Top Teams and Players Remain in Women’s Bracket

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA – While the gap may be shrinking, the women’s NCAA tournament is still ruled by the elite programs.

Unlike the men’s bracket where top teams became mostly extinct by the regional finals, the women’s field is dominated by the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.

Seven of the eight teams still playing in the regional finals are top seeds. It’s only the fourth time since the field expanded in 1994 that it’s happened. In 2008, all eight of the top seeds advanced to the regional finals.

“Everyone that’s left deserves to be here,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said.

With so many of the top teams remaining, it would be easy to say there isn’t any sort of parity in the women’s game. Yet just a glance at the scores from the round of 16 shows otherwise. Tennessee, Connecticut, and Stanford all had to rally for victories in their regional semifinal games.

It took Baylor awhile to put away feisty Wisconsin-Green Bay.

The lone party crasher to the regional finals is No. 11 Gonzaga, which become the lowest seeded team to make it this far. An asterisk could be put next to that record though as the Zags have had the benefit of playing the first two rounds at home in front of a raucous crowd and then moving across town to Spokane Arena.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re even the favorite to win here tomorrow. We’re playing in Spokane, Gonzaga’s here, they’re a wonderful team, they’re playing in their city and it’s a really great environment to play in,” Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike said.

Gonzaga point guard Courtney Vandersloot has put on quite the show in the first four games of the tournament. She’s shown the nation what the Pacific Northwest has seen for the past four years.

Vandersloot is averaging 30.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists in the Bulldogs’ three tournament wins.

If the Bulldogs can upset No. 1 Stanford in the Spokane regional final on Monday night, they will become the first team from outside the six major conferences to reach the Final Four since Jackie Stiles led Southwest Missouri State that far a decade ago.

In fact in the past 20 years, only four different schools from outside the power conferences have reached the Final Four.

For the Bulldogs to join that select group, they’ll have to stop Stanford, which is trying for its fourth straight trip to the Final Four. Gonzaga lost by six at home to Stanford in November.

Duke had an even worse showing against Connecticut in its earlier meeting this season. The Huskies scored 23 of the first 25 points in that game to run away from the Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils clearly feel they’re a different team than the one that faced the Huskies in their first meeting.

“I wouldn’t say (they’re) vulnerable, but every team has their weakness,” said Duke forward Karima Christmas after her team beat DePaul 70-63. “If we try to exploit some things that we’ve seen that, had they gone wrong last game, we would have been in better shape.”

Not much went right for UConn in the first 30 minutes of their semifinal game against Georgetown. With shots not falling and the Hoyas playing a relentless defense, UConn found itself down by seven with just over 8 minutes left in the game.

Senior Maya Moore wouldn’t let her stellar career end this soon as she took over the game and helped the Huskies rally for the victory.

Brittney Griner and her Baylor Lady Bears got everything they could handle from Wisconsin-Green Bay. The 6-foot-8 sensational sophomore scored a career-high 40 points against the Phoenix, who had won 25 straight games.

Next up for the Lady Bears is a familiar foe in Texas A&M. The two teams have already played three times this season with Baylor winning all three by a combined 15 points.

While the Aggies’ drought against Baylor only goes back a few seasons, Notre Dame’s struggles against Tennessee is historic.

The Irish are winless in 20 tries against the Lady Vols dating back to 1983, including an 0-3 mark in the NCAA tournament.

“Me, personally, I haven’t been a part of any of those 20 games. But we know the history between the two programs,” sophomore guard Skylar Diggins said. “Two Hall of Fame coaches, and it’s just going to be a great game. Teams that haven’t met up with each other. We’re obviously looking to break that (losing streak).”

If the four No. 1 seeds do win the regionals, it would mark only the second time since 1989 that the top teams all made the Final Four.