NEW YORK (AP) — UConn is back in a familiar place — the No. 1 overall seed in the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament.
Joining the Huskies as top seeds are Notre Dame, Louisville and Mississippi State.
The Huskies enter as the lone unbeaten team and will be vying for their 12th national championship. It’s the ninth time that UConn has entered the NCAAs undefeated, including last year when the Huskies went in as the overwhelming favorite before their 111-game winning streak ended with a loss to Mississippi State in the Final Four.
This year’s Final Four is in Columbus, Ohio, and will take place on March 30. The national championship game is on Sunday, April 1.
Defending national champion South Carolina and A’ja Wilson await as a possible Elite Eight matchup for UConn in the Albany Regional. The Gamecocks are the two-seed.
“What can you do? You have to beat some pretty good teams. Is it an impossible feat? Obviously not,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “We saw that last year. If we’re in the position where we have to play them, we’re going to play them. We’re going to give it our best shot and let the chips fall where they may.”
The Gamecocks lost by 25 at home against UConn on Feb. 1.
Florida State and Georgia are the other top seeds in the Huskies’ part of the bracket.
“Brackets are brackets. There are good teams in every bracket,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “There are great matchups in every bracket and it doesn’t really matter at this stage where you’re placed, what region, you’re going to have to beat some really good teams. The schedule we play, I knew we’d get somebody two or three that we already played. We know that.”
UConn, which has been a No. 1 seed every year since 2007, opens up against 16-seed Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) on Saturday morning. All of the top four teams in each region host the opening two rounds at home.
Like the Huskies, the Irish are a No. 1 seed again. Notre Dame has been a top seed the last seven years. This might be one of coach Muffet McGraw’s finest accomplishments as Notre Dame lost four pivotal players to injury, but only three games on the season. Two of those losses came to Louisville.
“A great reward for this team for what they’ve been through … playing the toughest schedule and getting a No. 1 seed,” McGraw said. “I’m so proud of this group and what they have accomplished. (Being a No. 1) is quite an accomplishment for what we’ve been through all year long.”
The Irish are in the Spokane Regional and open up against Cal State Northridge on Friday. If Notre Dame advances, the Irish would head out west to potentially face No. 2 seed Oregon.
“We’ve never been in the West bracket. I love playing Friday at 5. That’s awesome,” McGraw said.
The Ducks could stay out west and play in Spokane, where coach Kelly Graves spent many years as Gonzaga’s coach. Ohio State and Texas A&M are the three and four seeds in that region.
Louisville won the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time this season. The Cardinals open up against Boise State and are one of eight ACC teams in the field. The Southeastern Conference has seven teams in the tournament, while the Pac-12 and the Big Ten have six.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “We’re excited to host the first two at home against two very good basketball teams. If we’re fortunate enough to advance, we get the opportunity to play in Lexington, which would be great for our fans.”
The Lexington Regional is stacked with former NCAA Tournament winners with Baylor the two-seed, Tennessee the three and Stanford the four. While the Lady Vols have been in the NCAA Tournament every year since it began in 1982, Nicholls State, Northern Colorado, Mercer and Seattle will be making their first appearances.
Stanford potentially is headed to Lexington for the third straight year if it can advance.
Mississippi State is a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history. The Bulldogs won their first 32 games this season before losing to South Carolina in the SEC title game. With most of their players back from last season’s runner-up finish — including Morgan William, who hit the game-winner in overtime to knock off UConn — the Bulldogs hope to make another deep NCAA run.
The NCAA revealed Sunday night the final eight teams under consideration for the last four spots in the tournament. Buffalo, Creighton, Minnesota and Oklahoma got in. Purdue, Rutgers, Southern Cal and West Virginia were the first four teams out.
Oklahoma got in with a 16-14 record — the fewest wins for an at-large team since 2005 — a day after the Oklahoma men got an at-large berth with an 18-13 record and losses in 11 of their final 15 games.
“We spent almost seven hours on that decision of who those last four teams in and first four out were,” NCAA women’s basketball committee chair Rhonda Bennett said. “We went through those resumes and their body of work. We took as long as it took to get those teams into the bracket.”
Bennett said Oklahoma’s strength of schedule, which was second best in the country, was a key to its selection.
Bracket: NCAA women’s tournament
More: Printable bracket
STORRS, Conn. – There were five teams vying for the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament on Monday, and when the music stopped, Baylor was left without a chair.
The Lady Bears, who lost just one game all season (31-1), instead get a No. 2 seed in Lexington, a region that includes top-seeded Louisville, Tennessee and Stanford.
“We felt there was a razor-thin margin between Baylor and Notre Dame,” said NCAA women’s basketball committee chair Rhonda Bennett. “Notre Dame did have the top strength of schedule in the country and they did have the best strength of schedule in the country and they had nine more top-50 wins than Baylor and those were the reason that the committee put Notre Dame on that one line and Baylor on that two line.”
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said she doesn’t see it as that big a deal.
“We’ve won a national championship as a two seed, we’ve won it as a one seed,” she said. “And really what does it matter? Because the one has to play the two. Mississippi State was a two last year and they played for the national championship. We were a two seed in 2005 and we played and won the national championship.”
