for disaster.
CF – Beckie (TTU) vs CB – Faulkner (AUB)
One of the few U20 World Cup players who didn’t come back jaded, Janine Beckie has done her NWSL Draft stock no harm with another solid campaign for the Red Raiders. She’s still got one more season in Lubbock though, and the hype will increase even more if she can mastermind TTU’s getting out of this regional this weekend. The task of shutting her down will largely fall upon the shoulders of Kala Faulkner, Auburn’s top defender for some time. Faulkner’s development has seemingly plateaued though, and a confident performance here would perhaps change that impression.
CM – C. Ramsier (AUB) vs DMC – Murphy (TTU)
Auburn’s offense has been fitful and inconsistent all season, though that’s not going to change their reliance on Casie Ramsier to be at the heart of the attack. Ramsier is one of many Tigers on four goals to lead the side in scoring at the moment and leads the club in shots, which isn’t necessarily a great thing considering her shooting percentages aren’t much to write home about. Junior midfielder Alli Murphy, among others figure to be trying to slow her down. If Auburn’s forwards’ supply line gets cut off, it could be a long day in Gainesville.
7:00 PM – (2) Florida vs Cal
The 3-0 scoreline flattered Florida against Mercer last Sunday. The Gators deserved the win, but their offense sputtered for the first eighty minutes against a stubborn Bears side. Savannah Jordan netted a brace down the stretch to increase the margin of victory, but the reality is that Florida were hardly the most impressive team in the competition last weekend. Historically, things have gotten patchy at this point for the Gators, including in a loss last year to Duke in the second round. This is probably UF’s best chance in an age to get to the Elite Eight, but they won’t make it to the Sweet Sixteen if they don’t improve on Friday against a tricky Cal side.
Cal survived a real barnburner against San Diego State in one of the best matches of the first round. The Golden Bears went down early before scoring two goals in short order to move ahead. Despite being pegged back for an equalizer, Cal persevered to get a golden goal from Arielle Ship to seal a dramatic victory. Cal’s offense by committee approach continued to work, with Samantha Witteman in particular making a distinct impression with a goal and the assist on Ship’s winner. An upset in the second round of the tournament over Florida would just be icing on the cake in a very strong season for the Golden Bears considering some of the challenges they’ve faced.
CF – Jordan (UF) vs CBs – Ley/Dickerson (CAL)
Cal center-backs Sandra Ley and Kelsie Dickerson have their hands full on Friday afternoon with one of the nation’s top predators on hand in Savannah Jordan. Jordan is amazingly effective at needing just one touch on the ball to put it in the back of the net, and her off-the-ball movement and power are going to make her difficult to stop for any opposing defense. Scarily, Jordan can pop up with big goals at big times, even when she’s been muted for much of the rest of the match, as was the case in the Mercer match, where she struck late twice. Cal’s defense was under siege by SDSU on more than one occasion last week, and they’ll need to tighten up to stand a chance here.
AMC – Solaun (UF) vs DMC – Comeau? (CAL)
Put simply, when Solaun is ticking, so are the Gators. If someone can take out the #10 from the equation, Florida suffers in a major way, as evidenced by their loss at this stage of the competition last season without the injured Solaun. The playmaker is back from injury though and has shown flashes of her superb talent for the SEC powerhouse this year. The big question is who steps in to stop her for the Golden Bears. Guro Bergsvand would seem like a natural choice, but the Norwegian has been in and out of the lineup this season for Cal and didn’t play last week. Taylor Comeau is one contender, along with Samantha Witteman and Kelly Fitzgerald, though all are also very much attacking presences. Then again, making Solaun defend may just be a sound strategy to keep her away from the goal in the first place.
F’s – Ship, Boureille, Leer (CAL) vs CBs – Westphal/Falknor (UF)
This one’s not particularly easy to figure out, as Cal’s offense doesn’t exactly run on just one player’s goals. Along with Witteman in midfield, Celeste Boureille perhaps had the biggest impact against SDSU, with three shots on goal and an assist. Still, Arielle Ship and Grace Leer netted in that game, so Florida’s defense is going to have its hands full with the Cal frontline. The normally stout Gator defense has looked vulnerable to pace late in the season and ponderous in possession, which, quite frankly, has been the case here for a while. A very athletic frontline for Cal could punish any dallying on the ball from Florida’s center-backs, making this a zone of great interest on Friday.
Who Chris Would Like to See in the Sweet Sixteen:
A rematch between Texas Tech and Cal after their dramatic match earlier in the season is tempting, but watching the flank play between the Red Raiders and Florida would be a treat with Tessa Andujar and Jaelene Hinkle bombing forward.