Now that the men have had their opening-round fun, the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament gets its start Saturday with 16 games across the land. UConn opens defense of its title Sunday at Gampel Pavilion against Prairie View at 8.
Here are 10 things you might want to keep your eye on this weekend:
California, here they come? The Golden Bears were a Final Four team last year, but lost nine times this season and were dumped in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament by Washington State. The lasting memory of their season, perhaps unfair, was the performance of star guard Brittany Boyd (3-for-23) in UConn’s 80-47 win at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 22.
Finally Fordham: A program that did not win a game in the 2006-07 season, makes its first NCAA appearance in 20 years in the first round against Cal at Baylor. The last time the Rams made it was in 1994 when they lost to No. 1 seed Penn St. by 53 points. They would have been left out this year, too, had they not beat top seed Dayton in the Atlantic-10 tournament final.
Four is a charm: Jim Foster leads Chattanooga into action against Syracuse. This is the fourth program Foster has taken to the dance – St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt and Ohio State. No one has ever done that before. Then again, Geno Auriemma has only coached one team.
Diamond is bright: Freshman Diamond DeShields is one of those kids UConn wanted and didn’t get. She had a fabulous rookie season at North Carolina. In fact, she looks a lot like Maya Moore, especially since she also wears No. 23. Diamond’s brother, Delino, was just optioned to Triple-A by the Houston Astros. He looks like their father, Delino DeShields, Sr., who turned down a scholarship to play point guard at Villanova to become a pro baseball player.
What’s up, Penn State? The Nittany Lions, seeded third in the Stanford region and led by senior guard Maggie Lucas, had a nice season. But bad losses to Nebraska and Ohio State down the stretch make you believe they aren’t peaking at the right time.
The WNBA is watching: Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike, Baylor’s Odyssey Sims, Notre Dame’s Kayla McBride and UConn’s Stefanie Dolson are all likely top five picks in this year’s pro draft. What about Alyssa Thomas of Maryland? Her number was raised to the roof March 2. She is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of the Year three years straight. But she has never played in a Final Four like the others have. The Terps are the fourth-seed in Louisville’s region.
Upset special: Ivy League teams do not fare as well in the women’s tournament as they do in the men’s bracket. But if you want an upset special, what about 11th seed Marist over No. 6 Iowa, even though the game’s being played in Iowa City?
Geno’s favorite first-rounder: It could not get more compelling for the UConn coach than watching his very good friends, Doug Bruno and Sherri Coale, work against each other when No. 7 DePaul plays No. 10 Oklahoma at Duke.
Louisville feeling at home: The Cardinals got their wish; UConn was sent to Lincoln and not to the KFC Yum! Center where the Huskies likely would have blocked their path to a third Final Four. Now, all the Schimmel sisters need to do is beat Tennessee or West Virginia or Maryland.
History book: If UConn wins the national championship again – President Obama said it will – it will be their ninth, one more than Pat Summitt won at Tennessee. And they will win it in Nashville, with the former Lady Vols coach most certainly in attendance. It would be great theatre, especially if Tennessee, the No. 1 seed in the Louisville region, works its way to the national championship game.