2014 NCAA Tournament - Louisville Regional Preview: A tough path to the Final Four

Contributors
March 21, 2014 - 10:29am
Junior post Isabelle Harrison has emerged as a reliable leader for the Lady Vols, who will look to defend their No. 1 seed and return to the Final Four when play tips off in the talent-packed Louisville Regional on Sat., Mar. 22. The Lady Vols will host the opening round in Knoxville, with no shortage of supporters expected to be on hand. (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

Junior post Isabelle Harrison has emerged as a reliable leader for the Lady Vols, who will look to defend their No. 1 seed and return to the Final Four when play tips off in the talent-packed Louisville Regional on Sat., Mar. 22. The Lady Vols will host the opening round in Knoxville, with no shortage of supporters expected to be on hand. (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

The Louisville Regional may well prove to be one of the toughest paths to the Final Four this year. With a Tennessee team that has ground through one of the nation's toughest schedules, most recently proving its toughness and reslience by bumping off three nationally ranked opponents to take the SEC tournament title in come-from-behind wins, as the top seed, and a West Virginia squad that clawed tooth-and-nail with Baylor to a regular-season Big-12 title tie and the championsip game in the tournament, you have to know that things will not be easy. But wait -- there's still Louisville, the host of the event, a program considered among the top five for most of the year, but nevertheless suffered the ignominy of a three-seed from the Selection Committee, waiting in the wings. Plus Maryland, LSU, a USC squad fresh off defeating one of the nation's Goliaths to take the PAC-12 tournament title and a host of others who will have come to play.

Let's take a look at the opening-round pairings:

KNOXVILLE, TENN. POD - THOMPSON-BOLING ARENA, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

Round One: Saturday, March 22

Game One: (16) Northwestern State (21-12) @ (1) Tennessee (27-5) - 4 p.m. EDT

All coaches want their teams to be playing their best basketball come tournament time.  Tennessee coach Holly Warlick can check that one off.  The Lady Vols (27-5, 16-3, RPI 5, SOS r 5) earned the top seed in the Louisville regional with their victory in the SEC Tournament.  Tennessee is a tall team that simply dominates on the boards.  Offensively, they average 78.9 points a game and can score just about any way they want.  Guard Meighan Simmons leads the team in scoring, and though her shot selection can often be questionable, no one can afford to slack off her as she has the ability to explode. But it has been the emergence of 6-3 Isabelle Harrison that has lifted her team.  Harison averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds en route to being named the Most Oustanding Player in the SEC tournament. 

Note to opponents: Perhaps the best tactic for dealing with the Vols would be to spot them an early 10-point lead. Not a happy prospect to be sure, but then again, pretty much everything else has been tried and failed. You can call this group the "Comeback Kids": Their path to the SEC Tournament title saw the Vols rally from three consecutive double-digit deficits to nail down wins against nationally ranked opponents. There is no such think as a comfortable edge when playing Tennessee, who can be counted on to have their own pedal to the metal right down to the final buzzer.

One big question mark for the Vols will be the status of starting point guard Ariel Massengale, who has been out of action since suffering a blow to the face against Florida in late January. Massengale was still MIA at the SEC Tournament, where head coach Holly Warlick, whom many believe needs a trip to the Final Four, and soon, to secure her position as heir to the legendary Pat Summit, would say only that her primary concern was for Massengale's health. Massengale has been engaging in non-contact workouts with the Vols since mid-February, but a date has yet to be set for her return to action. Meanwhile, freshman understudies Andraya Carter (redshirt freshman) and Jordan Reynolds (true freshman) have both done a capable job of filling in for the ailing star, demonstrating leadership beyond their years during the Vols rocky, but ultimately thrilling, ride to the SEC Tournament title. The freshmen have been so good, in fact, that the Vols have lost only one of their 13 games since Massengale's departure, and that was a 71-75 squeaker to nationally ranked Kentucky.

Tennessee's first-round opponent, 16th seed  Northwestern State (19-12, 10-5, RPI 135, SOS 236), earned its bid by winning the Southland Conference tournament.  The Lady Demons upset regular-season co-champion Stephen F Austin to grab the third NCAA berth in school history and the first since 2004.  Northwestern State is led by senior Trudy Armstead, who averages 14.4 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.  As a team, the Lady Demons depend on defense, holding opponents to 61.8 points a game.  However, they are a very small team and a poor rebounding one, two areas in which Tennessee boasts a wealth of riches. 

