Sunday, March 10, 2002

NCAA Women's Tournament preview

Vanderbilt a surprise No. 1 seed

The Associated Press

        Vanderbilt edged out conference rival Tennessee for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA women's basketball tournament Sunday and joined Connecticut, Duke and Oklahoma at the top of the brackets.

        Top-ranked Connecticut (33-0) is the overwhelming favorite in the tournament and was the No. 1 seed in the Mideast Regional. The Huskies will begin their quest for a third national championship at home against St. Francis, champion of the Northeast Conference.

        Duke was the No. 1 seed in the East, Vanderbilt in the Midwest and Oklahoma in the West.

        Vanderbilt was the surprise of the top four. The Commodores (27-6) finished three games behind regular-season champion Tennessee (25-4) in the Southeastern Conference standings, but split two late games with the Lady Vols and won the conference tournament.

        Tennessee also lost to Texas late in the season and was beaten by LSU in the SEC tournament semifinals. The Lady Vols were the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, and that puzzled coach Pat Summitt as much as not being a No. 1.

        Why, she asked, would you put the two top teams from the SEC in the same regional?

        “I thought we deserved a number one seed. Obviously the committee didn't,” Summitt said. “But that's their job and our job is to go to work and see what we can do.”

        It's only the second time in the last 15 years that Tennessee, a six-time national champion, has not been a No. 1 seed. The Lady Vols were seeded third in 1997 — and won the national championship.

        “The committee came down to how teams did at the very end and we just really felt that Vanderbilt deserved that number one,” said Maryalyce Jeremiah, who chairs the committee.

        As for putting Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the same region, Jeremiah said it was done to remain true to the seeds. Vanderbilt ranked fourth among the No. 1 seeds, Tennessee was first among the No. 2-seeded teams.

        Connecticut was a No. 1 seed for the fourth straight year and eighth time in the last nine seasons. If the Huskies win the national title, they would finish 39-0, tying Tennessee's 1998 championship team for the best record in NCAA women's play.

        They have been dominating this season, winning by an average of 37 points. Only one team, Virginia Tech, kept the margin in single digits.

        But coach Geno Auriemma said he did not consider his team to be unbeatable.

        “We played about seven or eight teams this year that I thought if we didn't play well, we had a chance to lose,” Auriemma said. “If we go in thinking we're unbeatable, we're going to get beat, just like everybody else who thinks like that.”

        Duke received a No. 1 seed for the second straight year, and Oklahoma for the first time. Vanderbilt had been a No. 1 seed twice previously, in 1993 and 1995.

        The other No. 2s were Baylor in the East, Purdue in the Mideast and Stanford in the West.

        In the women's tournament, the top four seeds in each region are the sites for first- and second-round games. Eight sites will have games on Friday and the eight others on Saturday.

        Second-round games are Sunday and Monday and those winners advance to regionals in Raleigh (East), Milwaukee (Mideast), Ames, Iowa (Midwest) and Boise (West). The Final Four is in San Antonio. In the national semifinals, it will be the Mideast against the Midwest and East against the West.

        Louisiana Tech is conspicuously absent from the top 16 seeds. The Lady Techsters (25-4), who are ranked ninth and won the Western Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles, are the No. 5 seed in the East.

        This is the first time Tech has not been seeded among the top 16 since 1993.

        The brackets are laden with Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and Big Ten teams.

        The SEC matched its record with eight teams in the tournament. That group includes Georgia, which went 6-8 in the league but is 19-10 overall and has a strong RPI. The Lady Bulldogs were selected ahead of Alabama, 7-7 in the SEC.

        Also in from the SEC are Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina.

        Oklahoma and Baylor are among seven Big 12 teams in the field, joining Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas and Texas Tech. All seven Big 12 teams were seeded among the top 16 and will start the tournament at home.

        The Big Ten put six in the tournament: Purdue, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin. Wisconsin made it despite a late season collapse during which the Badgers lost 10 of 13. They started 15-1 and were ranked as high as fifth.

        Connecticut was one of five Big East teams in the field and the Mountain West, not considered one of the power conferences, got four teams in: tournament champion BYU plus Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico.

NCAA Women's Tournament schedule

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