Saturday, March 20, 2004

Tournament chase is all about class

Super seniors spark competitive brackets

The Associated Press

The NCAA Tournament is the final run for an outstanding senior class that includes Connecticut's Diana Taurasi as well as Alana Beard and Iciss Tillis of Duke, Nicole Powell of Stanford, Nicole Ohlde of Kansas State, Kelly Mazzante of Penn State, Chandi Jones of Houston and Shereka Wright of Purdue.

"In my experience with college basketball, this is the best (class) that I've ever seen," said ESPN analyst Stacey Dales-Schuman, a former Oklahoma star. "This senior class right now is frightening. A lot of WNBA players are going to lose their jobs."

It's also a motivated group, the Duke seniors in particular. Duke has been a national championship contender since Beard and Tillis arrived, and while the Blue Devils reached the Final Four the last two years, they lost in the semifinals both times.

"I would say there's definitely a sense of urgency for us," Tillis said. "This is our last year to win it."

Duke (27-3), No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll, hosts Northwestern State on Sunday.

Connecticut (25-4), winner of the last two national titles, began the season as the favorite after returning everyone from last year's championship team.

But the Huskies have lost two of their last four games and have four losses for the season. In the previous four years combined, they had lost only five times.

"We can't be thinking Final Four, Sweet Sixteen," Taurasi said. "Shoot, we need to win our first game to get to our second game. That's the way I'm going to approach it and that's the way hopefully everyone will approach it."

Connecticut plays Ivy League champion Penn in Bridgeport, Conn., one of 16 first-round games at eight sites on Sunday.

There are another 16 games at eight sites Saturday. Tennessee plays Colgate in Tallahassee, Fla. Some of the higher seeds face especially challenging first-round games on the opponent's home court. Louisiana Tech, only a No. 5 seed despite a 27-2 record, plays at 12th-seeded Montana. Another fifth-seeded team, Florida, plays at New Mexico.

"I see a number of teams that when you look at the bracket, you don't see the sure wins," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "I think these are the toughest first- and second-round games I can ever remember."

Take Summitt on her word. She has guided the Lady Vols to the NCAA Tournament every year since it started in 1982 and has won six national championships.

Tennessee (26-3) begins this Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed but is coming in off an overtime loss to Georgia in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Two other No. 1 seeds, Penn State and Texas, lost in the championship games of their conference tournaments. Only Duke among the No. 1s comes in with a winning streak - 10 straight since losing to a Florida State team that did not make the NCAA Tournament.

Also today, sixth-seeded Colorado plays at UC Santa Barbara, and sixth-seeded TCU will play at Temple.

Georgia will face off in against Liberty in a game that will reunite coach Andy Landers with an old friend. He and Liberty coach Carey Green graduated four years apart from Friendsville High School in Tennessee and lived together for a year.

"Who would've thought two old boys from Friendsville High would square off in the first round of the NCAAs someday," Landers said.

NCAA TOURNAMENT (Special section)
XU: Musketeers fight back to advance
Patient Sato picks his spots, hits his shots
UC: Bobbitt hits game-winner
Daugherty: Little guy not so little in Tourney
ETSU's Smith plays big
Hicks gets job done as Bearcats' stealth sub
UK: 'Cats pull away in 2nd half to win
Hayes just misses triple-double
Murray St. gets taste of Illini's Big Ten
Cowboys get Sutton's angry halftime message
Wolfpack uses defense to subdue Ragin' Cajuns
Pacific waves goodbye to 5th seed Providence
Maryland sets sights on 'Cuse's sharpshooter
Calhoun could do without matchup
NCAA Tournament at a glance
It's not exactly home, but it's close for the Buckeyes
Tournament chase is all about class
Team by team in the women's field
WNIT: Scoring drought ends MU's season
Victory sends Wilmington to title game

Reds pitcher lost for season
2003 Reds finances may have finished in the black
Inside Reds camp
Lidle in Opening Day hunt
Aching Nixon, Garciaparra out of action for Red Sox

Bengals, Sapp close in on deal
It's official: Keyshawn, Parcells reunited

MND plays nation's top-ranked team for state title
C-J storms into Division I title game
Colonels discover that the 3 is king
Royals win one for the ages
Mason Co. pushed to the 3-OT brink
Prep sports results, schedules

Silver Minister, Bejarano aim to play spoiler

Maruyama moves ahead
Sports digest
Sports this weekend on TV, radio