Surprises creep into selection process

UConn awarded No. 1 seed despite losing 2 standouts

Duke lands atop the West

Huskies' Auriemma remains confident

NCAA Women's Tournament

March 12, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

For a change, there were a few surprises thrown into the NCAA women's tournament mix, with a tight race at the top of the 64-team bracket.

While No. 3 Tennessee (29-2), the regular-season Southeastern Conference winner, and top-ranked Notre Dame (28-2) received top seeds in the Mideast and Midwest regions, respectively, the other two No. 1 seeds were more closely contested.

With two All-America seniors -- guard Shea Ralph and forward Svetlana Abrosimova -- out with season-ending injuries, No. 2 Connecticut (28-2), the defending national champion that spent most of the year atop the polls, appeared to barely capture its top seed in the East, despite winning the Big East championship.

Ralph, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in the Big East final, and Abrosimova, who tore ligaments in her foot in a February game at Tennessee, are out for the postseason, casting doubt over whether the Huskies can repeat.

"There's been a lot of talk about who we have and who we don't have," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma told ESPN. "We're just going to play like we've played all year long.

"Nobody's lost more than we have. There's not another team in the country that can survive losing two like these two except us."

The selection of the fourth No. 1 seed left some heads shaking. No. 5 Duke (28-3), the Atlantic Coast Conference's regular season and tournament winner; No. 4 Georgia (26-5), the SEC tournament champion, and No. 7 Oklahoma (26-5), the Big 12 regular-season champion, were all thought to be in the hunt, with the Blue Devils and Lady Bulldogs having stronger pedigrees, carrying higher Rating Percentage Index rankings.

In a doubly confusing decision, the 10-member tournament selection committee ultimately awarded Duke its first top seed in school history, but shipped the Blue Devils out West, while making Georgia the No. 2 seed in the East.

Maryalyce Jeremiah, the chair of the NCAA selection committee, said the choice to seed Duke, which had the fourth-highest RPI, ahead of Georgia, was made largely because the Blue Devils won both the ACC regular season and the tournament, while the Lady Bulldogs only won the SEC tournament.

However, Jeremiah could not explain how, given the S-curve seeding process the committee uses -- in which the weakest No. 1 seed is generally paired with the strongest second seed and so forth -- Duke and Georgia were not placed in the same region.

None of that mattered to Duke coach Gail Goestenkors.

"We're really pleased with the seed and what it means for both us and for the ACC. I think it shows that we're finally getting the respect we all deserve. We earned this," Goestenkors said.

The six power conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern and Pac-10) were rewarded with 27 of the available 33 at-large berths to the tournament, and 33 of the 64 berths overall.

However, for the first time since 1992, the SEC, long considered the most dominant conference in women's basketball, did not receive the most bids, though Tennessee, a six-time national champion, got the top overall seed, despite losing in the conference tournament semifinal.

Instead, the Big 12 copped seven bids, one more than the ACC and the SEC, with one of those teams, Texas (19-12) receiving a bid despite having an under-.500 record in conference play at 7-9.

"So many of their [Big 12] teams went out and scheduled good games," said Jeremiah. "We're so used to hearing about the SEC and the ACC that when someone else is there, we're surprised."

Ten schools received first-ever bids, including Baylor (20-8), which won 13 more games this season than in 1999-2000, and Penn (22-5), the Ivy League champion whose 21-game winning streak is the nation's longest -- men or women.

Villanova (21-8), the fifth seed in the East, will be making its first appearance since 1989, the longest drought between bids, while Florida State (18-11) returns to the tournament for the first time since 1991, the year before the school joined the ACC, with a No. 7 seed in the Midwest.

"We feel as though this establishes a foundation for us that we can build on," said Florida State coach Sue Semrau.

The toughest of the four regions appears to be the Midwest, where all four teams -- Notre Dame, Iowa State, Vanderbilt and Iowa -- reached their respective conference tournament final, with the Fighting Irish and the Commodores each losing by two points.

Meanwhile, Tennessee's Lady Vols, who will play the tournament without Tamika Catchings, the reigning national Player of the Year, who tore her ACL in mid-January, seem to have the easiest trip to St. Louis, the site of this year's Final Four. Ninth-ranked Purdue, the region's third seed, is the only other Top 10 seed in the region.

Tennessee received a No. 1 seed for the 13th time in the last 14 years and joins Louisiana Tech as the only two schools to receive bids to all 20 NCAA tournaments.

The top four seeds in each region will host first- and second-round games, except for Iowa, which will travel to fifth-seeded Utah, as Carver-Hawkeye Arena has a wrestling tournament scheduled.

TOP SEEDS

East

1. Connecticut

2. Georgia

3. La Tech

4. N.C. State

Mideast

1. Tennessee

2. Texas Tech

3. Purdue

4. Xavier

Midwest

1. Notre Dame

2. Iowa State

3. Vanderbilt

4. Iowa

West

1. Duke

2. Oklahoma

3. Florida

4. Rutgers

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