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Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles share region with unbeaten Connecticut in women's NCAA Tournament; South Florida Bulls get snubbed

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma doesn't spend time worrying about his team wearing THE target.

"That's never bothered me," he said on ESPN's telecast of the women's NCAA Tournament selection show Monday evening. "When you have the record that we have, that's going to happen."

His No. 1-ranked Huskies (33-0), the No. ?1 seed in the Trenton Region, are the overwhelming favorites to win the program's sixth national championship April 7 in St. Louis.

They've won every game by double digits. Their average margin of victory is 31.5 points. But the Huskies' seemingly inexorable March to the Arch might have to go through two state powers, Florida and Florida State.

• The Gators (23-7), in the NCAAs for the first time since 2006 as the No. 8 seed in Trenton, open against No. 9 Temple (21-9) at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Storrs, Conn. If form holds, they'd draw the Huskies in the second round.

"It's tremendously rewarding for this team because they have worked exceptionally hard," UF coach Amanda Butler said of the bid. "All I'm worried about is Temple. Do I think we're better than an eight seed? Absolutely I think we're better than an eight seed. But for us to say that, we need to back it up. If you're better than an eight seed, then you'll win and you'll advance and you'll get a chance to prove that."

• The Seminoles (25-7), who received a program-best No. 3 seed and tip off at 2 p.m. Saturday against No. 14 North Carolina A&T (26-6) in nearby Duluth, Ga., could meet UConn in the region final.

"I'm just so excited about the fact that we've earned that kind of respect with the kind of schedule we played and the kind of finish we had in the conference," coach Sue Semrau said of the seeding.

FSU had been no better than fifth before and were 11, 10 and 11 the past three years. But this season it beat Duke (the No. 1 seed in the Berkeley Region), North Carolina (No. 3 in Oklahoma City) and Texas A&M (No. 2 in Trenton).

And it played the Huskies about as close as anyone, losing 83-71 on Dec. 21.

Semrau is not ready to just hand any team anything. Not even UConn.

Nor, you can bet, are the other No. 1 seeds. Not Duke. Not Maryland (Raleigh Region), which won the ACC tournament title and has two key players from its 2006 national championship team, senior guard Kristi Toliver and senior forward Marissa Coleman. Not Oklahoma (Oklahoma City Region) and star senior center Courtney Paris, who has pledged to pay back the $64,000 value of her scholarship if the Sooners don't win it all.

And don't underestimate a team like LSU (No. 6 in Raleigh), which is going for a fifth straight Final Four appearance. Or Stanford (No. 2 in Berkeley), which upset Connecticut in last year's Final Four. Or the Tennessee Volunteers (a program-worst No. 5 seed in Berkeley), who won their second straight title and eighth overall last year at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"The SEC tournament really turned the corner for us in terms of just investing in every possession and becoming a 40-minute team," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said on the ESPN telecast. "I'm excited about the tournament, and I'm excited about where our team is right now."

USF coach Jose Fernandez also liked the way his team finished. The Bulls (22-10) had road wins against Rutgers, DePaul and Villanova, three of the other six Big East teams to join UConn in the 64-team field, and hoped to get the second bid in program history.

Instead, they'll have to settle for the Women's NIT for a fifth time in the past six years. Committee selection chair Jacki Silar cited their weak nonconference schedule (264th nationally).

USF earned a first-round bye and on Saturday will host the winner of Thursday's opening-round game between George Washington and Florida Gulf Coast.

"At the end of the day, I feel for this bunch," Fernandez said. "This year, we broke a school record for wins … (we) didn't have one bad loss. … Five top-50 wins, (nine) top-100 wins and we're sitting at home. There's got to be some kind of accountability."

Three of the four national experts for said USF was the biggest snub. Auriemma might trumpet USF's case. After all, he called the Big East the toughest league and one reason why THE target isn't an issue for his group.

"The only issue you worry about is, you go out one night and for some reason, whatever that reason is, some of your players just don't have it; a couple key guys don't have it, there's foul problems, there's a twisted ankle," Auriemma said. "Believe me, I'm not sitting here thinking, 'Who are we playing in St. Louis.' Trust me."

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.

Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles share region with unbeaten Connecticut in women's NCAA Tournament; South Florida Bulls get snubbed 03/16/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 9:58am]
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