Wednesday March 23rd, 2011

Avert your eyes, Charles Barkley. The Big East has produced five of the Sweet Sixteen teams in the women's tournament, including top overall seed Connecticut, which stormed through its first two games as expected. (The Big 12 is next with three teams, including Baylor and Texas A&M.) Among the Sweet Sixteen games of note: Feisty Wisconsin-Green Bay (32-1), which has won a nation's-best 25 straight, meets Baylor and Brittney Griner in Dallas. Top-seeded Tennessee has a tricky game against a sizzling Ohio State in Dayton, and the winner of Gonzaga-Louisville in Spokane will be stunningly one game away from the Final Four. Here's a quick reset of the tournament:

The Story So Far: The best point-a-minute guard in the Pacific Northwest is not on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. (Sorry, Jimmer). Last week Gonzaga senior point guard Courtney Vandersloot became the first player in Division I history -- men or women -- to record 2,000 points and 1,000 assists in her career. In No. 11 Gonzaga's upset of No. 3 UCLA, Vandersloot had 29 points, 17 assists, seven rebounds and five steals. (She finished with 34 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in Gonzaga's first-round victory over No. 6 Iowa). The Zags are the nation's top scoring team at 86 points per game, have won 20 straight, and will play at home for the third straight game against Louisville, which knocked off Xavier behind a career-high 33 points from freshman point guard Shoni Schimmel. Stanford remains the bracket's giant and a big favorite to reach Indianapolis, but the Zags are the story of this region.

State of the No. 1: Stanford waxed No. 9 St. John's by 26 in the second round and now faces a North Carolina team that will try to run-and-gun the Cardinal out of the gym. It's unlikely to happen, given Stanford's long and athletic front line. Plus, the Cardinal can match North Carolina's output if the game gets into the 80s. Stanford is the nation's No. 4 team the country in scoring (80 ppg); North Carolina ranks 10th at 78.3 points. There's no one in the region that can match up with the Cardinal across the board, so feel free to book the ticket for Indianapolis, Stanford fans.

Must-See Matchup: Louisville vs. Gonzaga. The point guard position is the one to watch as a transcendent senior (Vandersloot) battles a terrific freshman (Schimmel). Gonzaga junior forwards Kayla Standish (17.4 points) and Katelan Redmon (17.0), both fine scorers, have a battle on their hands with Louisville junior forward Monique Reid (15.9).

Quotable: "That's why we call her 'Show.' When it's a big stage and a big crowd, she's going to put on a show, just like she did today." -- Louisville guard Tia Gibbs on Schimmel

The Pick: Stanford

The Story So Far: Was Tennessee's 79-70 victory over eighth-seeded Marquette a wake-up call or a sign of things to come for the Lady Vols? Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said her team "did not have an investment in our defense" in the first half, and while Tennessee improved to 50-0 in NCAA games played in Knoxville, it was the program's narrowest margin in an NCAA win on its home court in 20 years. Sixth-seeded Oklahoma knocked off No. 3 Miami and looks dangerous behind speedy senior point guard Danielle Robinson and sophomore guard Whitney Hand, who scored a career-high 27 points against Miami. The Oklahoma-Notre Dame regional semifinal should be a feisty battle. Last year Oklahoma knocked off Notre Dame 77-72 in overtime in the NCAA regional semifinals in Kansas City, with Notre Dame sophomore star Skylar Diggins finishing 4-of-14 from the floor in that game. Look for a reversal on Saturday.

State of the No. 1: We'll learn a lot about Tennessee when they leave the comforts of Knoxville to play Ohio State. Like the Notre Dame-Oklahoma game, the point guard position features a prime-time matchup with Ohio State's flamboyant junior Samantha Prahalis guarding speedy freshman Meighan Simmons, Tennessee's leading scorer. Look for Summitt to follow Georgia Tech's strategy and instruct her guards to play physical defense against Prahalis, who can get frustrated when things are not going her way.

