Surprise Teams Spice Women's Regionals
March 22, 2002
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
AP Sports Writer
One team is coached by a former NBA player who had Larry Bird as a teammate.
Another is led by a frail-looking point guard whose idea of a big time after a game is going out for ice cream.
The third is a melting pot, with players from Mozambique, Mali, Sweden and France.
The NCAA women's basketball tournament still might be Connecticut's to lose, but upstarts Brigham Young, Drake and Old Dominion have hung around long enough to spice things up for the regional semifinals on Saturday.
"No way in my dreams had I thought we'd get to the Sweet 16 this year," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins, whose 11th-seeded team plays second-seeded Tennessee in the Midwest Regional at Ames, Iowa.
"The one thing I told my team is that when opportunity comes, when the door is being knocked on, you need to take advantage of it," Judkins said. "We've done a good job at that."
Drake and Old Dominion both advanced as No. 7 seeds. Drake, in the round of 16 for the first time since 1982, plays third-seeded South Carolina in the East Regional at Raleigh, N.C. Old Dominion, which has its usual strong contingent of international players, meets third-seeded Kansas State in the Mideast Regional at Milwaukee.
Connecticut, the No. 1 seed in the Mideast, plays fourth-seeded Penn State in the other game at Milwaukee.
The Huskies (35-0) started the tournament as the overwhelming favorites for the title and have done nothing to tarnish that status. They've won by margins of 49 and 38 points and have continued to feed the debate over whether this is the best women's team ever.
"We're just interested in playing games and winning games," UConn coach Geno Auriemma insisted. "Let other people decide who fits in where and who stacks up against who."
At Raleigh, top-seeded Duke plays fourth-seeded Texas in the other game. The second game in the East has top-seeded Vanderbilt against fourth-seeded North Carolina.
The West Regional at Boise, Idaho, is a mini-Big 12 tournament. Conference champion Oklahoma, the No. 1 seed, plays league rival Texas Tech, seeded fourth. Third-seeded Colorado of the Big 12 takes on second-seeded Stanford in the other game.
BYU is just the third No. 11 seed to make it this far. The Cougars have done it under a first-year coach who played and coached at archrival Utah - he's still reviled in some quarters for jumping to BYU - and was the guy the Boston Celtics drafted after taking Bird.
The Cougars, 0-4 in the NCAA tournament before this year, already have won two games in Ames, beating sixth-seeded Florida and third-seeded Iowa State. Now his team faces what Judkins considers the ultimate test: six-time national champion Tennessee.
"There's no question that when you think women's basketball, you're thinking of Tennessee," Judkins said. "They have the experience in these situations. That's a big edge for them.
"But we're the underdog and sometimes when you're the underdog you don't expect to win anything and you come out and play a lot more relaxed. I think that will happen with our team."
Drake made the regional semifinals by upsetting second-seeded Baylor behind center Carla Bennett and clutch shooting by point guard Stephanie Schmitz, a skinny senior who's fond of Maggiemoo's ice cream.
"We're the underdogs, I suppose, but I think we kind of turned some heads this past weekend," Schmitz said. "People realize we're not just going to roll over and let teams come in and push us around. We're going to compete for the full game."
Old Dominion is in the regional semifinals for the 11th time, though getting there as a No. 7 seed isn't the norm for the Lady Monarchs, who won the national championship in 1985 and were second in 1997.
They felt they should have been seeded higher, so they're not surprised to still be playing.
"I saw us hosting two games and getting to the Sweet 16," coach Wendy Larry said. "I don't care how you get there, that's what I saw. I never didn't believe that this was a top 16 team."
After routing St. Francis, Pa., and Iowa, Connecticut turns its attention to Penn State's Kelly Mazzante, the nation's leading scorer with a 25.2 average.
"She reminds me a little bit of Jackie Stiles," said Auriemma, who said he had no special defense planned for Mazzante.
"We're going to play the way we've played all year," he said. "We've played against some pretty good players. I think we're a pretty good defensive team."
Penn State's problem is that Connecticut is a good offensive team, too. Any of the Huskies' five starters is capable of a big game and point guard Sue Bird knows how to get the ball to the hot hand.
"I wish it was the Super Bowl. Then I would have two weeks to get ready," Penn State coach Rene Portland said. "This one week is going to be real tough."