SEC sends 7 to tourney, but overlooked cry foul LSU coach argues on TV with chief of committee

March 11, 1996|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

For the 11th straight year, the Southeastern Conference grabbed one of the four top seeds available in the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament, and got more teams into the 64-team field than any other.

So why is there griping and gnashing of teeth from the Southeast? Perhaps because the rest of the country is slowly, but surely, catching up.

Though there had been talk that eight or nine SEC teams might earn bids, the selection committee took just seven from the nation's most powerful women's conference. The Big Ten got six invitations, and the Atlantic Coast, Big Eight and Southwest conferences, and Conference USA received four bids each.

Indeed, Louisiana State's exclusion from the field touched off a not-so-polite nationally-televised debate between Tigers coach Sue Gunther and Linda Bruno, chair of the selection committee.

Gunther, whose Tigers went 19-10 and beat Georgia (which spent a good part of the season atop the polls) in last week's SEC tournament quarterfinals, charged that the selection committee was more interested in getting new teams rather than the best teams.

When Bruno responded that the Tigers were only 4-7 in SEC play and had played non-conference opponents that had only won 49 percent of their games, Gunther shot back that the answer was a "cop-out" and that the committee should "just be honest" and admit that there is, in effect, a quota on the number of bids one conference can receive.

Just as the men's committee did last year, the nine-member women's panel took some chances in awarding at-large bids to schools from lesser leagues, like Tulane, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and James Madison, which had played fairly well against tough non-conference opponents.

"We yell and scream all year that the schedules are factors. We would be hypocrites if those schools went out and played those schedules, then we said, 'Well, that's OK, but we're still not going to take you,' " said Bruno.

As evidence of the new reality, nine schools (Austin Peay, Butler, Central Florida, Colorado State, Harvard, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, St. Francis (Pa.), and Youngstown State) received first-time bids to the tournament.

Also, five schools that received top 16 seeds last year -- and the home court advantage for the first two rounds that comes with it -- did not get them this year. Two of them, North Carolina and Washington, weren't even invited.

The Atlantic Coast Conference, which last year sent three teams tTC to the Sweet 16, and had one, Duke, just narrowly miss getting there with a second-round quadruple overtime loss on the road to Alabama, got new-found respect, with Virginia, Clemson and Duke all getting top four seeds in their respective regions, and North Carolina State drawing a No. 5 seed.

"I felt like we finally got some respect," said Duke coach Gail Goestenkors, who drew a No. 4 seed in the Mideast. "That tells you that four of our teams are in the top 20 in the country. Last year, we didn't get very much notice going in, but we proved ourselves in the tournament."

The Cavaliers, who won their sixth straight ACC regular season title, but lost in the tournament semifinals, got the No. 3 seed in the East, and will play host to not only first- and second-round games, but also the East regional.

Clemson, meanwhile, which captured the tournament championship, got the third seed in the Midwest.

Tennessee (East), defending champion Connecticut (Mideast), Louisiana Tech (Midwest) and Stanford (West) drew No. 1 seeds, with each team having better than average chances to get to the Final Four in Charlotte, N.C.

This year's tournament is the first under a new agreement with ESPN, which will televise the Final Four, the first- and second-round games and the regional semifinals and final games.

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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