Key Matchups Highlight Regional Finals
March 26, 2001
Geno Auriemma vs. Leon Barmore. Ruth Riley vs. Chantelle Anderson. Jackie Stiles vs., well, the entire Washington team.
Enticing matchups will be the attraction Monday night when regional championship games whittle the NCAA women's basketball tournament to the Final Four, with the winners marching to the Arch in St. Louis.
"Each and every day we walk out of the locker room, we see a big picture of the center they're going to play in and it says, 'Meet me in St. Louis,"' said Purdue coach Kristy Curry, whose team plays Xavier in the Mideast Regional at Birmingham, Ala. "That's been a goal from day one."
It certainly has been a goal for Auriemma's Connecticut team, the defending national champion. The Huskies (31-2) face Louisiana Tech (31-4) and the crafty Barmore in the East Regional final at Pittsburgh.
Notre Dame (31-2) plays Vanderbilt (24-9) for the Midwest championship in Denver, a game that will showcase the nation's top two centers. Riley was a first-team All-American for Notre Dame. Anderson, just a sophomore, earned second-team honors at Vandy.
Washington (22-9), the biggest surprise among the eight survivors, takes its turn at trying to contain Stiles in the West final at Spokane, Wash. So far the only thing that has slowed the Southwest Missouri State scoring machine was a mild concussion in a first-round victory over Toledo.
Monday night's games come after a wacky weekend that left Connecticut and Notre Dame as the only No. 1 seeds still playing. Xavier knocked out Tennessee in the Mideast and Southwest Missouri State (28-5) dumped Duke in the West behind Stiles' 41 points.
All the No. 2 seeds are gone and Washington has survived as a No. 6 seed.
"It says a lot about the parity and where the game has come," Xavier coach Melanie Balcomb said. "I'm hoping it will have some effect in recruiting, so the best five players in the country and all the All-Americans are not going to the same schools all the time.
"Maybe this will open some eyes of the players in high school."
The UConn-Louisiana Tech game pairs coaches who have combined for nearly 1,000 victories - 551 for Barmore, 424 for Auriemma. It will be the first meeting in the NCAA tournament for the two storied programs, who met in Ruston, La., earlier this season.
Connecticut won that game 71-55. Tech hasn't lost since.
"We've grown and matured since that game," Tech guard Brooke Lassiter said. "They're a great team and the national champion, but we love having this shot."
At this time last year, Barmore was starting what he thought was his retirement. He quit after Tech lost in its regional final, only to come back 17 days later.
"I was tired," Barmore said. "I'm still tired. But I'm happy. Last year, I was tired but I wasn't happy. This year, I think we've gotten everything out of this group we could have gotten."
The key for Notre Dame and Vanderbilt will be keeping their centers in the game. Anderson got Iowa State's Angie Welle in foul trouble in the regional semifinals and scored 34 points against the Cyclones' weakened front line in an 84-65 win. Riley had 24 points and 14 rebounds against Utah.
Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster said the two should relish the matchup.
"Great players are measured by their performance against other great players," he said. "Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. You need someone to challenge you to take you to another dimension, to see if your greatness can surface."
That definitely has happened with Stiles, the NCAA career and single-season scoring leader. Though Duke threw different defenders at her all night, Stiles still made 15-of-22 shots and scored the most points in an NCAA tournament game since Sheryl Swoopes had 47 in the 1993 title game.
"Something makes that motor run in there that she is just an unbelievable competitor," Washington coach June Daugherty said. "She takes that team and definitely puts it on her back."
Purdue, trying to duplicate its 1999 national title run, faces two big challenges. The first is a balanced, sharp-shooting Xavier team that's brimming with confidence after its 80-65 victory over Tennessee. Just as unsettling, the Boilermakers will have a new point guard.
Starter Erika Valek torn a knee ligament in Saturday's semifinal win over Texas Tech. Kelly Komara, the starter last season, will move over from shooting guard to run the team.
"Anytime you lose your starting point guard, your floor general, it's going to be tough," Purdue's Katie Douglas said. "But it's been interchanged all year and we have handled it very well. We have the experience and we have all the confidence in the world in Kelly."
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER