No.15 Norfolk State Takes on No. 2 Stanford in Round One of the NCAA Tournament

Norfolk, VA.–Norfolk State women’s basketball punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament winning their second consecutive MEAC Basketball Championship last weekend. The Spartans will enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 15 seed in the Portland Four division hosted at Stanford.  The Spartans will take on the Cardinal of No. 2 Stanford on Friday, March 22nd for a 10:00pm EST. tip-off

Norfolk State heads into the NCAA Tournament on a 15-game win streak, as they finished their season with an overall record of 27-5 (13-1 conf.) to set a school record with a 92.9 winning percentage.  After breezing through the first two rounds of the MEAC Tournament with a 30.5 margin average, they faced the Howard Bison in the MEAC Championship, where they were crowned back-to-back Champions after a narrow 51-46 victory.  Diamond Johnson was awarded All-Tournament Outstanding player while setting a MEAC Tournament single game scoring record with 30 points in the semi-final round against Coppin State. Kierra Wheeler joined Johnson as member of the 2023-24 MEAC All-Tournament team.

Last Time Out:
Norfolk State made a 2022-23 NCAA Tournament appearance as the 16th seed, where they took on No.1 South Carolina.  Kierra Wheeler led the team with 13 points and eight rebounds, while Niya Fields added ten points and five boards. 

After South Carolina defeated Norfolk 72-40, South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley stated “Just so that we can make note for next season, Norfolk State is not a 16 seed…They do not play like a 16 seed team, they are well coached and a tremendous team and opponent.  We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half and I credit that to how well Norfolk State played.”

Inside the Numbers:
Norfolk State ranks nationally across the boards from a defensive end. The Spartans are fourth in the nation in both scoring defense (53.1 PPG), steals per game (12.5) and turnover margin (7.48) while sitting eighth in turnovers forced per game (21.34). 

Players to Watch: 
Kierra Wheeler earned 2023-24 MEAC Player of the Year  at the 2024 MEAC BBT Awards show on March 12. She led the conference overall with 17.5 points per game and ranks second in rebounding (9.4) and blocks (1.4) per game totaling 36 for the season. She is nationally ranked No. 18 in all of Div. 1 in offensive rebounds per game (4). Wheeler also finished sixth in the conference in field-goal percentage (.463). She posted a career high double-double of 33 points, 17 rebounds against High-Point (Dec. 18). She had nine 20-point games, and two 30-point games throughout the season, along with 14 double digit rebounding performances, 13 of which were double-doubles. Wheeler was named Boxtorow National HBCU Player of the Week after back-to-back 20-point double-double performances against Coppin State (Feb. 24, 2024) and Morgan State (Feb. 26).

Diamond Johnson earned 2023-24 MEAC Newcomer of the Year after taking the league by storm joining the active roster in mid-December. Johnson was the leading scorer in MEAC conference play with 19.6 points per game.  She had an overall season average of 20.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game (5th in the MEAC).  Johnson went to lead the MEAC in three-point field-goal percentage at 44 percent and ranked 27th in the nation in steals per game (3.9) to lead the MEAC.    Johnson was a five-time MEAC Player of the Week and a MEAC Defensive player of the week awardee.  She recorded a season high of 32 points against Morgan State (Feb. 26).  Johnson also had an outstanding 29 points and five steals against Maryland Eastern Shore (Feb. 5).     

Niya Fields earned MEAC Second Team all-conference honors after finishing the season leading the conference overall in assists per game (4.1), steals per game (2.6) and assist to turnover ratio (2.1). She ranks 30th in the nation with 80 steals for the season.

Opponent Notes
Stanford (28-5 overall, 15-3) captured the Pac-12 regular season champion title before the Cardinal came up short in the Pac-12 championship game to No. 5 USC.  Stanford is led by Pac-12 Player and Defensive Player of the Year, Cameron Brink, averaging 17.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game.  Kiki Irifran earned Pac-12 Most Improved Player while ranked third in the conference in scoring, with 18.6 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.   

In the 2022-23 season, Stanford lost to Ole Miss in the second round with a score of 54-49. Brink led her team with a double-double 20 points and 13 rebounds.  They entered last year’s tournament off a 14-game win-streak after an overtime loss to No. 1 South Carolina. 

This will be the 37th NCAA Tournament appearance for Stanford.  Throughout school history, Standford The team has won a total of three NCAA championship titles (1990,1992,2021), with a total of 15 Final Four appearances.  The Cardinal has not advanced past round two since 2022.  

Team Matchup History
This will be the first time in program history that Norfolk and Stanford will meet.