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Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Stanford Regional breakdown

By Michelle Smith
espnW.com

Maples Pavilion has been the home court for a multitude of the best women's players ever to play college basketball, the workplace of a Hall of Fame coach, the site of many wins and an infamous loss. In the next few days it will be the path to the Final Four.

Stanford hasn't hosted a regional on The Farm since 2003. This region is the only site this year that features all four top seeds, and Maples will feature some of the most interesting matchups in the entire tournament bracket. Let's look at three X factors for each matchup at Stanford on Sunday.

No. 1 seed South Carolina vs. No. 4 seed North Carolina

ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET Sunday

Dawn Staley
Dawn Staley's Gamecocks lost to North Carolina by eight points earlier this season.

History lesson: These two teams played earlier this season in December in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with North Carolina building a 13-point lead in the second half, fighting off a Gamecocks comeback and hanging on for a 74-66 win. South Carolina will be looking to avenge that loss against a still young but more experienced Tar Heels team.

Freshmen on the big stage: North Carolina has gotten 62 percent of its scoring this season from freshmen, led by Diamond DeShields' team-leading 18.5 points per game. In fact, it was the youngsters who led the Tar Heels to the December win over the Gamecocks. But the Sweet 16 is a new experience. Will North Carolina's youngsters step up or shrink under increasingly bright lights? Or will South Carolina freshman center Alaina Coates come up big in the paint when she comes in off the bench?

Can you score? The Tar Heels are a high-scoring offensive team, averaging nearly 80 points per game. The Gamecocks needed 34 free throws to get to 78 points against Oregon State on Tuesday night. South Carolina lives off its defense. Will the Gamecocks have to find a higher level of scoring efficiency or use their efficient, aggressive pressure to bring the Heels down to the Gamecocks' offensive comfort zone?

Pick: South Carolina

No. 2 seed Stanford vs. No. 3 seed Penn State

ESPN2, 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Tia Hemiller and Chiney Ogwumike
Will Chiney Ogwumike lead Stanford to the Elite Eight, or will Maggie Lucas guide Penn State to the upset?

History lesson, Part II: These two teams have met only twice in their history, and never in the NCAA tournament, splitting the all-time series 1-1. Stanford won the last meeting between the two teams at a tournament in Honolulu in 2001. A lack of familiarity will benefit the team that can do the best scouting, and it's hard to bet against Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer and her staff in that category. Best scouters in the business.

Senior standouts: This game is going to pit two motivated, high-scoring seniors looking to extend their college careers: Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike and Penn State's Maggie Lucas. Ogwumike has scored below her season average in two NCAA games so far, putting up 23 against South Dakota and 21 points and nine rebounds against Florida State in the second round. Lucas, who averaged 21.5 points per game this season, is one of the most dangerous perimeter shooters in the nation. Both will need to do what they do best to keep playing another day.

The difference in the game: Backcourt play. Stanford needs strong guard play to get to Nashville, for junior Amber Orrange and Lili Thompson not only to get the ball into the paint, but to hit big shots from the perimeter. Penn State, looking to reach its first Elite Eight since 2004, relies on Lucas and point guard Dara Taylor, who put up a career-best 22 points in the second round against Florida.

Pick: Stanford