Women’s NCAAs: Elite Eight Teams Are Filled With Talent

(Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)
(Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)

The two undefeated top seeds remain alive. The SEC’s two No. 1 seeds are gone, including the Women’s Final Four’s home-state school. And the players expected to be atop the WNBA’s draft board on April 14 are still in action.

So here we go to the Elite Eight.

Monday on ESPN (Elite Eight coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET), unbeaten Notre Dame and Connecticut will try to secure their tickets to Nashville. The Irish are seeking their fourth consecutive Final Four berth, UConn its seventh in a row.

Their challengers are both recent champions. At Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish take on No. 2 seed Baylor (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET) in the only regional where the top two seeds made it to the final. The Lady Bears won the 2012 national championship, and were a good pick to repeat last year before being upset by Louisville.

The Huskies meet No. 3 seed Texas A&M (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET) in Lincoln, Neb. The Aggies won the 2011 title, but like Baylor the subsequent year, they did not beat UConn in the Final Four. In both 2011 and ’12, Notre Dame took out the Huskies in the national semifinals before falling in the final.

Last year, UConn beat Notre Dame in the national semifinals before ending Louisville’s upset run in earning the Huskies’ eighth NCAA title.

Louisville is the only school remaining in the tournament that hasn’t won an NCAA women’s basketball title. The No. 3 seed Cardinals will be on their home court trying to make it to the program’s third Final Four; they face 2006 NCAA champion Maryland on Tuesday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

The two programs whose national championships came the longest time ago meet in the last of the Elite Eight finals Tuesday. Regional host Stanford, the No. 2 seed, takes on No. 4 seed North Carolina (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). Stanford has been in the Final Four 11 times, including five of the past six years. But the Cardinal’s two titles were in 1990 and ’92.

North Carolina, a team led this season by freshmen and an assistant coach who has filled in admirably at the helm, most recently made the Final Four in 2007. The Tar Heels’ title came in 1994.

The ACC has three schools in the Elite Eight; Louisville will be joining that league next season while Maryland exits for the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the Sweet 16 didn’t go as well for the SEC, which like the ACC got eight teams into the NCAA tournament field.

Sunday, Maryland upset top-seeded Tennessee in the Louisville Regional, while fellow No. 1 seed South Carolina lost to North Carolina in the Stanford regional. Still, the SEC has Texas A&M carrying its banner — even if the Aggies were members of the Big 12 when they won their NCAA title three years ago.

One school that has not been involved in all the conference-swapping mayhem is Stanford, the longtime gem of Pac-12 women’s basketball. The Cardinal were a bit surprised they didn’t get a No. 1 seed, but they didn’t make a big fuss over it. Stanford has taken care of business so far with decisive victories over South Dakota, Florida State and Penn State.

Stanford, led by senior and likely No. 1 WNBA draft pick Chiney Ogwumike, will probably see a tougher challenge from an athletic North Carolina squad, led by freshman sensation Diamond DeShields. Assistant coach Andrew Calder has guided the Tar Heels all this season while head coach Sylvia Hatchell has been treated for leukemia. Hatchell has said if North Carolina makes the Final Four, she expects to be cleared by her doctors to be back on the sideline in Nashville.

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Mechelle Voepel

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