Ohio State vs. University of Tennessee
I have a dear childhood friend who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her son went to school with Glory Johnson, the feisty star of Pat Summitt's Lady Volunteers. Apparently, Johnson's years with the feisty, spicy Summitt have paid off, at least in dealing with the press. When asked about Ohio State's post presence, she retorted to the Boston Globe, "They have a huge post presence, just like ours, but we have more. [We'll] wear out their posts,'' Johnson said."Try to push it back on them. They can't run with us. I know for sure they can't run with us.''
As noted by the Boston Globe, the main issue will be whether the top-seeded Lady Vols (33-2) can mute the production of Ohio State (24-9) star center Jantel Lavender, and whether the Buckeyes can run with Tennessee, are the two major subplots of the game.
Foster said his relationship with Summitt during his years in the same state (at Vanderbilt) and same conference could be summed up in three words: "No love lost.'' Sounds like her relationship with Auriemma.
The winner will meet Notre Dame or Oklahoma Monday night with a trip to the Final Four hanging in the balance.
I also have a sense that Tennessee Volunteers coach Pat Summitt, the first woman coach to make $1 million a year, is looking forward to her matchup with Ohio State today with a mix of anticipation and dread. Anticipation for playing a talented team against perennial Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State, whose #1 seed male counterparts went down in flames to the Kentucky Wildcats last night. She'll never say it, but if Summitt looks ahead, she may have to face the rivalry that she never wants to face: a matchup with her sworn enemy, UConn's Geno Auriemma.
Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma
Saturday's other Dayton Regional will mark the fifth time Notre Dame and Oklahoma have met on the hardwood, and the fourth time in the past four years. The current Notre Dame senior class--led by Fenwick High School graduate and IHSA champion Devereaux Peters, along with Becca Bruszewski, Mary Forr, and Brittany Mallory, like to push the pace and take quick shots.
As Notre Dame notes on their website, the teams have split the previous four matchups, all of which took place at neutral sites, as well as their prior two games in the NCAA Championship, both of which went to overtime (ND 79-75 in 2008 second round; OU 77-72 in 2010 regional semifinal). The first four games in the series have been decided by 10 points or fewer, with two going to overtime, and a third decided by three points. As many news outlets have noted, iit's likely to be another back-and-forth game in Dayton.
Prediction: Notre Dame over Oklahoma, 65-60
Gonzaga vs. Louisville
The seventh-seeded Cardinals (22-12) will play No. 11 seed Gonzaga (30-4) in Saturday night's Spokane Regional semifinal. As ESPN.com notes, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have two primary elements going for them: the continued emergence of junior forward Kayla Standish, who is coming off back-to-back 30-point games. The second is Bulldogs' star point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who grabbed the headlines with 34 points and seven assists against Iowa, and 29 points and 17 assists against UCLA in the Bulldogs' 89-75 victory. The Cardinals counter with Shoni Schimmel, whose career-high 33 points, including the first nine points in a deciding 21-5 run, propelled the Cardinals past second-seeded Xavier 85-75 and back to the round of 16.
Two years ago, I witnessed the Louisville Cardinals play UConn for the championship. While the outcome was never really in doubt, an interesting development did come about. Angel McCaughtry made a name for herself by keeping the Cardinals in the game, at least for the first five minutes. In the end, McCaughtry managed to impress the WNBA's Atlanta Dream, whose inaugural season had something like one win in 2009. She was drafted first overall that year, bouncing the expected number one, Renee Montgomery, out of her seat. Last year, thanks to McCaughtry and a few other decent players, they made it to the championship finals against the Seattle Storm. Will another Louisville Cardinal follow suit?
Prediction: Gonzaga over Louisville, 60-55
North Carolina vs. Stanford
As the Associated Press noted, if there is one thing Stanford Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer and University of North Carolina Tar Heel coach Sylvia Hatchell have learned to do is win. They have a combined 1,683 career coaching victories. Each are members of the exclusive 800-win club in women's college basketball and with one more NCAA tournament win, Hatchell can join VanDerveer as one of seven coaches with at least 40 tournament victories.
