Women’s Final Four has decidedly local flavor

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer feels as if she’s coming home to

the women’s Final Four.

She played at Indiana, coached at Ohio State and won four Big

Ten titles before turning Stanford into one of the most prestigious

programs in women’s basketball.

Even her college coach, Bea Gorton, plans to be around for the

games in Indianapolis.

Now, that’s a Hoosier welcome.

”She’s actually in assisted living and will come down to go to

the game,” VanDerveer said Wednesday. ”That was a long time ago.

It’s very exciting and it does have a little special feel to it –

and I love the arena.”

VanDerveer isn’t the only one eager to get inside Conseco

Fieldhouse this weekend.

Two-time defending national champ Connecticut, 2001 champion

Notre Dame, first-time Final Four participant Texas A&M and

VanDerveer’s team, which has finished second twice in the past

three years, are all ready to play for a national title.

Three of the schools have strong ties to Indiana.

There’s VanDerveer, an Indiana University Hall of Famer; UConn

forward Kelly Faris, who played prep ball at Heritage Christian;

and Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins, the 2009 Indiana Miss

Basketball.

And, of course, South Bend is just a short drive away.

”We’re hoping a big Notre Dame crowd follows us down to Indy,”

Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. ”We are so excited to be

playing close to home and hoping for a lot of green in the

stands.”

Organizers could benefit from the field, too.

With roughly 18,000 seats in the arena and tickets still

available, the composition could generate enough excitement locally

to sell out the fieldhouse.

Spokesman John Dedman acknowledged Wednesday he expects most of

those tickets to be gone before Sunday’s two semifinal games, but

having Notre Dame, VanDerveer and Faris in town will help.

”I think local fans will get to see some really good

basketball,” Dedman said. ”Hopefully, they were excited about all

the teams in the Elite Eight, but now that we’ve got some local

story lines, hopefully, they’re even more excited.”

Besides, it could be a historic weekend.

UConn (36-1) is trying to become the third team to win three

straight NCAA titles. Tennessee won three in a row from 1996 to

1998, a mark the Huskies matched from 2002-04. This will also mark

the end of Maya Moore’s incredible career. The second four-time

All-American in history reached 3,000 points against Duke on

Tuesday night.

To win the title, they’ll have to get past homestate favorite

and Big East rival Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish (30-7) ended a

20-game losing streak against Tennessee to reach the Final Four,

and now get UConn for the fourth time this season. The Huskies

swept the previous three games – and they’ll be at a home-court

disadvantage.

”You don’t like it, but you can’t avoid it,” coach Geno

Auriemma said of the matchup. ”When you get to the Final Four,

you’re going to have to play somebody really, really good. And so

are they.”

If any team understands the opportunity that comes with playing

the same team four times, it’s Texas A&M.

The Aggies (31-5) lost three times this season to Baylor, but

won the game that mattered most – the Dallas Regional final.

Leading scorer Danielle Adams is the first All-American in school

history and coach Gary Blair has Final Four experience with

Arkansas.

Texas A&M draws VanDerveer’s Cardinal (33-2), who are making

a fourth straight Final Four appearance. Stanford hasn’t won a

title since 1992, but ended UConn’s record 90-game winning streak

in December and comes to town with two players – Kayla Pedersen and

Jeanette Pohlen – who are determined to go out winners.

”More than anything, it’s not about me or me going back there

but what I feel is to be able to be going with this team,”

VanDerveer said. ”To share this four times with Jeanette and

Kayla.”

Whatever happens, Faris wants people to leave with a better idea

of what Indiana is all about – basketball.

”I don’t live on a farm. I’m more the basketball girl in the

driveway,” she said. ”When people think of Indiana, they think

corn. For me, it’s more than that. It’s home. It’s where I feel

comfortable. My shell. It’s the home of basketball.”

And now the women’s Final Four.