The women’s NCAA Tournament gets underway Friday with half of the 64-team field playing.
The same question remains for 63 of them: Can they beat UConn?
The Huskies have won 107 consecutive games overall and four straight national championships. UConn won’t have to leave the state until potentially the Final Four, making it that much more difficult for the Huskies to be upset. They’ve already beaten the other three No. 1 seeds in the regular season and knocked off Maryland — the 3-seed in their region.
While UConn doesn’t tip off until Saturday morning, top-seeded Notre Dame and South Carolina do play.
Here are a few story lines to look for:
PLUM’S FINAL RUN
Washington guard Kelsey Plum set the NCAA career scoring record at home on senior night when she put up 57 points to surpass Jackie Stiles’ long-standing mark. She’s hoping to help the Huskies make another run to the Final Four. That journey will begin at home as the Huskies will host the first two rounds. The third-seed Huskies face Montana State in their opener.
The fifth-seed Lady Vols will try to end an eight-year Final Four drought. Tennessee definitely has the talent to reach the national semifinals, having beaten Notre Dame, Mississippi State and South Carolina this season. The Lady Vols have also lost to Penn State, Alabama twice and Mississippi. They’ll open against No. 12 Dayton.
“If we were undefeated, I would worry. It’s just the unknown of what you don’t know,” Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said. “When you get on the court — we’ve prepared and we’ll look at it and prepare and we’ll put a game plan out — when the game comes, it’s the kids’ time to perform. Hopefully our staff is going to put them in a position where they’re confident and they’ll know what we need to get done. It’s tournament. Any coach in the back of their mind’s going to be concerned about any game. We lost in the first round against Ball State one year. Anything can happen. I understand that, so we’re going to prepare our team to play Dayton like it’s the championship game.”
The women’s tournament can claim the only victory by a 16-seed when Harvard upset Stanford in 1998. Still no 14 or 15 seeds have ever won a game, with each going 0-88 since the bracket expanded to 64 teams 22 years ago. With the top 16 seeds hosting, the underdogs will be hard-pressed to end that streak.
Western Illinois coach JD Gravina hopes his 14-seeded Leathernecks are the first when they face Florida State.
“I do feel like in some of our competition against bigger and stronger teams, it has at least neutralized some of that advantage,” he said. “We were hoping to get a team that was bigger … really post-oriented that didn’t have as many shooters as FSU has, which will be a challenge for us.”
SWEET AS A SUGAR BEAR
Central Arkansas has one of the most distinctive mascots in college basketball: Sugar Bears. School officials say there’s no special story behind it, only that decades ago the school wanted a nickname that set the women’s team apart from the men’s team. The name may sound soft, but the school logo is the face of snarling bear.
“I think we’ve got the best mascot in the country,” coach Sandra Rushing said. “Somebody asked me where did it come from? I said it’s just because we’re so sweet.”