Women's tourney offers only 1 surprise survivor NCAA TOURNAMENT

March 22, 1995|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

Say this for the NCAA Division I women's basketball committee: It knows how to seed a tournament.

Last year, 14 of the 16 teams to receive national seeds advanced to the regional semifinals. As Sweet 16 play opens tomorrow at four sites, 15 of 16 have cleared the first and second rounds.

Looking for an answer? One plausible theory is that true parity still hasn't made its way to the women's game. The power conferences in women's basketball, the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences and the Pac-10, have nine of the Sweet 16 teams, and only one school, George Washington, is boldly going where it has never gone before, the regional semifinals.

Home-court advantages also might have had something to do with the number of top teams moving toward the Final Four. Each of the top four seeded teams in each region were host to first- and second-round games with three lower-seeded teams invited to their sites, except Purdue, which had a scheduling conflict.

Only Penn State, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, failed to make the regionals, losing a second-round game at home Sunday to North Carolina State.

If the home-court theory holds, look for top-ranked Connecticut and No. 3 Tennessee to earn a berth in the Final Four in Minneapolis next weekend; the Huskies and Volunteers are host to regional tournaments this weekend.

Connecticut, host of the East Regional, has a 35-game winning streak at the Harry Gampel Pavilion, and Tennessee has won 62 straight overall at Thompson-Boling Arena, is 24-0 in home NCAA tournament games and will be host to the Mideast Regional in Knoxville.

-! Here's a look at each region:

East

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma is complaining about the 11 a.m. start for Saturday's regional final, but he may be able to sleep in -- the Huskies (31-0) have the toughest regional of the four, with two teams from last season's Final Four.

Second seed Louisiana Tech (28-4), last year's national runner-up, has a talented backcourt of Vickie Johnson and Debra Williams that could pressure the Connecticut guards and keep them from making entry passes to All-America forward Rebecca Lobo and center Kara Wolters.

Virginia (26-4), the third seed, stumbled in its first two tournament games and may not have enough to challenge Louisiana Tech; and Alabama (22-8), a Final Four team last year, may be emotionally spent after beating Duke, 121-120, last weekend in a four-overtime game, the longest in women's tournament history.

Mideast

The Tennessee seniors, led by former Baltimore Sun Player of the Year Dana Johnson (Western), were 43-1 in SEC regular-season play over four years, but have not reached the Final Four. The fourth time should be the charm. The Volunteers (31-2) are the class of the regional.

Still, second seed Texas Tech (32-3) could make things interesting, provided it can get by third seed Washington (25-8), which beat the Red Raiders in Lubbock, Texas, in November for the preseason NIT title behind 40 points by center Rhonda Smith.

Western Kentucky (28-3) knocked off heavily favored Tennessee three years ago in a Mideast semifinal, but doesn't look capable of a similar upset this year.

Midwest

Of the four teams to advance to the regional in Des Moines, Iowa, only third seed Georgia (26-4) ever has made it to a Final Four, and that was 10 years ago. The Bulldogs are young, but are the most talented team in this bracket, and look to be the favorite to advance to Minneapolis.

Top-seeded Colorado (29-2) waltzed through the Big Eight regular season and tournament unscathed, but may not be athletic enough to contend with Georgia in a regional final. George Washington (26-5), the fourth seed, dominated the Atlantic 10 and has the most experience in the region, but never had made it past the second round before this year.

The Wolfpack (21-9), the region's seventh seed, scored the biggest upset of the tournament, beating Penn State on the road. Center Chasity Melvin, the ACC Rookie of the Year, is one of the nation's top freshmen, and sophomore point guard Jennifer Howard is a great three-point shooter, but N.C. State seems to be a year away.

West

This regional, played at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, is just behind the East in terms of difficulty. Top-seeded Vanderbilt (28-6), grabbed a No. 1 seed from Stanford (28-2) by beating Tennessee in the SEC championship game.

This Commodores team is deeper and more athletic than the one that went to the Final Four two years ago, but it will have to get through a rugged regional that includes Stanford, which breezed through the Pac-10 with only one loss, third seed North Carolina (30-4), the defending champion that believes it hasn't received respect, and Big Ten runner-up Purdue (23-7), which rebounded nicely from the January departure of center Leslie Johnson, last year's national Freshman of the Year, who led the Boilermakers to their first Final Four.

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