Who wins battle of regional supremacy in women's tourney?

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – The general consensus in women’s basketball circles is that the toughest regionals in this year’s NCAA Division I tournament are at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum where Southeastern Conference champion South Carolina is the top seed and the Chesapeake Energy Arena here where second-ranked Notre Dame is the No. 1 seed.

If you were to ask Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, of course, she’d tell you the Oklahoma City Regional is No. 1 even though both the Oklahoma City and Greensboro Regionals advanced their top four seeds to the semifinal round.

“If I’m not mistaken, I think the ESPN analysts said this was the toughest region,” McGraw said Thursday during her team’s final press conference prior to Friday’s late game with Stanford.

The four teams in Oklahoma City – Notre Dame (33-2), No. 2 Baylor (32-3), No. 3 Iowa (26-7) and No. 4 Stanford (26-9) – have a combined record of 117-21. The four teams in Greensboro – South Carolina (32-2), No. 2 Florida State (31-4), No. 3 Arizona State (29-5) and No. 4 North Carolina (26-8) – combined are a little better at 118-19.

The Albany, N.Y., Regional, being played at the Times Union Center beginning Saturday at noon, is led by top-ranked Connecticut, the overall No. 1 seed in the field of 64. Joining the Huskies (34-1) are No. 3 seed Louisville (27-6), No. 5 Texas (24-10) and No. 7 Dayton (27-6). Those four teams have a combined record of 112-23.

The Spokane, Wash., Regional, where Big Ten champion Maryland (32-2) was sent as the No. 1 seed, opens Saturday at the Veterans Memorial Arena and features the Terps, No. 2 seed Tennessee (29-5), No. 4 seed Duke (23-10) and No. 11 seed Gonzaga (26-7). The four teams have a combined record of 110-24.

“We’re looking at Baylor, a team that’s basically playing in its backyard; Stanford, a team that’s been to a number of Final Fours, consecutive Final Fours; Iowa, a team from the Big Ten that had a fantastic year,” McGraw said. “I think all four teams have been ranked all season, and it definitely is, I think, the most difficult region. I said that before the other brackets were announced and I still feel that way.”

ACC top conference

The Atlantic Coast Conference, which had one-eighth of the 64-team field, had five teams remaining in the “Sweet Sixteen” round that started Friday. Notre Dame, the regular-season and tournament champion, is the No. 1 seed in Oklahoma City. Florida State (No. 2) and North Carolina (No. 4) remain in the Greensboro Regional bracket. Louisville (No. 3) remains at Albany, while Duke (No. 4) is still alive in Spokane.

Four other conferences have two representatives each. The SEC is represented by Greensboro top seed South Carolina and No. 2 Spokane seed Tennessee. The Big Ten’s regular-season and tourney champion, Maryland, is the No. 1 seed in Spokane while Iowa is the No. 3 seed in Oklahoma City. The Pacific-12 Conference is represented by Arizona State (No. 3 in Greensboro) and Stanford (No. 4 in Oklahoma City). The Big 12 Conference, meanwhile, has Baylor (No. 2 Oklahoma City) and Texas (No. 5 in Albany).

The other three teams represent the American Athletic Conference (Connecticut, No. 1 in the Albany regional), the Atlantic 10 Conference (Dayton, the No. 7 team in Albany) and the West Coast Conference (Gonzaga, No. 11 in Spokane).

Drive for five

Notre Dame’s recent NCAA success – the Irish have made the last four Final Fours – is certainly not old hat as far as the players are concerned.

“I think we know what to expect,” junior guard Michaela Mabrey said. “We’re just excited and thankful to be in this position.”

Being in the “Sweet Sixteen” every year has helped the experienced players educate the newcomers – Brianna Turner, Kathryn Westbeld and Mychal Johnson.

“The ACC Tournament helped our freshmen get ready for this,” senior Madison Cable added.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said ND's late tip time Sunday night, for its NCAA Tourney matchup with DePaul, is a disservice to the players and the fans. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)