Lexington Regional women's final features Pac-12 showdown
Washington's Alexus Atchley (22) shoots near Kentucky's Alyssa Rice, middle, and Washington's Katie Collier (13) during a third round women's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 25, 2016. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Washington coach Mike Neighbors says the possibility of a rematch with Stanford entered his mind as soon as he saw the NCAA Tournament bracket.
He may have been alone in that regard.
The fourth-seeded Cardinal and seventh-seeded Huskies pulled off major upsets on their way to setting up Sunday's Pacific-12 showdown in the NCAA Lexington Regional women's basketball final.
''When I looked at the bracket, the first thing I noticed was that we were in there with Stanford. … That did jump at me,'' Neighbors said. ''I said that would be great, if it could be us and Stanford. That would guarantee a Pac-12 team in the Final Four.''
This marks the first time two Pac-12 rivals have faced off in a regional final since Stanford beat Southern California 82-62 during its 1992 national championship season, according to STATS LLC.
Stanford (27-7) and Washington (25-10) have split two previous meetings. Stanford won 69-53 at home on Jan. 29. Washington beat the Cardinal 73-65 on March 4 in the Pac-12 Tournament at Seattle.
''I think it's going to be kind of like a pickup game at the gym where the kids know each other,'' Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. ''They've played against each other a lot. They know each other. I think it will be a great game.''
Few people outside the West Coast anticipated this matchup.
The top seed in the Lexington Regional was Notre Dame, seeking its sixth straight Final Four appearance. No. 2 seed Maryland had been to the Final Four the last two years. No. 3 seed Kentucky had a chance to reach the Final Four without ever leaving Lexington.
Washington beat Maryland 74-65 on the Terrapins' home floor in the second round and followed that up by defeating the third-seeded Wildcats 85-72 at Rupp Arena. Stanford beat Notre Dame 90-84 to end the Fighting Irish's 27-game winning streak.
That set up the improbable Stanford-Washington final.
''To be honest, I don't think anyone looked at it as a possibility, right?'' Washington guard Kelsey Plum said with a laugh. ''We were joking about the men's March Madness bracket the other day, how nobody has the bracket right. And we were joking that I guarantee nobody has the women's bracket right either.''
Stanford is seeking its 13th Final Four appearance overall and seventh in the last nine years. Washington has never reached the Final Four and is in a regional final for the first time since 2001.
Washington would join select company by getting to the Final Four as a No. 7 seed.
Since the NCAA Tournament began in 1982, the only teams seeded seventh or lower to reach the Final Four are Missouri State (then known as Southwest Missouri State) as a No. 8 seed in 1992, Arkansas as a No. 9 in 1998 and Minnesota as a No. 7 in 2004. Tennessee also could get there as a No. 7 seed Sunday when it faces Syracuse in the Sioux Falls Regional final.
Here are some things to watch when Stanford faces Washington:
SPOTLIGHTING STARS: This regional has featured huge performances from Plum and Stanford forward Erica McCall. Plum is averaging 26.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. She has 26.2 points per game this season, ranking third among all Division I players. McCall scored 27 points against Notre Dame and has averaged 22.2 points and 9.2 rebounds in her last six games.
MONITORING THE REBOUNDS: In each of the two previous meetings between Stanford and Washington, the team that controlled the boards won the game. Stanford outrebounded Washington 49-30 on Jan. 29. Washington had a 37-31 edge in the Pac-12 Tournament.
SAMUELSON'S SHOOTING: Stanford's Karlie Samuelson has gone 10 of 16 on 3-pointers during the NCAA Tournament. Samuelson is on such a roll that she banked in an off-balance 3-pointer Friday from about 25 feet away after Notre Dame had cut the lead to three in the last two minutes.
OSAHOR'S OFFENSE: Washington's Chantel Osahor is coming off a 19-point, 17-rebound performance against Kentucky, but she has struggled to produce offense against Stanford. Osahor shot a combined 3 of 13 and averaged just 4.5 points in the Huskies' two previous games with Stanford, though she did have 16 rebounds against the Cardinal in the Pac-12 tournament.
CINDERELLA STORIES: Both this regional and the Sioux Falls Regional have a No. 4 seed facing a No. 7 seed in the championship game. The Final Four will have at least two teams seeded fourth or lower for the first time since 2004, according to STATS LLC. LSU made it as a No. 4 seed and Minnesota got there as a No. 7 seed in 2004.