Commentary

First take on the Sweet 16

Delaware helps open the regional semifinals on ESPN at noon ET Saturday

Updated: March 28, 2013, 12:09 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel

In Bridgeport, Conn., get ready for the, "Uh, Elena, I know your next game is against Kentucky, but about UConn …" questions.

In Norfolk, Va., expect a lot of chatter about the comfort of having a savvy senior point guard.

In Spokane, Wash., the talk will be about a potential Pac-12 rematch between rival schools from the Bay Area … and a former Pac-12 coach, now with the SEC, who crashed the Sweet 16 party.

In Oklahoma City, everyone will be asked if anything can stop defending NCAA champion Baylor.

The women's NCAA tournament Sweet 16 is set, and all four No. 1 seeds are still around: UConn, Notre Dame, Stanford and Baylor, which comprised last year's Women's Final Four.

The No. 2 seeds -- Kentucky, Duke, Cal and Tennessee -- are also still alive. But the Blue Devils and the Golden Bears both had close second-round battles -- Cal survived in overtime -- that could have gone the other way.

Three was not the seed to be this year: All of them were eliminated in the second round. Thus, four No. 6 seeds will be in the Sweet 16 instead.

And the No. 4 seeds were 50-50: Maryland and Georgia advanced; South Carolina and Purdue did not.

The Gamecocks, in fact, were victims of the biggest upset, falling to No. 12 seed Kansas. The Jayhawks are only the second No. 12 seed to make the Sweet 16 in the women's tournament.

The SEC leads the way with four teams advancing, and the Big 12 and Big East each have three representatives.

Here's a closer look, region by region.

Bridgeport Regional

Delaware already had one perfect ending, if you will, with the upset victory over No. 3 seed North Carolina on the Blue Hens' home court in the second round. It was a sweet conclusion in "the house that Elena filled" as Elena Delle Donne made her final appearance as a player at the Bob Carpenter Center.

Next, she'll be asked about the appearance that she never made as a UConn player. Delle Donne's decisions to not play for the Huskies, take a season off from hoops, and then compete for her home-state school actually have been a wonderful thing for women's basketball.

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AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIKentucky and coach Matthew Mitchell play Delaware in the first game of the Sweet 16 (Saturday, noon ET).

But now she'll field requests to speculate about perhaps having to play against the Huskies. Neither she nor Delaware coach Tina Martin will want to talk about that, because they'll have only one thing on their minds: facing No. 2 seed Kentucky in Delaware's first regional semifinal appearance.

Of course, UConn coach Geno Auriemma will be asked to expound on "the one that got away" -- former prized recruit Delle Donne. And there is another former Husky -- one who did play a few games for UConn -- involved in this regional. That's Kentucky post player Samarie Walker, who transferred to Lexington after a semester at UConn.

The Huskies, who are trying to make their sixth consecutive Final Four appearance -- and 14th overall -- face No. 4 seed Maryland. The Huskies defeated the Terps 63-48 when they met Dec. 3 in Hartford, Conn.

Norfolk Regional

Notre Dame has Skylar Diggins, Nebraska has Lindsey Moore and Kansas has Angel Goodrich. The senior, experienced point guard who loves to be a playmaker but also can score. Sometimes it seems they are worth their weight in gold, especially in the NCAA tournament.

All three will be in action in Norfolk, two of them getting their teams this far via upsets. The Jayhawks, one of the last teams to be awarded an at-large bid this year, knocked off Colorado and South Carolina. Last year, they faced Tennessee in the Sweet 16; this year they'll go against the Irish.

[+] EnlargeKelsey Bone
AP Photo/Pat SullivanLindsey Moore, left, leads Nebraska into a region full of talented senior point guards.

Diggins is expected to be either the No. 2 or No. 3 pick in April's WNBA draft, and Goodrich probably also will be a first-round pick.

And we'll see where Moore goes; she might have upped her stock with the No. 6 seed Huskers' second-round upset of Texas A&M. Now, Nebraska will go against No. 2 seed Duke. The Blue Devils also had one of the nation's top point guards in junior Chelsea Gray, but she is out with a knee injury.

In her place, freshman Alexis Jones has filled in well. Jones had nine points and seven assists as Duke held off a second-round challenge Tuesday from Oklahoma State 68-59.

Notre Dame has reached the past two NCAA championship games, losing to Texas A&M in 2011 and Baylor last year.

Spokane Regional

No. 1 seed Stanford and No. 2 seed Cal split their regular-season meetings. They didn't face off in the Pac-12 tournament, though, as Cal was upset in the semifinals by UCLA.

Once the NCAA bracket was released, there were some groans from Pac-12 fans who didn't want to see Stanford and Cal potentially have to face each other for the right to go to the Final Four.

[+] EnlargeJasmine Hassell
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonJasmine Hassell and Georgia take on Stanford, while another SEC vs. Pac-12 showdown, LSU-Cal, rounds out Spokane's Sweet 16 games.

It would be Cal's first trip that far, and Stanford's 12th. The Cardinal, like UConn, are trying to advance to their sixth Final Four in a row.

But another Cal-Stanford game might be prevented by one or both of the SEC teams that are also in this region. One was expected: Georgia, as the No. 4 seed, played its early-round games in Spokane and now will be in the regional there. Georgia will take on Stanford.

And fellow SEC team LSU will meet Cal. LSU coach Nikki Caldwell spent three years as UCLA's coach before returning to her SEC roots. The former Tennessee player and assistant is in her second season with the Lady Tigers, who as a No. 6 seed upset Penn State to make it to the Sweet 16.

For what it's worth, the last time the Women's Final Four was in New Orleans, in 2004, LSU made it there by winning a regional in the state of Washington. That was in Seattle, when Seimone Augustus led the Lady Tigers to their first of five consecutive Final Four appearances.

Oklahoma City Regional

In the heart of Big 12 country, two teams from the league will be playing in the Sweet 16. One is the tournament favorite, No. 1 overall seed Baylor. The other is the local favorite, No. 6 seed Oklahoma.

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Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsSara Hammond and Louisville face Baylor in the Sweet 16.

The Sooners' campus is 20 miles away, and they've had good fortune in Oklahoma City before. OU advanced to the 2009 Final Four out of the OKC Regional, beating Purdue in the final there that year.

The Boilermakers were the No. 4 seed in this regional this year, but they were defeated in the second round by No. 5 seed Louisville. So Jeff Walz's Cardinals will take their shot at Brittney Griner & Co. in the regional semifinals.

Tennessee is the No. 2 seed and meets Oklahoma. The Lady Vols also have some good memories of OKC; they advanced to the 2008 Final Four -- which they won -- out of Oklahoma City.

But Tennessee hasn't been to a Final Four since then -- in part because the Lady Vols keep ending up in regionals with Baylor. After a shocking first-round exit in 2009, Tennessee lost in the Sweet 16 to Baylor in 2010, then to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight in 2011, and to Baylor in the Elite Eight last year. Now, Tennessee might have to face the Lady Bears once again in a regional final.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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