Women's NCAA Tournament set to tip off with 16 games Friday
Let the madness begin - in the women's NCAA Tournament.
While the men's tourney is already under way, Friday marks the start of the women's quest for the Final Four with 16 first-round games set to be played. Top seeds Baylor and South Carolina are in action, and we probably won't see a 16-seed upset them - although it has happened once before.
The opening round will be a chance to watch some lesser-known stars play, such as Army's Kelsey Minato, George Washington's Jonquel Jones and Albany's Shereesha Richards. Friday will also be a chance to see seventh-seeded Tennessee. The Lady Vols, who have their worst seed ever, are out in Tempe, Arizona, facing a very talented Green Bay squad.
Maybe this will be the year that a No. 14 or 15 seed finally wins a game in the women's tournament. New Mexico State, Buffalo, Troy and Central Arkansas will try and break the drought.
Here are a few other tidbits:
Auburn isn't the first team coach Terri Williams-Flournoy has taken back to the women's NCAA Tournament after a long absence.
The Tigers are the No. 9 seed in the Dallas Region and in the 64-team field for the first time since 2009, ending their longest-ever NCAA absence.
Williams-Flournoy was an assistant coach when Georgetown made its first NCAA Tournament in 1993. After time on staffs at Georgia and Southwest Missouri State, and more NCAA trips, she became the Hoyas head coach in 2004. They made their second NCAA appearance in 2010, the first of three in a row before she went to Auburn.
''It's not that much difference because you're so excited,'' said Williams-Flournoy, in her fourth season as an SEC head coach. ''As a player, I went to the NCAA tournament. As an assistant coach, I went to the NCAA tournament, and then as a head coach taking your team for the first time, it's a different type of excitement because you're no longer excited for yourself. You're just truly excited for your players.''
Auburn (19-12) plays St. John's (23-9) on Friday in Waco, Texas.
20 IN A ROW:
Baylor, the No. 1 seed in the Dallas Region, has a 20-game winning streak since its only loss in the Big 12 opener Dec. 30 at Oklahoma State.
That certainly got the notice of the Lady Bears (33-1), who went on to sweep the Big 12 regular-season and tournament championships for the sixth year in a row.
''I think it grabbed our attention right out of the gates. I think it made us think about not the end result, but the next game more so than any team I've ever had,'' coach Kim Mulkey said before the Lady Bears' NCAA opener on their home court Friday against Idaho. ''You could not afford to lose another one. Because you didn't know what it was going to take to win the Big 12, and I just know that got our attention.''
Especially the group of Baylor freshmen that includes two post players who have had such an impact this season.
''In their little world, it was, well, `Coach, it's only one game.' They don't understand that one game can cost you a championship,'' Mulkey said. ''They do now.''
BACK TO THE FUTURE
For a few hours on Thursday, the women's official NCAA website tournament bracket had Michigan State advancing to the second round with a 79-66 win over Belmont. The problem is: Those two teams don't play until Friday. While the fourth-seeded Spartans winning wouldn't be a shock, if that final score holds, that would be something.
That was Army coach Dave Magarity's initial reaction when the Black Knights earned a 13th seed in the women's NCAA Tournament, and has them opening against the Orange at Syracuse. For Magarity, this was no different than what happened in 2014, when 13th-seeded Army opened the tournament a 90-52 loss to Maryland on the Terrapins' home court.
''I mean, to have to play on the host team's floor for the second time in three years is something that we're trying to avoid, to be honest with you,'' Magarity said Thursday, a day before their opener. ''So you can read between the lines how I feel about the seeding.''
Magarity is upset because the Black Knights (29-2) have set a school record for wins and have won 19 in a row since a 79-69 loss at Patriot League rival Bucknell on Jan. 2. Their other loss? A 72-61 defeat at then No. 14 Duke on Nov. 22.
And what stings worse is Albany earned a No. 12 seed despite a 65-62 loss to Army on Dec. 5.
''When I look at the criteria and what people were supposed to be looking at, I'm a little confused,'' Magarity said.
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Syracuse, New York, and AP Basketball Writer Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas, contributed to this report.