- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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BOWLING GREEN, Ohio -- While Brittney Griner and her Baylor teammates sat in the locker room after their 76-57 victory over Florida, their eyes wandered to the television showing the Kansas-Delaware game.
Griner never crossed paths with Delaware's Elena Delle Donne on the AAU circuit. But Griner had heard a lot about Delle Donne and was interested in watching her play.
"It's good for women's basketball," Griner said of Delle Donne's popularity. "For her to be scoring like that is great. I hadn't really watched her play until the tournament, but I know about her stats. She's an awesome player."
When the NCAA tournament bracket came out, eyes were drawn to the Des Moines Regional with the possibility of having both Griner and Delle Donne -- who are many folks' 1 and 1A candidates for player of the year -- at the same site. But
Instead, Griner and the Lady Bears will be in Iowa this weekend, along with a team they are far more familiar with than Delaware. Fellow Big 12 squad Kansas, the No. 11 seed, pulled its second upset in a row Tuesday, beating the No. 3 seed Blue Hens 70-64 in Little Rock, Ark.
KU's victory means two No. 11 seeds will be in the Sweet 16, as Gonzaga -- which upset 6-seed Rutgers and No. 3 seed Miami -- will be headed to the Kingston Regional. The Zags did have the advantage of playing at home in their first- and second-round games. Kansas did not. But the Jayhawks will be only about a 3½-hour drive from their Lawrence campus when they take on second-seeded Tennessee on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Iowa's capital city.
It's the Jayhawks' first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1998, when KU was the No. 5 seed and upset No. 4 Iowa on the Hawkeyes' home court in the second round. They advanced to the regional in Oakland, Calif., where they lost to Arkansas, which eventually went on to the Final Four that year in Kansas City.
Marian Washington was still KU's coach in 1998; she stepped down due to illness during the 2003-04 season and Bonnie Henrickson took over for 2004-05. The Jayhawks fell short of an NCAA bid in Henrickson's first seven seasons, and when star Carolyn Davis was lost to a knee injury in February, it looked bleak for the Jayhawks to make it this year. But they received an at-large bid and have made the selection committee look pretty smart for doing that.
Sunday, KU upset former Big 12 team Nebraska, the No. 6 seed, behind 20 points from point guard Angel Goodrich. Tuesday, Goodrich continued her breakout stardom with 27 points and six assists against Delaware. Delle Donne, the nation's leading scorer, had 34 points and 10 rebounds, but seemed to wear down in the final 10 minutes of the game as KU threw several bodies at her on defense.
So there will be no Delle Donne versus Tennessee matchup Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa. Instead, the Jayhawks will face off with the Lady Vols. KU met Tennessee in a previous Sweet 16, way back in 1996 when Tamecka Dixon was a junior star for the Jayhawks and Chamique Holdsclaw a freshman sensation for the Lady Vols. Tennessee won that game on its way to the NCAA title that year.
With KU's unexpected advancement to the regional semifinals, the Big 12 has three teams into the Sweet 16. So does the ACC, the Big East and the SEC. The Pac-12, Atlantic 10, Big Ten and West Coast Conference have one each.
Delaware was hoping to make the program's first appearance in the Sweet 16. The Blue Hens won't do that, but No. 5 seed St. Bonaventure will after holding off 13-seed Marist on Tuesday. Speaking of first-timers to the Sweet 16, Des Moines No. 4 seed Georgia Tech also will be new to the regional semifinals, as will Fresno No. 3 seed St. John's.
A quick look at the Sweet 16 matchups:
Des Moines Regional
(11) Kansas vs. (2) Tennessee (ESPN/ESPN3, noon ET Saturday): Both teams relied on defense to get them through their first two NCAA tournament games. KU had good matchups against Nebraska and Delaware, but that won't be the case against Tennessee. The Lady Vols have too many potential weapons. But considering how gutsy the Jayhawks have played so far, Tennessee can't afford to let them hang around.
(4) Georgia Tech vs. (1) Baylor (ESPN/ESPN3, 2 p.m. ET Saturday): Baylor has been here before a lot in recent years; Georgia Tech has never advanced this far. Sure, the Griner-led Lady Bears are unbeaten and big favorites. But the Yellow Jackets really have come alive in the postseason. They made it to the ACC final and nearly upset Maryland for the title. Then, playing on ACC rival North Carolina's home court in the NCAA early rounds, Georgia Tech defeated both Sacred Heart and Georgetown to move on. The Yellow Jackets have size, speed and a tough defense to throw at Griner & Co.
