TIPPING OFF: Women's tournament ready for Sweet 16
After taking a break for a few days, the women's NCAA Tournament is ready to get back into the swing of things.
The Sweet 16 begins Friday night with top seeds Notre Dame and South Carolina in action. In two of the past three seasons, two No. 1 seeds have gone down in the regional semifinals - although last year all four No. 1s made it to the Final Four.
There's a good shot that streak will continue as the No. 1 seeds have a combined three losses this year. Both Notre Dame and South Carolina lost to No. 1 UConn. Baylor fell to Oklahoma State, but star point guard Niya Johnson missed that game with an injury.
While most of the top seeds advanced, No. 7 seeds Tennessee and Washington crashed the party, both upsetting No. 2 seeds on the road.
It's strange seeing the Lady Vols in the role of underdog as they are usually one of the top seeds in the tournament. To reach the regional finals for the fifth time in six years, they'll have to pull off another upset of No. 3 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes suffered a tough break when starting guard Cait Craft broke her left wrist in practice on Tuesday. She won't play in the NCAA Sioux Falls Regional semifinal Friday night.
Here are some other tidbits for the tournament:
People tuned into the opening rounds of the tournament with viewership up 46 percent from last year. ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 343,000 viewers, the highest early round viewership number since 2013, when the networks averaged almost 400,000.
''We are pleased to see an increase in the viewership numbers for the first and second round compared to last season,'' said Carol Stiff, who is ESPN's vice president for women's sports programming. ''The growth adds excitement for this weekend's Regional action, as all four No. 1 seeds will take to the court in full national telecast windows across ESPN and ESPN2.''
Hartford, Connecticut was the highest-rated market across the weekend games, with a 2.0 average rating.
NOT QUITE AT HOME
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell notes there are no guarantees that come with playing at nearby Rupp Arena. Mitchell points out that Kentucky's season ended last year with a second-round loss to Dayton at Memorial Coliseum, the Wildcats' usual home floor.
In an effort to make sure the Wildcats aren't distracted by playing at Lexington, Mitchell has his team staying at a hotel off campus so the players aren't around their classmates.
''The environment and atmosphere, it's like a road game, so there are no distractions,'' Kentucky guard Janee Thompson said. ''It's almost like we're away until we get out on the court.''
WASHINGTON'S DEPTH ISSUES
Washington already is dealing with a lack of depth and could face an even tougher task in that regard against Kentucky.
The Huskies used only six players Monday in a second-round upset of Maryland. The lone substitute Washington used that night was Mathilde Gilling, who injured her left knee. Washington coach Mike Neighbors said Thursday that tests showed Gilling did not tear her anterior cruciate ligament, but the senior forward/center's status for Friday's game remains uncertain.
Washington's starters say they're prepared for the heavy workload because they've been dealing with it all season.
''We play really well together and we have a great chemistry,'' Washington guard Kelsey Plum said. ''It's nothing new for us. We're 20-plus years old. There are long media timeouts. You know what, we're playing on adrenaline, we have a lot of fun with it. I think it honestly keeps the game flowing and it allows for things to kind of work together in the game.''
A spring storm that dropped several inches of snow in Sioux Falls brought out the little girl in some of the South Carolina players who aren't accustomed to such weather back home.
''It's pretty cool,'' Tiffany Mitchell said. ''South Carolina didn't get any snow this year. Did we get any snow? It was cool. We had a whole hill of snow. We had snowball fights.''
Coach Dawn Staley allotted some time for her players to visit a nearby shopping mall and adjust to the surroundings in the city of 165,000.
''It's been a lot of fun. I mean, South Dakota's not your vacation spot, but we made it a vacation spot here,'' A'ja Wilson said. ''We're here to take care of business. ... It's different, but, hey, we're making fun out of it.''
AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Lexington, Kentucky, and Eric Olson in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this story.