No one has yet given Connecticut a game in the 2010 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament. But anyone who thought that Stanford, also seeded No. 1, would also sail through the tournament enjoying one blow-out after another got a huge surprise on Monday night as Stanford met Xavier in the Elite Eight of the Sacramento Regional.
Jeannette Pohlen went the length of the court in the final 4.4 seconds to hit a layup that propelled Stanford to its third consecutive Final Four, with a 55-53 win over the Musketeers. The play was reminiscent of Tyus Edney of UCLA slicing through Missouri 15 years ago to stave off a second-round upset in the mens tournament. It was the ending of an intriguing game that was close throughout with Xavier hanging in against huge odds and playing the second-ranked Cardinal even for 39 minutes and 55.6 seconds.
In a game where little seemed to go right for Baylor for much of the Memphis Regional final, freshmen Brittney Griner and Kimetria Nae-Nae Hayden combined to spark a furious late rally Monday evening to lift the fourth-seeded Lady Bears to a 51-48 comeback victory over second-seeded Duke and a spot in the 2010 Womens Final Four.
While the eyes of the country have, for the most part, been directed elsewhere, four teams out of an original field of 64 have played their way into the "other" Final Four and are now ready to have a go at the tournament championship as the post-season WNIT heads into the final week of action.
Michigan (21-13) ended the historic season of Syracuse and will host Miami (21-13) at 7 p.m. EST on Wednesday, March 31. Meanwhile, Illinois State (28-7) will entertain Cal (22-13) at 8:05 ET/7:05 CDT on Thursday, April 1.
Third-seeded Oklahoma (26-10) will face off against fourth-seeded Kentucky (28-7) on Tuesday, March 30, in the Elite Eight after a pair of upsets knocked off the two top seeds in the Kansas City Regional.
Second-seeded Notre Dame took the game to overtime, before falling to Oklahoma, 72-77, in the Sweet 16. In the second game at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. In a game ripe for clichs, one question has to be asked of the Oklahoma-Notre Dame upset: What was she thinking? The "she" in question is Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who made a very strange call at the end of overtime that denied her team whatever slight chance they had at a second tie and brought their season to an early end.
The second regional semifinal pitted two teams who came from nowhere to have Cinderella seasons. Top-seeded Nebraska took on number four Kentucky. The Huskers had been one of the top stories of the season after going perfect in regular-season play, losing only to Texas A&M in the semifinal of the Big 12 tournament. Yet, despite their relative seedings, Kentucky, who had been predicted preseason to finish no better than sixth in the SEC but ended the regular season in second place in the league, led throughout and finished with a relatively comfortable 76-67 victory.
The Sweet 16 in the Dayton Regional went according to form on Sunday. UConn stomped another ranked opponent, Iowa State, as predicted, advancing in a 74-36 blowout. Florida State and Mississippi State, two very similar teams, played a nail-biter down to the last minute, before the Seminoles pulled out a 74-71 win.
UConn will meet third-seeded Florida State, a team that has played them tough each of the past two years, in the Elite Eight first game, Tuesday night at 7:00pm on ESPN2.
A dynamic star. A capable supporting cast. A defensive-minded approach.
Those qualities accurately describe both the Duke and Baylor womens basketball teams, so their meeting in the Memphis Regional final at 7 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. CDT should make for a hard-fought contest.
With the second-seeded Blue Devils coming off a 66-58 win over 11th-seeded San Diego State and the fourth-seeded Bears fresh off a 77-62 upset of top-seeded Tennessee, look for their showdown to be a showcase for Duke junior guard Jasmine Thomas and Baylor freshman center Brittney Griner.
The NCAA Tournament came to Sacramento for the first time. A crowd of 5,786 showed up primarily to see Stanford, but to their credit most stuck around into the second half of the Xavier - Gonzaga game. The fans were treated to some wonderful interior play but alas, very little drama as Stanford blew away Georgia, 73-36, and Xavier took a closer, but still authoritative, win over Gonzaga, 74-56.
Third-seeded Xavier and No. 1-seed Stanford advance to the regional final where they will face each other on Monday, March 29, at 9:07 p.m. Eastern/6:07 PDT. Each of these teams used their superior front lines to make their way to the Elite Eight, and Monday's contest looks to provide the Cardinal with one of their greatest post challenges since their loss to Connecticut (their only loss of the season) in December.
Let's take a look back at their sweet success in the Sweet 16:
When the Kansas City Regional begins on Sunday, it will have the distinction of being the only regional in which the top four seeds all advanced.
In the opening game, No. 2-seeded Notre Dame takes on No. 3-seed Oklahoma, in a game that will match tw0 tournament veterans. Both programs are routine visitors to the Sweet 16 and beyond and both have rosters full of tournament tested players.
As befits a game between the second and third seeds, the game should be close and individual match-ups will determine the outcome.
In the second game, two teams new to the Sweet 16 clash. In fact, neither top-seeded Nebraska nor the fourth-seeded Kentucky even made the NCAA tournament last season. Nebraska is the more experienced team, starting four seniors. Kentuckys key player, SEC Player of the Year Victoria Dunlap, is a junior and is joined by only one senior in the starting lineup. But both teams start a freshman at point guard and each of those freshmen is playing like a veteran.
By now, its a commonly known sports fact that since 1979, every mens NCAA championship team has had at least one McDonalds All American on the roster except Maryland in 2002.
But what about the women? Since the 2002-2003 NCAA womens season (following the inaugural McDonalds All-American Girls' Game at Madison Square Garden in 2002), every NCAA national champion has had at least four McDonalds All Americans on its roster, except Baylor in 2005 (which had none). Thats an 86 percent proof-point that McDonalds All Americans win championships, especially when they play together.
In the seven most recent national championship games, 56 McDonalds All Americans were on the rosters (an average of eight/game).
Based on the McDonald's meter, the following Sweet 16 teams in this year's NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament would be the odds-on favorites to win it all: Tennessee (9 McDonalds All Americans), Stanford (7), Connecticut (6) and Duke (4).
Of course, this year most fans don't think they need to read tea leaves to predict the champs. And Baylor eliminated the Lady Vols in the Sweet 16 on Saturday, narrowing the field a bit further.
But you've got to admit that's a pretty impressive record. And in some year's things might be nowhere near as clear. So let's take a look at the tournament teams that made it to the Sweet 16 those that have McDonalds All Americans and those that do not.
The second day of action in the 2010 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament kicks off on Sunday, March 28, as the reigning champions and top seed, Connecticut (35-0), take on fourth-seeded Iowa State (25-7) in the Dayton Regional. While UConn is the overwhelming favorite to continue on its roll toward the Final Four, Iowa State, the second-place finisher in the Big 12, boasts a strong three-point game, including a 6-7 freshman center who knows how to shot them.
In the under card, third-seeded Florida State (28-5) meets seventh-seeded Mississippi State (21-12), who upset second-seeded Ohio State, 87-57, to reach the Sweet 16. This Sweet 16 match-up features two teams on a roll. Athleticism all over the court. Streaky shooters. Good defense. It just may prove to be one of the most exciting games of this round.