We may all know -- or at least we think we know -- what the ultimate outcome will be: UConn hoisting the trophy. But whether or not Connecticut clinches another undefeated season and national championship, the women's NCAA tournament has been well worth watching this year.
This season, for the first time, we have seen parity really hit the women's game. Sure, we've had glimpses in years past with an upset here and there. This season, however, it began early. Maryland's season-opening loss to TCU. The emergence of South Dakota State. Florida State's battle for a share of the ACC title.
Now it's actually made its way through the tournament. You can no longer Sharpie in a top 10 or a bracket. Consider: this year's Elite Eight. The field includes a pair of six seeds for the first time and one of those, Arizona State (which takes on UConn on Tuesday), is among three teams trying to get to its first Final Four. The other, Purdue, was part of a Sweet 16 matchup featuring two teams that weren't in the top 25.
Of course, that round was even more memorable for what it didn't include -- an SEC team, for the first time. Tennessee, usually there, suffered its earliest exit ever, losing to Ball State in the first round. LSU, another Final Four stalwart, was gone after a 10-point loss to Louisville in the second round.
Despite having six teams in the tournament, the ACC managed to get just one past the second round after top-seeded Duke and No. 3 North Carolina were both upset victims. "I think it points toward the parity in women's basketball, with so many different teams like Ball State and South Dakota doing so well," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said after her team's second-round win. "I think it's a good sign for basketball, not necessarily good that Tennessee and North Carolina aren't in the Sweet 16, but that there's more talent. There's more spread around talent. It's exciting. You're looking at the future of women's basketball."
That may be true coach, but right now the present is pretty darn good, too.
No. 1 Maryland vs. No. 3 Louisville
We're about to find what wins championships -- or at least regional finals. This is offense vs. defense. Louisville held Baylor to just 39 points in the regional semifinals. That might be a little tougher to do against the Terrapins. National championship veterans Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman find a way of carrying the load when their team needs it the most. Coleman is coming off one of the best performances in tournament history, scoring 42 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in the regional semifinal win over Vanderbilt. She's averaging 23 points in the tournament.
No. 2 Stanford vs. No. 4 Iowa State
Iowa State had a tough time against Michigan State's 6-9 center Alyssa DeHaan, who put up a career-high 24 points in the regional semis. Stanford's frontline might not reach 6-9, but it may be bigger and better. The Cyclones are sharp shooters from the outside, hitting 36 three-pointers so far in the tournament. Those long-range shots could be a little harder to come by, though, against a Stanford team that has a size advantage on the perimeter. Jeanette Pohlen, the 6-0 point guard, is the smallest in the lineup.
No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 6 Arizona State
Arizona State had more success against the usually stifling Texas A&M defense than most. The Sun Devils burned the Aggies for a season-high 84 points, hitting 62 percent from the field. The mighty Huskies were finally challenged, falling behind California for a bit in the regional semifinals. They still turned that into a blowout. Connecticut also showed that Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery may be the top dogs, but there are plenty of other options on the floor. It was freshman Tiffany Hayes and junior Kaili McLaren coming through at crunch time: Hayes missed just 1-of-10 from the field and put up 28 points.
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 6 Purdue
The Sooners managed to get to the Elite Eight without Courtney Paris even having a stellar game. Credit that to the balance they've developed throughout the year. Five players scored in double figures in Sunday's win against Pittsburgh. With freshman Whitney Hand, they have a reliable outside attack, and with Courtney and Ashley Paris, the Sooners are certainly tough to defend in the paint. But don't count out Purdue. The Boilermakers are getting almost 40 points a game from the frontline. Like OU, they've got scoring on the perimeter as well -- they've had at least four double-digit scorers in every tournament game.