UConn, Duke, Tennessee, LSU earn top women's seeds

Sunday, March 16th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LSU finally earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA women's basketball tournament _ and was rewarded with a trip to Oregon.

For that, the Lady Tigers can thank the NCAA's new procedure of selecting the sites for first- and second-round games months in advance instead of giving them to the 16 highest seeded teams, as was done previously.

LSU (27-3) was made the top seed in the West Regional on Sunday and will play Southwest Texas State in a first-round game at Eugene, Ore., on Saturday.

Defending national champion Connecticut (East), Tennessee (Mideast) and Duke (Midwest) were the other No. 1 seeds in a tournament that might have some suspense now that UConn actually lost a game.

Connecticut (31-1) and Tennessee (28-4) will start the tournament at home, while Duke (31-1) goes 20 miles down the road to Raleigh.

``Nothing's ever easy,'' LSU coach Sue Gunter said after the program received a No. 1 seed for the first time. ``We're grateful to be there. We're glad we're a No. 1.

``The West is unbelievably strong. It will be a tough road to hoe, but we're excited. We'll see what happens.''

Connecticut, a No. 1 seed for the ninth time in 10 years, remains the favorite for the national title, though the Huskies no longer are trying to extend a long winning streak.

Their 52-48 loss to Villanova in the Big East tournament finals broke a 70-game streak that was the longest in NCAA women's history, showed that UConn was vulnerable on a given night and gave hope to others.

``I think this is probably the most exciting year of all,'' Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. ``Because I think so many teams can get to the Final Four and win the national title. It's wide open.''

Connecticut, which also won national titles in 1995 and 2000, has a first-round game Sunday against Boston University. The Terriers made the NCAA tournament for the first time and look what they get for their trouble: a team stinging from its first loss since the 2001 Final Four.

Two victories would send UConn to Dayton for the East Regional.

Tennessee, a top seed for the 14th time in 16 years, could play its way to the Final Four in Atlanta without leaving home. The Lady Vols are hosting first- and second-round games and also have the Mideast Regional on their court.

They open against Alabama State on Saturday.

``Certainly, we're fortunate,'' Tennessee's Kara Lawson said. ``But home-court advantage certainly doesn't win games in March. That's one thing that you can't overestimate. We know if we're going to go to Atlanta, it's going to be four tough games.''

Duke, which plays Georgia State on Sunday, has a much more challenging road to Atlanta. If the Blue Devils get out of Raleigh, they would head for the Pit at New Mexico for the Midwest Regional and a possible meeting with the home team.

New Mexico is the No. 6 seed in the Midwest and is hosting first- and second-round games, too.

LSU would advance to the West Regional at Stanford if it survives the first two rounds and might have to play the third-seeded Cardinal in the regional finals.

Duke and LSU are playing on the only two neutral courts in the first and second rounds because Oregon and North Carolina State did not make the tournament. The selection committee felt that giving LSU a neutral court was more important than any trip the Lady Tigers had to make.

``Clearly that was something they deserved as a No. 1,'' said Cheryl Marra, who chairs the committee.

Subregionals will be played Saturday and Monday at Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, Old Dominion, Oregon, Purdue, Stanford and Tennessee.

The other first- and second-round games are Sunday and Tuesday at Cincinnati, Connecticut, Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, Penn State and Texas Tech.

The Mideast and Midwest regionals are March 29 and 31, with the East and West to be played March 30 and April 1. The Final Four is April 6 and 8 at the Georgia Dome.

Pairings for the national semifinals are Mideast vs. Midwest and East vs. West. That sets up the possibility of Connecticut meeting Duke or Tennessee for the national championship. The Huskies defeated both this season.

LSU got the nod over Texas as the final No. 1 seed, mainly due to its SEC tournament victory over Tennessee and its 76-58 regular-season victory over Texas, Marra said.

``They played through their conference tournament and they beat another No. 1 seed,'' she said.

Texas is the No. 2 seed in the West and its Big 12 rival, Texas Tech, was seeded second in the Midwest. Texas won the regular-season Big 12 title and beat Tech in the championship game of the conference tournament.

Villanova's victory over Connecticut and a 25-5 record helped the Wildcats become the No. 2 seed in the Mideast. Big Ten tournament champion Purdue is seeded second in the East.

The SEC and Big East have the most teams in the tournament with seven each.

Along with LSU and Tennessee, the SEC has Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Besides Connecticut and Villanova, the Big East has Boston College, Miami, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Virginia Tech.

The Big Ten got six teams in, while Conference USA matched the more highly regarded Big 12 with five teams.

Virginia (16-13) became the first at-large team in the tournament with more than 12 losses. The Cavaliers won eight of their last 10, including an upset of North Carolina.

Miami (18-12) made it after finishing seventh in the Big East, an indication of the selection committee's high regard for that league this season.

``The Big East was the No. 3 conference and that obviously provides a great deal of tough competition week in and week out,'' Marra said. ``Not only did (Miami) compete against those tough teams, they won against some of those teams.''