(3) St. John's vs. (2) Duke (ESPN/ESPN3, 9 p.m. ET Saturday): In 2010, the Red Storm missed a trip to the Sweet 16 when they fell 66-65 in overtime to Florida State. Now, St. John's will play another ACC team in the NCAA tournament, and this time the Red Storm are doing it in the regional semifinals. St. John's got there the hard way, surviving on a buzzer-beater against Creighton in the first round and beating Oklahoma on the Sooners' home floor in the second.
Duke had to do the same thing in the second round, defeating Vanderbilt on the Commodores' home floor. The Blue Devils have a small rotation after injuries, and they lost in the ACC tournament quarterfinals after winning the league's regular-season title. But Duke's much-maligned offense has been red-hot in the tournament, scoring 82 points on 51.9 percent shooting against Samford and then 96 on 65.6 percent shooting against Vandy.
(5) South Carolina vs. (1) Stanford (ESPN/ESPN3, 11:30 p.m. ET Saturday): Nothing so far has really slowed the Cardinal as they attempt to make their fifth consecutive Final Four appearance. But they have to look out for the physical defense and all-around gumption of the Gamecocks, who are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002.
South Carolina had to go the same road to the regional semis that St. John's and Duke did: beating a team on its home court in the second round. For the Gamecocks, that was Purdue. South Carolina has relied on slowing down games and keeping scores low most of this season. Yet in the NCAA tournament, the Gamecocks' offense has been hot, too, as they've shot 51.3 percent in the first two rounds. This is also an interesting coaching matchup: Stanford's Tara VanDerveer coached South Carolina's Dawn Staley and Gamecocks assistant Nikki McCray on the 1996 Olympic team.
(3) Texas A&M vs. (2) Maryland (ESPN/ESPN3, noon ET Sunday): A matchup of two recent national champions -- the Terps in 2006 and the Aggies last year. Both had to breathe a sigh of relief after winning close second-round games on Monday when their top players had off nights. Maryland edged Louisville 72-68, and Texas A&M survived against Arkansas, 61-59. Alyssa Thomas scored just six points for the Terps, and Tyra White had three for the Aggies. But other players stepped forward as both teams have a lot of threats.
Maryland is a tremendous rebounding team, but Texas A&M can be, as well. A&M assistant Vic Schaeffer -- who will take over at Mississippi State next season -- is still directing the Aggies' defense, and he will no doubt look at some of what Louisville did to slow the Terps.
(5) St. Bonaventure vs. (1) Notre Dame (ESPN2/ESPN3, 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday): Hmm wonder whom the Vatican will be rooting for in this matchup of Catholic universities? Both, right? The teams don't compare at all when it comes to postseason experience: The Irish are 2001 NCAA champs and national runners-up last year, while the Bonnies are in the Sweet 16 for the first time.
Both teams won their regular-season league title, but then lost in their tournament's championship game. The Bonnies might be newcomers to this stage, but they didn't get here by accident. They defeated two well-coached squads in Florida Gulf Coast and Marist, and now face another -- with even more talent -- in Notre Dame. The Irish looked a little sluggish in the first half of their second-round game against Cal, but then went into another gear in the second half.
(4) Penn State vs. (1) Connecticut (ESPN2/ESPN3, 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday): These two had polar-opposite second-round games. The Huskies, not far from home in Bridgeport, ran Kansas State through a wood chipper, 72-26, Monday. The Lady Lions had to play on LSU's home floor Tuesday and sent new mom Nikki Caldwell home for the season with a 90-80 victory over her Lady Tigers. If you can score 90 points against LSU's defense, you really might be ready for UConn.
In piling up 30 points, Penn State's Maggie Lucas hit 5 of 7 3-pointers but also penetrated well enough to get to the foul line, where she went 11-of-11. She and Alex Bentley form a very good backcourt, but Penn State can hurt teams with its interior game, too. Still, UConn hasn't lost in the Sweet 16 since 2005.
(11) Gonzaga vs. (2) Kentucky (ESPN2/ESPN3, 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday): This was nearly an all-mid-major Sweet 16 matchup, but the Wildcats scrambled to defeat No. 7 seed Green Bay 65-62 after blowing a big lead in the second round. Samarie Walker and Keyla Snowden led Kentucky with 15 and 13 points, respectively, off the bench.
The Wildcats had a garish 34 turnovers against the Phoenix, and Gonzaga also will try to prod Kentucky into giving away as many possessions as possible. Kentucky won the SEC's regular-season title but really hasn't played as well in the postseason as coach Matthew Mitchell would like. Are the Wildcats just finding their rhythm or are they skating on thin ice and ripe for an upset?
The Sweet 16 is set, with three newcomers, all four No. 1 seeds ... and a whole lot of questions.