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SPORTS EXTRA / SELECTION-DAY REPORT / NCAA TOURNAMENT

UC Santa Barbara Earns Some Respect

Overview: Gauchos, seeded No. 4, will host early games. Brackets seeded for a Connecticut-Tennessee final. Pepperdine is in.

March 13, 2000|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The most successful women's basketball program in Southern California was amply rewarded Sunday for having the nation's longest winning streak.

The ninth-ranked UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, who won their 26th consecutive game last Saturday in taking the Big West Conference tournament championship, will host first- and second-round games in the West Regional.

The No. 4-seeded Gauchos, who haven't lost since falling to Kansas on Dec. 4, will meet 13th-seeded Rice (21-9) Saturday in the West Regional at Santa Barbara. Coach Mark French's team won its 51st consecutive Big West game Saturday, a 79-69 victory over Long Beach State.

UCLA (18-10), a disappointing fourth in the Pacific 10 Conference, was sent to the Mideast Regional with a No. 10 seeding. The Bruins will meet No. 7 George Washington (25-5) Friday night at Notre Dame.

Pepperdine (21-9), a winner of 11 straight until it lost the Saturday West Coast Conference title game to San Diego, 68-51, was tapped by the NCAA selection committee with a No. 13 seeding and assigned to play Virginia (23-8) Friday at Charlottesville.

San Diego, which beat Pepperdine twice in three meetings, cruised to a 68-51 win March 5 in the WCC title game. The Toreros, who got in with a 17-12 mark, go to South Bend, Ind., with UCLA and will play Notre Dame (25-4) Friday.

Elsewhere, Sunday's pairings again served as a buffet luncheon for the top seeded teams, with Connecticut, Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana Tech being served up cupcakes on silver platters.

No. 1-ranked Connecticut (30-1) gets Hampton (16-14) Friday at Storrs. No. 2-ranked Tennessee (28-3), in quest of a record seventh NCAA crown, starts with Furman (20-10) Saturday in Knoxville.

Third-ranked Louisiana Tech (28-2) will be fed Alcorn State (22-8) Saturday at Ruston, and fourth-ranked Georgia (29-3) will be get Montana (22-7) Friday in Athens.

The Pacific 10 got four teams--Oregon, Stanford, Arizona and UCLA--into the tournament, but the highest seeding was only sixth, which went to Oregon in the West Regional.

Stanford's Tara VanDerveer seemed to see that coming even in December, when UCLA was routed on the East Coast by Rutgers and Connecticut.

"At the time, the perception was that UCLA was the premier Pac-10 team and when they lost badly back there, it reflected on the rest of the conference," she said Sunday.

The Cardinal, who won it all in 1990 and '92, was given its lowest seeding at sixth.

VanDerveer also sounded what many coaches in the field of 64 felt when she added: "We feel grateful to be in the tournament and we want to take advantage of the opportunity. A lot of good teams, like Florida, didn't make it."

Oregon, which won the Pac-10 championship outright Friday by beating Oregon State, was also awarded the right to host its early-round games as well as the West Regional semifinals and finals. The Ducks (23-7) will meet Alabama-Birmingham (19-12) Friday in Eugene.

Arizona (23-6), was sent to Knoxville to play Kent (25-5) Friday. If successful, the Wildcats would almost certainly play Tennessee next.

The selection committee stacked the deck so as to create the possibility of a blockbuster national championship game April 2 in Philadelphia--UConn vs. Tennessee. They were seeded in opposite ends of the brackets.

The two are 1-1 this season, each winning on the other's court.

Sunday, Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt talked about the rapid improvement of her 6-foot-5 sophomore center, Michelle Snow, who shot 78% from the floor in the recent Southeastern Conference tournament and who has developed into a fearsome shot-blocker.

Defending national champion Purdue, with a 22-7 record, was put in the East bracket but will host a early-round games at West Lafayette, Ind., and was matched with Dartmouth (20-7) Saturday.

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