Must-See Matchup: Tennessee vs. Ohio State: Will Ohio State finally produce a signature win? Senior All-America center Jantel Lavender has been a stat machine (she just set an NCAA record with her 135th straight double-figure scoring game) during her four years at Ohio State, but Lavender has never led her team past the Sweet Sixteen. The Buckeyes stumbled at the beginning of the year but last lost Feb. 6 and have lately looked like the preseason Top 10 team most predicted.

Quotable: "Sometimes the leash is real long, and sometimes it's real short. She starts out, it's usually real short, and then we extend it a little bit. Meighan's been a great addition to this team with her skill set, her speed, her change of direction. I think she was just a little over anxious when we started and rightfully so. It took us a while to get going, but we're glad we have her because she definitely makes a big difference." -- Summitt on Simmons

The Pick: Notre Dame

The Story So Far: Duke barely survived against No. 10 seed Marist at Cameron Indoor Stadium, pulling out a victory against a Marist team that had its leading scorer Erica Allenspach sidelined by injury for the entire second half. Given Duke's shaky performance, you get the feeling No. 3 DePaul knock off the Devils because it's hard to imagine the Blue Demons will shoot as poorly from distance as they did against Penn State. Regardless, it's impossible to think that either of these teams can challenge UConn.

The State of the No. 1: UConn has allowed an average of 39.5 points over the first two rounds, including just 13 first-half points from Purdue. Next up is Georgetown, which gave the Huskies some problems in two games this year. In a 52-42 UConn win on Feb. 26, the Huskies were forced into a season-high 26 turnovers by the Hoyas and didn't pull away until late. Two weeks ago, UConn won 59-43 behind a career-high 24 points from center Stefanie Dolson. In that game Maya Moore scored only six points, just the fifth time in 147 games that she didn't reach double digits.

Must-See Matchup: UConn vs. Duke (if it happens): Duke needs to get back to the regional final, if only to offer a better showing than the 36-point beat down it endured from the Huskies on Jan. 31.

Quotable: "Our defense has always been the staple of our team and it gets our momentum going. It's been I think the most consistent aspect the past three years." -- UConn's Moore

The Pick: UConn

The Story: Baylor and Texas A&M are set to meet for a fourth time this season with one more win. The Aggies lost those three games by a total of 15 points, including the Big 12 final when Texas A&M's All-America forward Danielle Adams missed a potential tying three-pointer with four seconds left. While the top two seeds have had little trouble in the first two rounds, let's give it up for Georgia and Wisconsin Green-Bay, both of whom knocked out higher seeds to reach the regional semifinals. Georgia scored on a putback with 2.9 seconds left to lift them over Florida State.

The State of the No. 1: So far, it's been easy for Baylor. Griner finished with 30 points in a 14-point win over West Virginia after sitting the final nine minutes of the first half. The thing to watch with the Lady Bears is the eye injury to senior guard Melissa Jones, who has been wearing protective glasses after losing full vision in her right eye because of a swollen optic nerve sustained when she hit her head going for a loose ball three weeks ago. Baylor coach Kim Mulkey doesn't know much about Green Bay, but she knows enough. "I know that they have only lost one basketball game and I know that they have beaten some good teams," Mulkey said. " I haven't watched a lot of film on them, but we will ... When someone has only lost one game, that gets your attention."

Must-See Matchup: Baylor vs. Wisconsin Green Bay: Green Bay is a terrific program that deserves all the press its getting, but the Phoenix are now in the deep part of the pool with top-seeded Baylor and Griner in Dallas. The Phoenix have won 25 straight since their three-point loss to Marquette, the lone loss on the season. Size is the big issue in this game: Green Bay has terrific shooters (Kayla Tetschlag, Julie Wojta and Celeste Hoewisch each average more than 13 points per game and shoot over 48 percent from the field), but the team does not start a player over six feet tall.

Quotable: "In big games, the stakes are higher and it is fun to go to battle with this team. We always say our go-to player is our open player, and certain nights that is me and certain nights it is not. I never really think tonight is a big game or tonight I am going to play better. It is just the way our program is cultured and the way we put our teammates first." -- Green Bay sophomore guard Adrian Ritchie, who scored 20 points off the bench in a win over No. 4 Michigan State.

The Pick: Baylor

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