Friday, March 19, 1999

NCAA WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT


Sweet 16 has chance to produce surprises

The Associated Press

        Maybe, just maybe, the NCAA women's basketball tournament will get something new this weekend: an upset that breaks the form that has been followed so closely so far.

        While a handful of higher-seeded teams lost in the first round, the 16 teams that will play in the regional semifinals Saturday are the top 16 seeds, all of whom advanced by winning twice at home.

        Now that the games are on neutral sites, shouldn't there be a little better chance for something unpredictable to happen?

        “I don't think there's any question about that,” Clemson coach Jim Davis said. “I just hope it doesn't happen in the Mideast until the championship game.”

        An upset in that game would mean Davis' second-seeded Clemson team defeating top-seeded Connecticut to advance to the Final Four.

        Clemson (26-5) plays third-seeded Georgia (25-6) in the Mideast semifinals in Cincinnati. Connecticut (29-4) meets fourth-seeded Iowa State (24-7) in the other game there.

        Only five lower-seeded teams have won in the tournament. A few more upsets along the way wouldn't hurt, Davis said.

        “I don't think there's anything wrong with upsets,” he said. “I think that's good for basketball, especially when you have Cinderellas like College of Charleston or UT-Chattanooga in men's basketball.

        “In women's basketball, we had Harvard, a 16 seed, beating Stanford last year,” Davis said. “All that is good for basketball. It really is. It makes March Madness what it is.”

        Even if there are no up sets, Saturday's games offer some intriguing matchups. In the East at Greensboro, N.C., top-seeded Tennessee (30-2) continues its quest for a fourth consecutive national championship against No.4 seed Virginia Tech (28-2), which won its first 18 games and made the round of 16 for the first time.

        The other game at Greensboro has second-seeded Old Dominion (28-3), a Final Four team two years ago, against No.3 seed Duke (26-6), a well-balanced team that won the regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

        Top-ranked and No.1 seed Purdue (30-1) heads the field in the Midwest at Normal, Ill. The Boilermakers will take a 28-game winning streak against fourth-seeded North Carolina (28-7), a quick, athletic team that almost beat Tennessee in the regional finals last year. Second-seeded Texas Tech (30-3) meets No.3 seed Rutgers (28-5), one of the nation's best defensive teams, in the other Midwest game.

        In the West at Los Angeles, top-seeded Louisiana Tech (28-2), bent on making amends for a lopsided loss to Tennessee in last year's national championship game, travels halfway across the country to meet nearby rival LSU (22-7), the No.4 seed. All-American Becky Hammon leads No.2 seed Colorado State (33-2) against third-seeded UCLA (25-7).

        UCLA is the only one of the 16 that didn't have to leave town, though the West games are at the Los Angeles Sports Arena and not the Bruins' homecourt, Pauley Pavilion.

        Purdue should have a homecourt advantage from a fan standpoint, because thousands are expected to make the two-hour trip to Redbird Arena.

        The Boilermakers could use the help, because they haven't been sharp in their NCAA games, though coach Carolyn Peck isn't worried. Purdue has been in several close games this season and always found a way to win, usually on plays by All-American Stephanie White-McCarty, Ukari Figgs or Katie Douglas.

        “People wonder, can they go the distance?” Peck said. “Well ... they keep doing it game in and game out.”

        Tennessee is worried about the health of guard Semeka Randall, who has been getting treatment all week on a severely sprained ankle. She's making progress, the trainers say, but coach Pat Summitt is being cautious.

        “I'm a coach,” Summitt said. “I'd probably say I'm planning on playing without her. If she can play, that's a plus.”

        Virginia Tech isn't being cautious. The Hokies are confident they can play with the Lady Vols.

        “We don't care if Tennessee thinks we're a good team,” sophomore guard Amy Wetzel said. “We know we're a good team and we're going to show up to play on Saturday.”

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