I'm almost sorry this is a Sweet 16 game, because it would have been so much more fun as an Elite Eight. But I don't make the brackets. This is only the second time since the beginning of the Women's NCAA's that fifth-seeded Tar Heels (28-8) and top-seeded Cardinal (31-2) have met. The first time was in 1995, in an 81-71 Stanford victory. Last year, I was at Maples Pavillion in Palo Alto, California, for this round, and watched a great team make its way to the NCAA championship game. Jane Appel is gone. But the Ogwumike sisters--6'2 Nemkadi (15.8 ppg) and Chiney (0.8 blocks per game, along with 6'4 senior standout Kayla Pedersen, will dominate this matchup. Another local to watch: Sara Boothe, a 6'5 sophomore from Gurnee, Illinois.
The Tar Heels counter with 5'8 senior guard Italee Lucas, averaging 16.2 ppg, and Jessica Breland (11.5 ppg). 6'1 junior Laura Broom has been averaging 8.5 reobunds per game, but I just don't see them as big enough to pull off this game, inasmuch as I really want to see Ms. Hatchell join the 40 victory club. It will happen, but not this year.
Prediction: Stanford over UNC 90- 75
Georgetown Hoyas vs. University of Connecticut Huskies
The source of Pat Summitt's anticipated frustration, coach Geno Auriemma and the infuriatingly deep Huskies, plays here. No matchup is more anticipated, from my perspective, than the Georgetown Hoyas and the UConn Huskies on Sunday. After all, who can beat UConn? One hundred and twelve out of 113 times, teams have not, and that includes two national championships in two years. And it's hard to bet against senior Wade Trophy winner Maya Moore, whose place as a first-round WNBA draft pick also seems as secure as this pick.
That said, Ohio State on the men's side was a "surefire" number one seed. They even made the Sports Illustrated cover in our region.
Tuesday night, I was witness to an upset, as Brenda Frese' underclassmen-loaded, #4 seed Maryland Terrapins fell to the #5 seeded Georgetown Hoyas, 79-57. As triumphant Hoyas coach Terri Williams-Flournoy told the gathered media, "I told you we weren't scared."
Georgetown's Sugar Rodgers was on fire, with a personal best 34 points. Monica McNutt, the Washington DC native and team captain, added 14 points. Tiny, 5'3 Rubylee Wright also connected for 14. She reminded me of former NBA star Spud Webb. I loved his ability to dodge and weave, going under outstretched arms many times his wingspan. I saw the same in Wright. And I liked it.
The Hoyas faithful says that UConn can be beaten. To beat them in a game like this will be one of the largest statements this tournament can make. And if it happens, it will also be the first time in more than 100 games that the Huskies have lost to any team other than the Stanford Cardinal.
Prediction: University of Connecticut Huskies, 85, Georgetown Hoyas 65
DePaul vs. Duke
This one is a matchup that can only be termed a battle of the Smurfettes....the Blue Demons (29-6) of DePaul and the Blue Devils of Duke. what other blue creature on earth can put so much fear into the hearts of their opponents? Oh, how about my dog, the blue devil himself! Yes, Duke is his name! Since this is a Chicago-based blog, and I have attended the school of the Blue Demon, I make no apologies for my bias in this one. DePaul forward Keisha Hampton is from Philadelphia. Therefore, the victory that had her scoring 19 of her 26 points after halftime was just that much sweeter, including the two free throws in the final second. Third-seeded DePaul rallied from 14 points down to defeat Penn State, 75-73, to advance to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2006. She was ably assisted by Joliet Catholic alumni senior Sam Quigley, whose sister Allie powered the team to their last appearance in the Sweet 16 and spent some time in the WNBA. Another Chicago area native to watch: Deidre Naughton, a New Trier alum.
On Duke's side is more Fenwick Friar firepower, in the form of Tricia Liston of River Forest, as well as Duke's coach, Joanne P. McCallie, an '87 Northwestern graduate. However, the keys to this game are stopping 5'9 guard Jasmine Thomas from scoring, averaging 14.9 ppg during the regular season, and 6'5 center Krystal Thomas, with 9.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. This may be the closest contest played in the Sweet 16.
Prediction: Duke, 72 DePaul, 71