Prediction: Tennessee. The Lady Vols should be able to play volleyball on the boards and win with ease.

Game Two: (8) St. John's (22-10) v. (9) Southern California (22-12) - 6:30 p.m. EDT

Eight-versus-nine-seed games are usually competitive and this game should be one of the best of the opening day of tournament play. Eigth-seeded St. John's (22-9, 11-7, RPI 22, SOS 34) takes on the ninth seed, USC (22-12, 15-7, RPI 36, SOS 23), for the almost certain honor of facing Tennessee in the second round.  St. John’s received an at-large bid for the fifth straight season. Meanwhile, while Southern California earned its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2006 by taking the earned its first-ever PAC 12 Tournament title after shocking Stanford and upsetting two other nationally ranked teams in four straight wins in the PAC 12 tournament. 

The Women of Troy won the national title in 1983 and 1984, when Cynthia Cooper, now in her first year as head coach at her alma mater, was still a player. (For trivia buffs, Cooper lost only tournament games in her playing days, one of which came at the hands of Tennessee, playing in Knoxville.) Since then, however, the glory days have receded into the past for the Trojans, whose most recent trip to the Big Dance ended in the second round to top-seeded Duke.

This should be an entertaining and evenly matched game. There are few statistical differences in these two teams. The Women of Troy are more dependent on the three-point shot, taking almost five more a game. Not surprisingly for a Cynthia Cooper-coached team, Southern Cal is the more aggressive team, particularly on defense, stealing the ball almost three times more often per game than the Red Storm. At times, that gets them into foul trouble, but that might be a vulnerability the Johnnies will be hard put to exploit: St. Johns shoots better from the field (.434 to USC's .416); however they only hit 63 percent of their free throws. 

One weakness displayed by the Trojans in the regular season was an inability to sustain early leads and to close out opponents. To cite just one example, playing at home against Stanford on Feb. 21, USC had the Cardinal down by 19 in the first half, and continued to lead until late in the game. But along the way the Trojans eased up, allowing Stanford not only to get back into the game but to hand their hosts a five-point defeat, in what became the seventh biggest comeback in Division I history.

By the PAC-12 Tournament last week, however, USC was taking no prisoners, and it remains to be seen whether that "killer" mentality will carry over into the NCAA Tournament.

St. John's is led by sophomore guard Aliyvah Hanford who shoots 48 percent from the field en route to 16.2 points a game.  USC is led by Ariya Crook at 15.8 points a game and Cassie Harberts at 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds a game. 

Prediction: Too close to call. Crowson says the tournament-tested Red Storm should eke out a close win; Michaelson gives the nod to the Women of Troy who come into the game with momentum, on a six-game winning streak that included one of the biggest upsets in team history. St. John's, in contrast, closed out its regular season by losing three of its last four games, snuck by Creighton in double-overtime in a much diminished Big East Tournament field, then lost to DePaul in the title game.

 

Round Two: Monday, March 24

Winner Southern California/St. John's v. Winner Northwestern State/Tennessee - 9 p.m. EDT

Prediction: Tennessee. Either St. John’s or USC will give Tennessee trouble in the second round, but, ultimately, neither has the offensive power to stay with the Lady Vols. Then again, that's what Stanford thought ....

COLLEGE PARK, MD. POD - COMCAST CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

Round One: Sunday, March 23

Game One: (13) Army (25-7) @ (4)Maryland (24-6) - 12:30 p.m. EDT

Fourth-seeded Maryland (24-6, 12-8, RPI 20, SOS 50) gets to host the pod. The Terrapins play 13th-seeded Army (24-7, 17-4, RPI 57, SOS 153) in the first round.  Maryland earned an at-large bid after finishing third in the ACC while Army grabbed the Patriot League’s automatic bid after winning the conference tournament.  

Maryland has a high-powered offense that averages 83.2 points a game and shoots 49 percent from the floor.  The Terps out-rebound their opponents by 12 a game and average eight steals. 

Statistics aside, the biggest difference between the two teams is Alyssa Thomas, who became the Terrapins' all-time scoring leader (2,258 career points, breaking the record previously held by Crystal Langhorne) with her final bucket in Maryland's ACC Tournament loss to North Carolina.  A difficult match-up in the post and always a threat to post a triple-double, the 6-2 senior forward was named ACC Player of the Year for the third time and may be the best all-around player in the country.  On all the key watch lists, Thomas averages 18.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.6 steals a game, leading her team in each category.  She also shoots 52.2 percent from the field and 80.1 percent from the free-throw line. 

