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Wayne Staats | | March 2, 2023

These are the lowest seeds to advance to each round in NCAA women's basketball tournament history

Watch the final 4 minutes of 1998's historic Harvard-Stanford 16-over-1 upset

The NCAA DI women's basketball tournament has seen some Cinderellas — like when No. 16 Harvard shocked No. 1 Stanford in 1998, No. 11 Gonzaga reached the Elite Eight in 2011 — and when No. 10 Creighton made the Elite Eight in 2022.

But which low seeds have pulled the most notable wins in each round? Here's a quick table summary before we get into a deeper dive of the lowest seeds to advance to each round in NCAA women's basketball tournament history.

Here are the best tournament runs by seed:

Seed Best finish (instances)
No. 1 Champion (31)
No. 2 Champion (7)
No. 3 Champion (2) — 1994 North Carolina, 1997 Tennessee
No. 4 Runner-up (2) — 1992 Western Kentucky, 1994 Louisiana Tech
No. 5 Runner-up (1) — 2013 Louisville
No. 6 Final Four (1) — 1997 Notre Dame
No. 7 Final Four (2) — 2004 Minnesota, 2016 Washington
No. 8 Final Four (1) — 1992 Missouri State (Southwest Missouri State)
No. 9 Final Four (1) — 1998 Arkansas
No. 10 Elite Eight (3) — 1991 Lamar, 2017 Oregon, 2022 Creighton
No. 11 Elite Eight (1) — 2011 Gonzaga
No. 12 Sweet 16 (4) — 1996 San Francisco, 2013, Kansas, 2014 BYU, 2017 Quinnipiac
No. 13 Sweet 16 (3) — 1994 Texas A&M, 2005 Liberty, 2007 Marist
No. 14 First round
No. 15 First round
No. 16 Second round (1) — 1998 Harvard

Lowest seed to reach the second round: No. 16 Harvard in 1998

Twenty years before UMBC made men's history by upsetting Virginia in the first 16-over-1 upset, the Harvard women shocked Stanford.

The Crimson remain the only 16 seed to win a first round game in the women's tournament. On March 14, 1998 — and playing on the Cardinal's home floor — 22-4 Harvard met 21-5 Stanford.

But Harvard had Allison Feaster. She averaged a program-record 28.5 points per game and earned All-American honors, while Stanford lost two players (Vanessa Nygaard and Kristin Folkl) to injuries ahead of the game. Feaster finished with 35 points and 13 rebounds to lead the 71-67 stunner.

WINNING IT ALL: The complete list of DI women's basketball champions

Lowest seed to reach the Sweet 16: Three No. 13 seeds (Texas A&M in 1994, Liberty in 2005 and Marist in 2007)

Here's how these three reached the Sweet 16:

Team First Round Second Round Sweet 16
1994 Texas A&M def. No. 4 Florida, 78-76 def. No. 5 San Diego State lost to No. 1 Purdue, 82-56
2005 Liberty def. No. 4 Penn State, 78-70 def. No. 5 DePaul, 88-79 lost to No. 1 LSU, 90-48
2007 Marist def. No. 4 Ohio State, 67-63 def. No. 5 Middle Tennessee, 73-59 lost to No. 1 Tennessee, 65-46

Marist's run ended the MAAC's winless start in NCAA tournament play at 0-21.

Texas A&M's run came at home. Though Florida was a No. 4 seed, the Gators couldn't host because of a Rod Stewart concert, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Lowest seed to reach the Elite Eight: No. 11 Gonzaga in 2011

No team seeded worse than 11 has made it as far as the 2011 Bulldogs.

Gonzaga came in 28-4 and had All-American Courtney Vandersloot, the first player in DI history to top 2,000 points and 1,000 assists in a career. The Bulldogs also got to play at home. The No. 11 Bulldogs beat No. 6 Iowa (92-86) and then No. 3 UCLA (89-75) on their home court to advance to the Sweet 16 — played at a different arena in Spokane, just a few miles away. The run continued there with a 76-69 win against No. 7 Louisville, but it ended in the Elite Eight to No. 1 Stanford, 83-60.

BRAGGING RIGHTS: Teams with the most national championships

Lowest seed to reach the Final Four: No. 9 Arkansas in 1998

The Razorbacks were only 18-10 with a 7-7 SEC record going in, but a bit of help from Harvard helped Arkansas make their own history. No. 16 Harvard's stunner over No. 1 Stanford brought chaos to the West Region — and Arkansas took advantage.

1998 Arkansas' Final Four run
First round def. No. 8 Hawai'i, 76-70
Second round def. No. 16 Harvard, 82-64
Sweet 16 def. No. 5 Kansas, 79-63
Elite Eight def. No. 2 Duke, 77-72
Final Four lost to No. 1 Tennessee, 86-58

Lowest seed to reach the national championship: No. 5 Louisville in 2013

Only a fellow Big East team stood in the way of the Cardinals winning their first national championship. Louisville was 24-8 on selection day and memorably upset defending national champion Baylor and stars Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims 82-81 in the Sweet 16. Louisville made 16 of its 25 3-point attempts.

2013 Louisville's tournament run
First round def. No. 12 Middle Tennessee, 74-49
Second round def. No. 4 Purdue, 76-63
Sweet 16 def. No. 1 Baylor, 82-81
Elite Eight def. No. 2 Tennessee, 86-78
Final Four def. 2 Cal, 64-57
National Championship lost to No. 1 UConn, 93-60

LOOKING BACK: Remembering the dramatic end to UConn's 111-game winning streak

Lowest seed to win the national championship: Two No. 3 seeds (1994 North Carolina, 1997 Tennessee)

Tennessee and North Carolina both have rich histories in women's basketball. They've won national crowns and earned high seeds in the NCAA tournament. They also earn the accolade as the team with the lowest seed to win it all.

Here's how that happened:

1994 North Carolina Round 1997 Tennessee
def. No. 14 Georgia Southern, 101-53 First def. No. 14 Grambling State, 91-54
def. No. 6 Old Dominion, 63-52 Second def. No. 6 Oregon, 76-59
def. No. 2 Vanderbilt, 73-69 Sweet 16 def. No. 2 Colorado, 75-67
def. No. 1 UConn, 81-69 Elite Eight def. No. 1 UConn, 91-81
def. No. 1 Purdue, 89-74 Final Four def. No. 6 Notre Dame, 80-66
def. No. 4 Louisiana Tech, 60-59 National title def. No. 1 Old Dominion, 68-59

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