Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Regular season's best make it to Final Four

DENVER — For the first time since 1989, all four top seeds reached the NCAA women's Final Four.

This field — Baylor, Stanford, Connecticut and Notre Dame — is, arguably, the strongest ever.

"All four of us, I think, pretty much were the top four teams in the country all year," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I'm not sure if anybody ever fell to fifth."

Baylor, behind 6-foot-8 star Brittney Griner and a lineup loaded at every other position, is favored. But to become the first team — men's or women's — to win 40 games in a season, it must get past Stanford, led by star sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike, on Sunday then UConn or Notre Dame on Tuesday.

"Whoever wins this tournament will have earned it because they'll have beaten two of the best teams in college basketball in quite some time," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

Auriemma added the loss by defending champion Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 has only added to the intensity.

"I think all the teams have a little bit of a hunger," he said. "There is no defending national champion in the field, so I think the same thing is going through everyone's mind at this point."

That is: Why not us?

All four thrived on high expectations, especially Baylor.

"Not one time have we felt pressure," coach Kim Mulkey said. "It's just a case of we want to win a national championship. And if we lose it, what have we lost? I mean, we have had a great year.

"These kids, they know they're good. And it was just a case of we didn't think we could hide what people's expectations were of us. And we can't hide the fact that we're older now and we have those expectations, too."

Stanford, like UConn, reached the Final Four for the fifth consecutive season.

"I think a lot of the reason that we are going is because we play Tennessee and we play Connecticut," coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We really try to play as tough a preseason schedule as we can so we know what's out there and we know what we have to do to be here."

But the Cardinal hasn't played Baylor in a long time, and it hasn't seen the likes of Griner up close. VanDerveer prepared her players for the matchup by having a 6-foot-8 man practice with them, so "I don't see it as a disadvantage."

The Big East's power pair of UConn and Notre Dame are certainly familiar with each other.

This will be their fourth meeting this season and eighth over the past 14 months. So, Auriemma said, the game won't turn on a strategic surprise.

"I just don't know that you can hide that much from each other," he said. "We've seen each other way too much, know too much, have way too much insight into each other."

Although Auriemma and McGraw would prefer not to face each other again, they're proud the Big East has two finalists.

"You kind of look forward to getting out of conference when you get to the NCAA Tournament and seeing some different teams," McGraw said. "But we're certainly glad to be playing in the Final Four with such great company as Connecticut."

Wooden Award: Griner, Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne and Wisconsin-Green Bay's Julie Wojta are the finalist for the player of the year award. The winner is announced April 6

Regular season's best make it to Final Four 03/28/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 10:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting


    UPDATE, 11:01: No Dickerson today as the Rays go with seven right-handers.

    Here is the lineup:

  2. Why the Lightning would consider trading Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — This summer, the Lightning could trade one of its most dynamic young players ever.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) celebrates with his team on the bench after beating Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) to score his second goal of the period and to tie the score at 4 to 4 during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (03/27/17).
  3. Why the Lightning should keep Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    Keep him.

    Jonathan Drouin is live bait. The Lightning is ready to run the hook through him and cast him out there again. Drouin has enough talent for the Lightning to meet some defensive needs in a deal.

    Keep him.

    Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin celebrates after beating Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj during the first period of Tuesday's win in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. This Tampa Bay Lightning wing rides the newest wave of fan interaction

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There are photos of Lightning fan Shaun Egger as a toddler at center ice at the then-Thunderome, aka Tropicana Field. He's played in the Lightning's high school hockey league for Palm Harbor University. But his closest personal encounter with players had been waving through a crowd after a training camp …

    Tampa Bay Lightning player J.T. Brown wears his anti UV glasses as he talks over the headset with a hockey fan while they play against each other on line in an XBOX NHL video game in Brown's game room at his home in south Tampa. The fan chose to be the Washington Capitals and Brown, of course, was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Brown interacts with fans through video game systems as he streams the games live on Twitch with plans for the proceeds to go to charity.
  5. ‘Biggest fight' behind her, Petra Kvitova returns ahead of schedule


    PARIS — Five months after a home invader's knife sliced into her left hand, Petra Kvitova will return to competitive tennis at the French Open, a last-minute decision to make her comeback earlier than expected.

    Petra Kvitova adjusts her hair during a news conference at Roland Garros Stadium, where she will make her tennis return at the French Open. Kvitova's left hand was badly injured by a knife-wielding intruder in December; she has recovered ahead of schedule. [Associated Press]