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Women's college basketball Final Four expected to come down to big four

Top-seeded teams Connecticut, Stanford, Baylor and Tennessee are heavy favorites and feature players regarded as among the best in the nation.

March 13, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • Guards Lindy La Rocque and Toni Kokenis helped Stanford dominate the Pacific 10 Conference for another season.
Guards Lindy La Rocque and Toni Kokenis helped Stanford dominate the Pacific… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / US Presswire )

In women's college basketball, there's the big four and there's everybody else.

When the bracket for the NCAA tournament is announced Monday, the top-seeded teams and overwhelming favorites to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis next month will be Connecticut, Stanford, Baylor and Tennessee.

All four teams feature players regarded among the best in the nation.

"When you're looking at those four, they've got go-to's," UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell said. "And they've got some big-time go-to's."

Maya Moore of top-ranked Connecticut is the biggest name in the women's college game.

The senior forward and two-time national player of the year averages 22.8 points and 7.9 rebounds a game for a team seeking its third consecutive NCAA title.

Connecticut's record 90-game winning streak was ended by second-ranked Stanford in December. But the Huskies are still expected to garner the No. 1 overall seeding after winning their final 20 games.

Stanford, which defeated UCLA in the championship game of the Pacific 10 tournament on Saturday, has won 23 in a row since suffering consecutive losses at DePaul and Tennessee in December.

As it did in those defeats, Stanford trailed UCLA at halftime. But the Cardinal overcame a nine-point deficit to win the conference tournament for the eighth time in 10 years.

Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said the Cardinal is worthy of a No. 1 regional seeding — "I think we have earned it in this game," she said after the victory over UCLA — but played down the importance of being one.

In 1998, top-seeded Stanford was upset by 16th-seeded Harvard in a first-round game at Stanford.

"It's more important that you have players that are healthy and want to play with each other," VanDerveer said.

Stanford, which has won two national titles under VanDerveer, fits that description, according to Caldwell.

Senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, the Pac-10 player of the year, leads a team that also features frontcourt standouts Kayla Pedersen and sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike.

"They've got the players, the discipline, the heart, the competitive drive, but most importantly they've got the spirit of a team that's on a mission," Caldwell said.

Third-ranked Baylor, seeking its first title since 2005, lost by one point at Connecticut in December and was defeated at Texas Tech last month.

Brittney Griner, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, averages 22.6 points and 7.8 rebounds, freshman guard Odyssey Sims 13.5 points.

Fourth-ranked Tennessee, winner of a record eight NCAA titles under Coach Pat Summitt, is 31-2. The Lady Vols lost to Georgetown and at Baylor in December. But Tennessee rebounded to defeat Stanford in overtime and hasn't lost since.

Junior forwards Glory Johnson, who averages 11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds, and Shekinna Stricklen (12.6 points and 7.5 rebounds) are among Tennessee's top players.

UCLA (27-4) is expected to receive a No. 2 regional seeding. Pac-10 teams Arizona State (20-10) and Arizona (21-11) also could be in the mix, and USC (19-12) is holding out slim hope for a bid.

UC Davis (24-8) earned its first NCAA tournament berth by defeating Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 66-49, in the Big West tournament championship game on Saturday.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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