Otherwise, the Terps, who lost their all-time leading rebounder Tiana Hawkins to graduation at the end of last season, are highly dependent on freshmen: wing Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who is a great shooter; powerful post Brionna Jones; and point guard Lexie Brown. The Terps build their game around rebounding and a few capable shooters, like sniper Katie Rutan. Maryland is a dangerous squad that hasn't quite been able to compete with the nation's elite teams (witness their early exit from the ACC Tournament) but is capable of doing a lot of damage in the tourney.

Army averaged only 67 points a game and the cadets shoot only 41.2 percent from the floor. The Black Knights are led by sophomore guard Kelsey Minato who averages 21.8 points a game. Minato is the heart of her team as evidenced by her 37 minutes a game, and she will be the focus of the Terps' considerable defensive skills.

Prediction: Maryland. Army is well-coached and fundamentally sound, but they lack the offensive firepower to stay with Maryland.

GameTwo: (12) Penn (22-6) v. (5) Texas (21-11) - 3 p.m. EDT

Although fifth-seeded Texas (21-11, 12-8, RPI 24, SOS 11) has been a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament, they enter this year’s especially hungry.  The Longhorns missed the Big Dance entirely last season and have not won a game in the Tournament since the first round of the 2008 event. They will face the regular-season champs of the Ivy League, Penn (22-6, 12-2, RPI 56, SOS 131), who will be making its first NCAA appearance since 2004 and whose 12-seed is the highest in program history and fourth highest in the history of the Ivy League. 

Texas is a much improved team in this, their second year under head coach Karen Aston. The Longhorns rely on a smothering defense that holds opponents to 59.7 points and 34.3 field-goal shooting.  The Horns also outrebound their opponents by 11.6 a game. 

The defense covers an offense (69.6 pppg) that can struggle at times.  Most of that struggling comes from the lack of a go-to scorer.  Leading scorer, and All-Big 12 performer, Nneka Enemkpali, averages just 12.3 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. Enemkpali gets support from sophomore post Imani McGee-Stafford, who improved steadily throughout the season and finished with averages of 10.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and senior guard Chassidy Fussell, who chips in 10.4. Nearly 19 turnovers a game did not help them much, especially in the tough big 12.

Penn also relies on its defense, holding opponents to 55.6 points and 33.6 field-goal percentages. The Quakers gave Notre Dame a game in the preconference season, hanging within five for much of the first half, before ultimately falling by 12, 76-64. Some might say a loss is a loss, but that's a lot closer than many teams came to upsetting the undefeated Irish, including the likes of Michigan State, DePaul and even top-seeded Tennessee, who fell by 16 points.

The moral: Texas had best not be counting on its higher seed or Big 12 affiliation to coast into the second round.

The Quakers are anchored by Ivy League Player of the Year and two-time league scoring champion Alyssa Baron (14.3 ppg), a 5-10 guard (senior) out of Miami, Fla., who has started in every game of her college career. Baron is the only player in school history to register both 1500 points and 300 career assists. She currently averages roughly 3.5 assists per game, while also contributing 5.8 boards.

Six-three freshman center Sydney Stipanovich (11.6 ppg, team-high 8.5 rbg) took home the Ivy's Rookie of the Year honors, and with more than 3.4 blocks per game was also named the league's Defensive Player of the Year. Six-one junior forward Kara Bonenberger (11.1 ppgs, 6.4 rbg), Penn's third scoring option, was named to the All-Ivy second team.

With one exception, both teams are relatively small.  The exception is Texas’ 6-7 McGee-Stafford. The daughter of USC great Pamela McGee, who took home a title during her playing years, and Kevin Stafford, McGee-Stafford was named to the All-Big 12 second team this season after collecting Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors last year. (That sets up an interesting quandry in the cheering section should both USC and Texas defy all odds to meet in the regional in Louisville.) Despite the hardware, one might say that given her substantial height advantage over most opponents, Mc-Gee-Stafford has been something of an underachiever to date, particularly on the backboards where she averages 7.2 rebounds per game. Then again, her points, rebounds and blocks (a little more than two a game) have come in just over 20 minutes per game, and McGee-Stafford has started in only 18 of the 'Horns 32 appearances this season. When one considers her per-minute stats, and what McGee-Stafford might be capable of in a full 40 minutes, one has to wonder why she sees comparatively little playing time on a team that could definitely use the help. There have been no significant injuries to speak of, and no one from the Horns' locker room is saying, but Aston has been known to use minutes to reward or penalize players for their perceived work ethic or lack thereof.

