Tennessee women find smoother road Two top seeds are already out, controversy in

March 18, 1998|By CHRISTIAN EWELL | CHRISTIAN EWELL,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Milton Kent contributed to this article.

Everything and nothing has changed as the NCAA women's tournament heads into its second weekend, with two top seeds gone and Tennessee still cruising.

Going into the tournament, Stanford was seen as perhaps the only viable challenger to Tennessee (35-0). Instead, with starters Vanessa Nygaard and Kristen Folkl out because of knee injuries, Stanford became the first No. 1 seed -- men's or women's -- to lose to a No. 16 seed. Alison Feaster led Harvard to the 71-67 upset on the Cardinal's home court.

Less than 24 hours later another No. 1 seed fell, as Notre Dame knocked off Texas Tech, 74-59, in Lubbock, Texas.

"We talk about that home-court advantage in the first and second rounds," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said of Harvard's win. "To have something like that happen, it's obviously a first for our sport And hopefully a last."

Some things haven't changed, however. The Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference have combined to produce seven of the 16 remaining teams. This might be the year the Big East establishes itself as a factor, with three teams in the Sweet 16.

Meanwhile, the Western Athletic Conference finally drew attention with five tournament entries and wasted it, winning only one first-round game. The big disappointment was the Pac-10, which placed only one of its five in the Sweet 16.

Midwest Regional: The most talked-about story thus far came out of this regional, when Alabama beat UCLA on a controversial last-second play on Sunday. Replays showed that LaToya Caudle's game-winning shot came after the buzzer. It also came after officials failed to call Alabama's Brittany Ezell for traveling on the inbounds play -- a violation that also was evident on the replays.

"They [the Bruins] were out-right cheated," said Arizona coach and NCAA rules committee member Joan Bonvicini, who was bothered by the timekeeping error more than the non-traveling call. "Alabama has a black mark. The way the public views this is that this is a team advancing when it doesn't deserve to."

The NCAA suspended the game officials and then ordered Alabama coach Rick Moody not to talk about the controversy. Moody has tried to put the incident in the best possible light, using phrases like "divine intervention" and "prayer."

Alabama (24-9) heads to Lubbock, where it will play Louisiana Tech (28-3). The Techsters defeated Clemson by 22 points after sliding past Holy Cross by 38.

Absent is Texas Tech, the only team in the tournament that would have had four straight home games on the way to the Final Four. Instead, the Red Raiders were upset by a Notre Dame team that went to the Final Four last year and seems intent on doing it again. The Irish take on cross-state rival Purdue on Saturday.

So instead of facing Texas Tech on its own floor, second-seeded Alabama comes into the regional as the top seed remaining. And the Crimson Tide is the only team to play Tennessee close this season, keeping the margin under 10 points in both games.

"If you look at history," Moody said, "you can find many NCAA champions who have survived games like this. Maybe we're a team of destiny."

East Regional: Old Dominion (29-2) and UConn (33-2) are the main contenders in Dayton, Ohio. Top-seeded Old Dominion takes on N.C. State, and Connecticut must get by Arizona to set up the anticipated regional final. Normally, an Old Dominion-UConn matchup wouldn't occur until the Final Four. But Nykesha Sales' season-ending Achilles' tendon injury made

UConn a No. 2 seed and made Old Dominion the favorite to come out of this region.

West Regional: Stanford's first-round loss means that defending champion Tennessee probably won't need to worry about a challenger coming out of the West Regional in Oakland, Calif. Harvard lost to Arkansas in the second round, leaving an unimpressive semifinal cast of Duke (23-7), Florida (23-8), Kansas (23-8) and Arkansas (20-10).

Mideast Regional: Tennessee, which played the first two rounds on its home court, must travel all of 175 miles across Interstate 40 to Nashville for its next two games. It's just one more expected stop on the Vols' ride to the Final Four in Kansas City.

Tennessee showed Monday night why it hasn't lost in many, many moons. Chamique Holdsclaw makes all the difference.

Holdsclaw scored 22 of her 34 points in the second half of the Vols' 20-point win over 15th-ranked Western Kentucky.

On Saturday night Tennessee plays Rutgers, an opponent that appears a year away from being able to make a serious challenge.

If they win, the Vols get the winner of the North Carolina-Illinois game. Tennessee should make it to the Final Four and win, unless divine intervention plays a role.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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