TIPPING OFF: 4 games, 4 upsets in women’s Sweet 16
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — What a wild night in the women’s NCAA Tournament. Four games, four upsets.
First, top seed South Carolina fell. Then No. 1 Notre Dame lost, too. Two of the teams that had a chance to hamper UConn’s run to an unprecedented fourth straight title were eliminated.
The pair entered Friday night with a combined 66-2 record with both those losses coming against the Huskies. Now both teams are headed home a lot earlier than expected. It’s the second time in three seasons that two No. 1 seeds fell in the regional semifinals — South Carolina and Tennessee lost in 2014.
“It shows where women’s basketball is headed,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “Kids are getting better, they’re starting at a younger age. I understand the pressures of Notre Dame and South Carolina. We’ve been there. You’re supposed to win. You weren’t supposed to have any challenges. So I get it.”
The one seeds weren’t the only ones to fall Friday. Third-seeded Ohio State and Kentucky also lost, busting open half the bracket.
Left standing are two No. 7 seeds — Tennessee and Washington — and four seeds Stanford and Syracuse. Tennessee will face Syracuse and Washington gets Stanford on Sunday with Final Four berths at stake. While most casual fans wouldn’t be shocked normally to see the Lady Vols or Cardinal in the regional finals, this year, the two teams weren’t their typical selves.
Tennessee fell out of the Top 25 for the first time in 565 weeks earlier in the year and entered the NCAAs unranked for the first time in school history. In the NCAA Tournament, the Lady Vols have looked nothing like the team that struggled with consistency all season, winning at No. 2 Arizona State and now beating third-ranked Ohio State 78-62.
“We talk a lot about this as a new season,” Warlick said. “These kids come to Tennessee because of our tradition, but they have to make their own legacy. So we talk a lot about not focusing on the past or what’s ahead of us in the future. Just stay in this moment, and I think that’s what they’ve done.
“It’s up to us to carry that on. These young ladies have always understood it, but they’re doing something about it.”
Stanford also found itself in an unfamiliar role as an underdog — an idea that the Cardinal embraced.
The Cardinal have been calling themselves “party crashers” at this tournament. They spoiled Notre Dame’s festive mood behind a career-high 27 points from star Erica McCall, ending the Irish’s Final Four run.
Next up is a meeting with Pac-12 foe Washington, which won at Kentucky. It’s the first time in seven years that the conference has two teams in the final eight. With Oregon State and UCLA playing on Saturday, the Pac-12 could have more teams advancing. The conference has never had three teams make it that far.
Sunday will also mark the first time since 1992 that two teams from that conference will meet in a regional final.
Here are other tournament tidbits:
MAYBE NOT WHO YOU EXPECT
Only six teams have been to the women’s NCAA Tournament each of the last 14 seasons. One of them is playing in the Dallas Region — and, surprise, it’s not top seed Baylor.
DePaul has played in every NCAA tournament since 2003, joining Connecticut, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Stanford and Tennessee.
“In women’s basketball if you don’t win a national championship, nobody knows who you are,” said Doug Bruno, in his 30th year as DePaul’s coach. “That’s not a function of us at DePaul or a function of anybody else, that’s a function of our great sport that probably should be covered a little bit better.”
The Blue Demons (27-8), the No. 6 seed in the Dallas Region, play No. 2 seed Oregon State (30-4) on Saturday. Baylor (35-1) plays Florida State (25-7) in the other Sweet 16 game at the American Airlines Center.
Baylor has won two national championships and been to the NCAA Tournament in 15 of 16 seasons under coach Kim Mulkey. The only year the Lady Bears didn’t make the NCAA was 2003, when they wound up the WNIT runner-up.
KNOWING THE OPPOSITION
Florida State coach Sue Semrau is familiar with a lot of players on Baylor’s team.
“Worked really hard to see if I could get a few of them at Florida State,” Semrau said with a smile Friday, a day before taking on the top-seeded Lady Bears in the Sweet 16.
Three Baylor players are from Florida.
Semrau has also coached and coached against Baylor junior guard Alexis Jones, the Texas native who started her college career in the ACC with Duke. Jones was also on gold medal-winning USA Basketball Women’s U19 and U18 teams for which Semrau was an assistant coach.
“She is a special kid,” the coach said of Jones. “I loved coaching her.”
AP Basketball Writer Stephen Hawkins in Dallas contributed to this story.