All that said, Penn has no one who can match up with McGee-Stafford, but with Stipanovich being the likely one to try, this should make for an interesting battle between the two young and developing post talents.

Prediction: Texas is the more athletic team and, while Penn may stay with them for a while, if the Longhorns bring their A game it is unlikely that the Quakers can keep it close for the full 40 minutes.

Round Two: Tuesday, March 25

Winner Army/Maryland v. Winner Penn/Texas - 7 p.m. EDT

Prediction: Maryland. Texas will give Maryland a good game, but the Terps' offense, Alyssa Thomas and the home crowd should be enough to propel Maryland to the Sweet 16. The "if" factor: The Terps are strong but they aren't that deep. An injury or foul trouble, especially for Thomas, could provide the Longhorns with the window of opportunity to move on to their first Sweet 16 in years.

IOWA CITY, IOWA POD - CARVER HAWKEYE ARENA, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA

Round One: Sunday, March 23

Game One: (3) Louisville (30-4) v. (14) Idaho (25-8) - 5:30 p.m. EDT (4:30 p.m. CDT)

Did a team with a No. 8 RPI, with 30 wins and just four losses -- three of which came at the hands of undefeated UConn and the fourth, by just five points, at Kentucky -- really deserve a three-seed? Time will tell.

Last season, Louisville (30-4, 18-3, RPI 8, SOS 51) shocked the women’s basketball world by defeating defending champion Baylor in the NCAA tournament on the way to a meeting with Connecticut in the national title came.  This year, they again surprised, but this is one that they don’t relish.  Going into the Selection Show, it was assumed that the Cardinals would receive a two-seed, but the NCAA committee seeded the Cardinals No. 3 in the region they are hosting.  They are not happy with that, but head coach Jeff Walz and his charges seem to thrive on the role of underdogs and will likely take their frustrations out on 14th -seeded Idaho (23-8, 18-1, RPI 93, SOS 224).  Louisville was awarded an at-large bid while Idaho won the Western Athletic Conference tournament and the automatic bid that goes with it.

Louisville is a well-balanced team, whose sole weakness -- one that more often than not they turn into a strength -- is volume shooting. They score 78.9 points a game while shooting 45.5 percent from the field.  They hold opponents to 59.9 points and 37.1-percent field-goal shooting and outrebound them by seven points a game. 

The heart and soul of the Louisville team is senior guard Shoni Schimmel.  Schimmel averages 17 points a game and puts up eight threes each game.  She is a streaky shooter, however, who made only 39.1 percent of her shots this season. 

Idaho depends on its defense, holding opponents to 35.1-percent shooting and 61.3 points a game.  The Vandals shoot only 41.4 percent themselves and are an average rebounding team (43.2 rbg).  They are led by junior guard Stacey Barr who averages 18.7 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. 

Prediction: Louisville just has too many more weapons than Idaho and should win easily.

Game Two: (11) Marist (27-6) @ (6) Iowa (26-8) - 8 p.m. EDT (7 p.m. CDT)

Sixth-seeded Iowa (26-8, 14-6, RPI 23, SOS 44) hosts 11th-seed Marist (27-6, 21-2, RPI 41, SOS 116) in the first round.  While the sixth seed should, and likely will, defeat the eleventh seed, Marist is a team that no one wants to see in the NCAA Tournament. 

Iowa will bring a very effective, efficient offense to the tournament.  The Hawkeyes, who were awarded an at-large bid out of the Big 10 Conference) score 78.6 points a game and shoot 46.1 percent from the floor. They are alos one of the best passing teams around, assisting on 65 percent of their baskets.  Stopping the Iowa offense is not easy as all five starters average at least 12 points a game. 

Six-four junior center Bethany Doolittle in fact does quite a lot, leading  the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game and batting down more than three swats per game. Doolittle is not as effective on the boards (4.6 rbg), however, as one might expect from her 6-4 stature. The Hawks are led in spirit by 5-9 junior point guard Samantha Logic who averages 13.4 points a game, leads the team in rebounding (6.6 rbg) and led the Big Ten in assists (7.5 apg).  The Hawkeyes, however, are only average at best defenders and rebounders. 

