Tennessee again claims top women's seed

Posted: Monday, March 15, 2004

Tennessee earned the top overall seed in the NCAA women's basketball tournament Sunday, but two straight national championships weren't enough to get a No. 1 for Connecticut.

Coach Pat Summitt's Lady Vols, winners of a record six national titles, were made the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional. Also placed at the top of the brackets were Penn State (East), Duke (Mideast) and Texas (West).

Tennessee and Duke, the top-ranked team in The Associated Press poll, had been considered locks to be seeded No. 1. Penn State and Texas edged Purdue and Connecticut for the two other spots.

''It was exciting this year because we had more teams to consider for No. 1s,'' said Cheryl Marra, who chairs the selection committee. ''For the first time we had a larger pool, which is exciting for the game, but made it very difficult for the committee.''

In the end, Marra said Connecticut did not quite measure up to the four who were seeded No. 1.

The Huskies (25-4), the No. 2 seed in the East, had been in line for a No. 1 until losing to Villanova in its next-to-last regular season game and then getting upset by Boston College in the semifinals of the Big East tournament.

Duke was ranked second among the No. 1 seeds, followed by Penn State and Texas. Purdue was the top No. 2, with Connecticut next.

This is the first time that UConn, which has won three of the last four NCAA titles, has not been a No. 1 seed since 1998, when as a No. 2 it was upset by North Carolina State in the East Regional final.

''Taking a look at (Connecticut's) full body of work, when you put it up to the other schools being considered, the other four we believe had a better overall performance this year,'' said Marra, senior associate athletic director at Wisconsin.

Tennessee (26-3) received its 15th No. 1 seed in 17 years after winning won the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship at 14-0 and playing the nation's toughest schedule. The Lady Vols have 18 victories over teams that made the NCAA tournament, including a 72-69 win at top-ranked Duke.

Duke (27-3) won the ACC regular-season and tournament championships, while Texas (28-4) shared the Big 12 title with Kansas State and finished second in the conference tournament. The Longhorns also went 2-1 against the other No. 1 seeds, beating Duke and Tennessee and losing to Penn State.

Penn State (25-5) lost to Purdue in the championship game of the Big Ten tournament, but beat the Boilermakers twice during the season and played a challenging schedule that included a 20-point win over Texas.

Now the Lady lions face a challenging road to get to the Final Four in New Orleans. They could play eighth-seeded Virginia Tech on Tech's home floor in the second round and have a potential meeting with Connecticut at the Hartford Civic Center in the regional final.

Though Marra said Hartford ''is not their home,'' the Huskies play several games a year there and are 37-2 at the Civic Center since the 1996-97 season.

''That's how the games are set up at this time,'' Penn State coach Rene Portland said. ''I've got to believe for the last few years people thought that way when they had to come to State College.

''There's going to be challenges every place we go. That's what this tournament is for.''

First-round games will be played next Saturday or Sunday at 16 sites. Those winners play March 22 or 23.

Two of the regionals are March 27 and 29: the East in Hartford and the West in Seattle. The Mideast in Norfolk, Va., and the Midwest in Norman, Okla., are March 28 and 30.

At the national semifinals April 4, it will be East vs. Mideast and Midwest against West. That creates the possibility of a Tennessee-Connecticut championship game for the second straight year and fourth time since 1995.



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