Chalk holds: top eight teams make regional finals
All season long, the top teams in women’s basketball have set
Now they are all that is left.
The top eight seeds have reached the regional finals of the NCAA
tournament, but making the next step to the national semifinals may
not be so easy.
”Every kid’s dream, every coach’s preparation is for the Final
Four,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. ”If you notice when
coaches and kids talk, they talk about the Final Four. The thing in
their mind is the Final Four.
”That one game (the regional final) means your 40 minutes away
from the Final Four. That’s when it starts to hit the kids. `This
is it, this is the one I’ve been waiting for. If we win this game
we’re going to the Final Four.’ Some rise to the occasion and some
are beaten down by the pressure of it.”
Auriemma’s team has consistently risen to the top and they hope
to make it five trips in a row to the national semifinals when they
face Kentucky on Tuesday night.
Top seeds Baylor, Notre Dame, Connecticut and Stanford have run
through their opponents to advance to the regional finals. The four
have won by an average of 26 points.
Some of the No. 2 seeds have had a little tougher time. While
Duke has cruised through the first three rounds, Kentucky,
Tennessee and Maryland all had harder times. The Wildcats had to
survive a tough game against Wisconsin-Green Bay in the second
round. The Lady Vols and Terps had to pull of huge rallies in the
round of 16 to still be playing.
It is the fourth time the top eight teams advanced to the
regional finals. The eight remaining teams have combined for 20 of
the 30 national championships with only Duke and Kentucky yet to
”That tends to be how it works in women’s basketball,” said
Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves. ”You don’t see many different faces.
In women’s basketball you don’t see a ton of upsets. I think it’s
changing. We’ve broken through three straight years to the Sweet
16. We plan on continuing to be here. I truly believe we have that
kind of program now. It’s interesting how that worked out. The 1s
and 2s should make for a great Elite Eight and tremendous Final
The most intriguing matchup will take place Monday night when
top-seed Baylor faces No. 2 Tennessee in Des Moines. The unbeaten
Lady Bears and star Brittney Griner will try and reach the national
semifinals for the second time in three seasons and finish off
their perfect season.
Standing in the way is Pat Summitt and her Lady Vols. If the
Lady Bears win, it could mark the final time Summitt roams the
sidelines after 38 years and 1,098 wins with the Lady Vols. Summitt
announced in August she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia,
Alzheimer’s type, and has not committed to coaching next
Associate head coach Holly Warlick says Summitt hasn’t discussed
the situation with her or anyone else. Summitt likely won’t come to
a decision until at least a few weeks after the season, so for now
Tennessee is operating as though she’s not leaving.
”We don’t talk about it because we feel that tomorrow’s not a
guarantee for anyone. We’ve taken this whole situation with Pat one
day at a time, one game at a time, and I think (Monday) is no
different,” Warlick said. ”I think she will evaluate it, and
right now I’ll tell you she’s going to be back next year.”
One person who won’t be back next season is Stanford senior
Nnemkadi Ogwumike. She is trying to guide the Cardinal back to the
Final Four and the school’s first national championship in 20
years. She had 39 points in the regional semifinal win over South
For the Cardinal to match LSU and Connecticut as the only
schools to reach the Final Four in five straight seasons, they will
have to figure a way to slow down Duke.
The Blue Devils are not only shooting lights out but moving the
ball well to pile up assists and easy baskets – and they hope to
keep it rolling right into the program’s first Final Four since
2006. Duke has gone six straight games shooting above 50 percent in
the first half, and wound up at 53.7 percent overall Saturday to
follow up its season-best 65.6-percent performance from the field
in a 96-80 second-round win over Vanderbilt in which the Blue
Devils dished out 28 assists.
The Blue Devils fell to Maryland in the 2006 title game. The
Terps would love to get back there after beating defending national
champion Texas A&M in the regional semifinals. Now they will
try and knock off last season’s national runner-up Notre Dame.
The Irish routed St. Bonaventure 79-35 Sunday in the Raleigh
Regional semifinals, with their 44-point romp matching the
22-year-old record for scoring margin at the regional stage of the
women’s NCAA tournament.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was impressed by the Terps, who
rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat the Aggies.
”They’re a strong, strong rebounding team,” McGraw said of the
Terrapins. ”They have great size. We’re a team that plays four
guards. We don’t match up well. They’re much more physical and so
much bigger inside than we are.”
Connecticut also likes to play four guards. The Huskies found a
balanced offense to complement their stellar defense in a 77-59
victory over Penn State that saw five players score in double
”We wanted to make sure that this was a team thing more than
looking around for someone to have a big night,” Auriemma said.
”The team would have to play great defense and the team would have
to execute offensively. I was really happy after the game to sit
back and say that’s exactly what it was.”
Kentucky was happy to be able to relax at the end of its
17-point win over Gonzaga. The Wildcats struggled to get to the
regionals, barely beating McNeese State and Green Bay. Now they’ve
reached the regional finals for the second time in three
”It means a lot to our program,” Kentucky coach Matthew
Mitchell said. ”We are excited to be here and we know we can make