Statistically, Marist mirrors Iowa offensively.  The Red Foxes  average 72.6 points a game and shoot 46.9 percent from the field.

Marist, who won the MAAC tournament and automatic bid, are led by senior forward Emma O’Connor who averages 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. But like Iowa, Marist is a team with tremendous offensive balance, featuring five starters who average double figures.

Prediction: Iowa. The Red Foxes are always a very well-coached, fundamentally sound team and have defeated several higher seeds from major conferences in prior NCAA tournaments.  Still, Iowa is only an average rebounding team, but Marist is even weaker (33.9 rbg) in that area.  The Hawks should be able to dominate on the boards and they shoot so well, they will likely score enough second-chance points to assure a victory.

Round Two: Tuesday, March 25

Winner Louisville/Idaho v. Winner Marist/Iowa - 9:30 p.m. EDT (8:30 p.m. CDT)

Prediction:  The second round will prove more difficult for Louisville, especially if Iowa wins as predicted.   Both teams rely heavily on their shooters. If Iowa is hot from the field, they could defeat the Cardinals, but it’s more likely that Louisville’s overall balance will propel them into the Sweet 16.

BATON ROUGE, LA. POD - MARAVICH CENTER, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY

Round One: Sunday, March 23

Game One: (10) Georgia Tech (20-11) @ (7) Louisiana State (19-12) - 12:30 p.m. EDT (11:30 p.m. CDT)

There was a time when seeing LSU and Georgia Tech on the program meant you could count on a low-scoring, defense-dominated grinder of a game. While both teams continue to place a high priority on defense, that's not necessarily true any more.

Despite its seven-seed, LSU (19-12, 8-10, RPI 14, SOS 2) an at-large bid out of the SEC, is a force to be reckoned with. A look at their strength of schedule ranking -- second toughest in the country -- and their No. 14 RPI will tell you why. The Tigers averaged 69.6 points per game this season, while holding opponents to 64.3.

But after starting out the season on a roll, the Tigers finished their regular season on a six-game losing streak that left many scratching their heads. Asked her take on the nature of the problem and what would be required to fix it, head coach Nikki Caldwell pointed to the tough SEC schedule that saw her team face nationally ranked Texas A&M, South Carolina (the regular-season conference champs) and Tennessee all down the stretch, accounting for three of those losses.

True enough, but the Tigers' run of misfortune also included a 60-78 blowout loss at Alabama in the regular-season finale, despite a near-triple-double by LSU's leading scorer, Theresa Plaisance, who posted a game-high 26 points, to go with nine rebouds and a school-record-tying nine blocks.

That points to what may be at the root of the problem: LSU relies heavily -- and for good reason -- on its star center Theresa Plaisance, who averages 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. But no matter how well the 6-5 Plaisance plays, she cannot do it alone. Plaisance was the lone double-digit scorer for LSU, and her nine boards -- the Tigers are not a strong rebounding team -- were more than the rest of the starting five combined. Senior guard Jeanne Kenney, who is usually good for 11.6. and better than three assists per game, was held by the Tide to just eight points on the day, and no one else stepped into the breach. Of course, the 24 turnovers the Tigers, who averaged more than 17 miscues, coughed up in that game didn't help much either.

To go deep into the tournament, the Tigers will need to get outstanding performances not only from Plaisance, their mainstay, but also from Kenney, freshman standout Raigyne Moncreif (a 5-10 guard who can create match-up nighmares for opponents and LSU's third double-digit scoring option at 10.2 ponts per game), as well as the rest of the supporting cast. Conversely, an effective strategy for opponents might be to let Plaisance get her points and challenge the rest of the Tiger crew to beat them.

Tenth-seeded Georgia (20-11, 10-8 ACC, RPI 35, SOS 20) is nothing to sneeze at either. The Yellow Jackets are healthy and jelling at the right time of the season. The younger players on the team are maturing and making key contributions, and one gets the sense that everyone knows her role. That said, Tech is limited in some ways, and those deficiencies are ones that LSU should be able to easily exploit.

Georgia does not have a post who can score, which means Plaisance could very well have a field day. Nor do the Jackets have a true point guard who can score, defend and set up others. 