Some other things to watch for in the women’s tournament:
Notre Dame (29-3) gets the top seed in Spokane, but would have to play what amounts to a road game in the regional final if No. 2 seeded Oregon makes it that far.
The Ducks (30-4) won both the Pac-12 regular season and tournament title, led by sophomore sensation Sabrina Ionescu, who averages just over 19 points a game and already owns the NCAA record for triple-doubles in her career.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves is very familiar with Spokane, having coached Gonzaga from 2000-1014, leading the Zags to a regional final in 2012.
“If we are fortunate enough to go back to Spokane where I spent so many amazing years at Gonzaga, that would be incredible,” he said. “For our Duck fans it’s close enough where they can justify a trip there. As the former Gonzaga coach, it was one of the highlights of my professional life, when we made it to Elite Eight.”
Dayton and Buffalo both made the tournament as at-large teams from mid-major conferences.
The Flyers (23-6) get in as a No. 9 seed, despite losing to George Washington in the Atlantic 10 semifinals and will play Marquette in the first round
Buffalo (27-5) is an 11-seed after losing to Central Michigan in the MAC championship. The Bulls face South Florida in the first round in Tallahassee.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said the respect for those teams is a step forward in the women’s game and he believes mid-major teams will make some noise in this year’s tournament.
“I’m glad that they got rewarded and I think it should happen more often,” he said. “Who else is in, South Dakota State? Yeah, go ahead and play them and tell me they are a mid-major team. Good luck with that.”
The Jackrabbits (26-6), champions of the Summit League, are a No. 8 seed and will face Villanova from the Big East in the Spokane Regional.
“I am watching that game,” Auriemma said.
Buffalo, Creighton, Minnesota and Oklahoma were the final teams to get bids to the tournament. Purdue, Rutgers, Southern Cal and West Virginia were the others on the list the NCAA released Sunday of the final eight under consideration.
Rutgers, which finished 20-12, was left off despite having beaten Minnesota head-to-head.
Oklahoma got in with a 16-14 record – the fewest wins for an at-large team since 2005.
Where a school is located played a role in where they were sent for their first games and that may have hurt some in the tournament.
South Florida (26-7), which lost just four games to teams not named UConn, ended up with a No. 6 seed. The committee put them in Tallahassee playing Buffalo in the Albany Region, which means they could also end up playing in-state rival Florida State and perhaps UConn for a fourth time.
“Geography is one of our principals when it comes to placing teams in the bracket,” said Bennett. “We seed the teams and then we place them in the bracket using that “S” curve and geography is one of the things that we consider and one of our principals.”
That principal also means the second best women’s basketball team in Connecticut will have to go through the best if they want to make another improbably run to the Sweet 16.
Quinnipiac, (27-5) last year’s Cinderella, is the No. 9 seed in the Albany Regional and will face No. 8 Miami on Saturday in a rematch of last year’s second-round upset.
The winner likely gets UConn.
“Our fans will travel very well, because it’s right up the road,” said QU coach Tricia Fabbri. “Hopefully, some of those UConn fans who got so excited about what we were able to do last year will stay for the second part of Saturday’s doubleheader and root us on.”
The Bobcats are currently on a 22-game winning streak.
Here’s five more story lines to watch:
Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame are no strangers to success in the NCAA tournament — she’s made five trips to the NCAA title game in her career and seven to the Final Four. But this year, the 2018 USA TODAY Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year has been doing it with a rotation that’s been limited to six or seven players in tight games after four players were lost to knee injuries this season — making them perhaps the only one seed to have a strong underdog story.
“We kept losing people during the year, but we never put our heads down or felt sorry for ourselves. They just came to work every single day. This was the most rewarding championship I think we’ve had,” McGraw said last month.
Louisville, which finished third in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll, beat Notre Dame for the ACC Tournament title this month. Led by junior guard Asia Durr and senior forward Myisha Hines-Allen, they’ve outscored opponents by an average of 19.7 points this season with four players putting up more than 8 points per game.
After slaying the dragon in the Final Four, Mississippi State had a perfect season — until losing to South Carolina (again) in the SEC tournament championship. Senior guard Victoria Vivians leads the Bulldogs with 19.6 points per game.
The defending champion Gamecocks were victims of the injury bug this season — they lost guards Lindsey Spann and Bianca Cuevas-Moore to season-ending knee injuries — and dropped games against Louisville, Mississippi State, UConn, Tennessee and Missouri. A good sign for Dawn Staley’s crew: They won the SEC tournament earlier this month. A bad sign: Their corner of the bracket (they’re a two-seed) includes UConn.
Other teams to watch:
►Oregon made a Cinderella run through to the Elite Eight in 2017 before falling to the Huskies. But this year, a deep run shouldn’t be considered a big surprise for the two-seed. Sabrina Ionescu scored 36 points to lead her team to dethrone Stanford for the Pac 12 tournament title.
►Three-seed UCLA is led by Jordin Canada, the Pac-12’s all-time assist leader.
►Three-seed Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell is the all-time leader in NCAA women’s basketball in 3-pointers and six-seed Iowa’s Megan Gustafson dropped 48 points in her team’s one-point loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament.
►Two-seed Baylor lost senior point guard Kristy Wallace to an ACL injury on Senior Night but freshman Alexis Morris stepped in and they beat Texas for the Big 12 tournament title.