Favorites still standing in women's play

Most of higher seeds advance to Sweet 16

March 24, 2000|By Milton Kent and Christian Ewell | Milton Kent and Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

By now, virtually everyone who played an NCAA men's tournament pool has a tale about how Gonzaga, Seton Hall or Wisconsin destroyed their chances of capturing the office booty.

Those who played a women's bracket have few such complaints, since the favorites, for the most part, did their part and barreled through to tomorrow's regional semifinals.

All but one of the tournament's top nine seeded teams are still remaining, and only one team seeded 10 or lower made it to the Sweet 16.

There were a couple of surprises to make things interesting. Purdue, last year's national champion, won't be around to defend its title, dropping a two-point decision to Oklahoma on Monday at home.

And Mississippi State, which knocked off Georgia in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals and earned a third seed in the West, was stunned by Alabama-Birmingham in its second-round game Sunday.

Here's a look at the Sweet 16 by regional:

Mideast

No. 2 Tennessee (30-3), the nation's second-ranked team, has won 17 straight, and is on one of its patented March rolls. Freshman guard Kara Lawson appears to have shaken off a back ailment, and junior forward Tamika Catchings, the Naismith Player of the Year, has been dominant since the January loss to Georgia.

No. 19 Virginia (25-8), the regional's fourth seed, got through a tough subregional at home, and gets to try to knock off Tennessee in Memphis. Senior Renee Robinson is the most polished point guard remaining in the regional, and could give the Lady Vols' backcourt fits.

In the other semifinal, No. 11 Texas Tech (27-4) has no regulars taller than 6 feet 2, plays a mostly seven-player rotation and shoots 44 percent from the field.

But the Lady Raiders, who shared the Big 12 title with Iowa State, reached the regional semifinal with a smothering 2-3 zone, and a quick, athletic front line, with seniors Plenette Pierson and Aleah Johnson, and guard Amber Tarr, who hit 43 percent of her three-pointers.

Fifth-ranked Notre Dame (27-4), meanwhile, has an impressive blend of inside power in the form of All-America center Ruth Riley, and outside speed, with point guard Niele Ivey, who missed last year's tournament with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.

West

Since neither of the semifinal games airs before 10 p.m. tomorrow, and Monday's final from Portland's Memorial Coliseum tips off at midnight, most of the country will have no idea who emerges from this regional.

No. 4 Georgia (31-3) will have its hands full in its semifinal with North Carolina (20-12). The Tar Heels, like Texas Tech, have little height, but a lot of quickness as junior Nikki Teasley can either run an efficient break or pull up for the three-pointer.

The Lady Bulldogs counter with their own athletic mix, led by twin guards Coco and Kelly Miller, and improving center Tawana McDonald, who runs the floor as well as any low-post player.

No. 8 Rutgers (24-7), in its third straight regional semifinal, has only one player, senior Shawnetta Stewart, averaging in double figures. But the Scarlet Knights give up only 55 points a game and permit teams to hit only 40 percent of their shots.

Their opponent, 11th-seeded UAB (21-12), the lowest-seeded team left in the field, took out Pac-10 champion Oregon in Eugene, then Mississippi State to earn its first berth in a regional semifinal.

The Blazers are paced by their own siblings, senior guard Lisa Jackson, and her kid sister, sophomore forward Deanna, who averaged nearly 19 points a game and set a single-season school record for rebounds.

East

No. 1 Connecticut, which lost its aura of invincibility with a loss to Tennessee last month, has spent the first two tournament games reconstructing that very thing.

The Huskies (32-1) beat Hampton and Clemson by a combined score of 199-90, with point guard Sue Bird collecting 16 points and three steals during the latter game.

In the regional in Richmond, UConn's semifinal foe is Big 12 co-champion and 18th-ranked Oklahoma (25-7), which overcame a 17-point deficit to upset defending national champion Purdue in West Lafayette earlier this week. While Phylesha Whaley is the heart and soul of this team, guard LaNeishea Caulfield had an outstanding subregional offensively, hitting 72.4 percent of her shots and scoring 49 points in two games. In an earlier meeting, Connecticut beat the Sooners, 84-68, in Norman.

No. 10 Duke (25-4) has proven its ability to conquer seemingly unbeatable teams in the NCAA tournament, like last year's win over Tennessee in the East Regional. Led by guards Georgia Schweitzer and Sheana Mosch, the Blue Devils are in a position to do so again after making it to the foul line 30 times in a second-round win over Western Kentucky.

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