What the Jackets do have is tremendous depth at guard and wing. Five-nine senior guard Ty Marshall is the team's catalyst. The school's all-time leading scorer, who averages 19.6 points, not to mentio 7.6 boards and better than three assists per game, Marshall is equally adept at drawing in defenders to find teammates or attacking the rim. Georgia also has shooters in Sydney Wallace and Aaliyah Whiteside, as well as the superb rookie guard Kaela Davis, who is the team's second-leading scorer at 18.6 points per game.

Tech averages 79.7 points, while giving up 70.9. That said, this is still a defense-minded teams that loves to press and is extremely physical, bumping cutters and daring officials to make calls. Accustomed to playing in the SEC, LSU should not be bothered by the physicality of the game, but foul trouble could be big trouble for the Ramblin' Wreck, since LSU shoots a solid, if less than inspiring, 71.3 percent at the charity stripe.

Prediction:  LSU in a close game. Despite their lackluster regular-season finish, the Tigers were showing signs of life and renewed teamwork in the SEC Tournament, and there is certainly no shame in their quarterfinal loss to ultimate tournament champion Tennessee. If Marshall gets hot, she could shoot the lights out, but if LSU can turn this into a post came, as it should be able to do, the presence of Plaisance in the middle should second the Tigers on to the second round.

Game Two: (2) West Virginia (29-4) v. (15) Albany (28-4) - 3 p.m. EDT (2 p.m. CDT)

Though not likely to turn into an upset, this could be one of the more interesting of the high-seed/low-seed pairings that characterize the NCAA Tournament's first rounds.

Albany (27-4, 17-1, RPI 103, SOS 327) received the automatic bid as the winner of the America East Conference Tournament. There were few real tests in the regular-season line-up, in which the Great Danes suffered just one loss, to Stony Brook in the finale, which they promptly avenged in the conference tournament championship game. Albany challenged itself a bit in the preconference season, but apart from a 77-61 victory over Marist in mid-November, but given double-digit losses to Duke, as well as to Quinnipiac and Hofstra, there is little there to suggest this team could handle the likes of the Mountaineers.

But, and this is a big "but," Albany has a player who is well worth the price of admission to see in 6-1 Jamaican forward Shereesha Richards. Richards, a sophomore and last season's America East co-Rookie of the Year, took home conference Player of the Year honors this season after averaging 20.3 points and nine boards per game, and for her position is quick-handed on the defensive side of the ball, averaging better than two steals per game. Her 62.4-percent field-goal percentage ranks second in all of NCAA Division I, and she is the first player ever to lead the AEC in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage in the same season.

Richards is not the Great Danes' only scoring option, however, with help coming from 6-9 center Megan Craig (12.5 ppg), who hails from New Zealand, and 5-9 junior wing Sarah Royals (11.7 ppg). Their primary sharpshooters are two 5-6 guards -- Margarita Rosario, who netted 38.6 percent of her 72 attempts from distance, and Erin Coughlin, who was good for 55 of her 161 long-ball attempts (38.6 percent).

But then there's West Virginia (29-4, 18-3, RPI 12, SOS 56), an at-large bid out of the Big 12 that puts 73.9 points per game on the scoreboard while holding opponents to just 58.4. The Mountaineers have offensive balance with four double-digit scorers in Bria Holmes (15.1 ppg), Asya Bussie (13.0 ppg), Christal Caldwell (12.2 ppg) and Taylor Palmer, the Big 12's Sixth Player award winner, who comes primarily off the bench for 10.1 points per game. They have plenty of height with 6-4 senior center Bussie, an All-Big 12 first-team selection, holding down the middle; Holmes, a 6-1 sophomore and also an All-Big 12 first-teamer helping on the wing, six others on the roster standing six feet or better. They make good use of that height with  trong rebounding (41.2 rbg) that thrives on second-chance points.

They also have defense, plenty of it, as the No. 1 team in the Big 12 in scoring defense. They should be able to contain the talented Richards, and if they cannot, they can certainly prevent her teammates from providing much in the way of help.

Prediction: West Virginia, by at least 10 points.

Round Two:  Tuesday, March 25

Winner Georgia Tech/LSU v. Winner West Virginia/Albany - 9:30 p.m. EDT (8:30 p.m. CDT)

Prediction: If both cames proceed to chalk, this game could turn into quite the defensive match-up. Still, West Virginia has simply too much in its offensive arsenal for either prospective opponent to contend with.


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