|ESPN.com: NCAA Tourney 14||[Print without images]|
In this year of regionals being back on team's home courts, three of the hosts made it through to the Sweet 16. But Nebraska didn't, so Lincoln will be a truly neutral site for Connecticut, BYU, Texas A&M and DePaul.
A Nebraska-UConn matchup Saturday might have come close to selling out Pinnacle Bank Arena, the Huskers' brand-new home in downtown Lincoln. But the "vibe" of this region is irrevocably changed by Nebraska's absence. And unless you are a UConn fan, you might be rolling your eyes at what you perceive as a cakewalk into the Women's Final Four for the Huskies.
This is where we should point out that, as the overall No. 1 seed, the Huskies earned the so-called "easiest" path to Nashville. And it certainly looks as if they got it.
Should that statement get the other three teams in Lincoln really riled up? For the sake of competition, let's hope so. UConn's combined all-time record against these three schools is 15-1. And that one victory -- by DePaul -- came in 1983, two years before Geno Auriemma took over as UConn's coach.
So, what could happen that would make this regional anything but a coronation for UConn? Uh...
Just the same, let's look at three X factors for each matchup.
ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday
|Jennifer Hamson, BYU's 6-foot-7 center, will be a big presence inside, but she'll have to deal with UConn's 6-5 Stefanie Dolson and 6-4 Breanna Stewart.|
UConn's focus: UConn and BYU have met twice; in November 2007 and November '08. Both were blowout victories by the Huskies.
If the Cougars were somehow able to upset the Huskies, BYU would be the lowest-seeded women's team ever to make the Elite Eight. Another West Coast Conference squad actually is the lowest to make it that far: No. 11 seed Gonzaga in 2011.
So ... things might be a bit more interesting if, occasionally, UConn ever-so-slightly looked past a foe that is expected to be overmatched by the Huskies. But it just doesn't happen. The current players know a lot about UConn's past and don't want to be the ones who drop the torch.
The Huskies' ability to stay focused on the task at hand is likely to prevent any letdown that might be expected when a 1-seed faces a 12.
Going big: BYU's 6-foot-7 center Jennifer Hamson has been a very large presence in the Cougars' first two NCAA tournament games. She averaged 13.5 points, 16.5 rebounds and 6.5 blocks in BYU's victories over NC State and Nebraska.
What will UConn do against her size? One thing for sure is try to draw her out away from the basket. The Huskies' 6-5 Stefanie Dolson and 6-4 Breanna Stewart are adept at hitting face-up jumpers. And Stewart adds a 3-point threat, having hit 46 treys this season.
X for Xojian: Does BYU have a secret weapon as an X factor? Against Nebraska it did. Xojian Harry came into the second-round game averaging 2.8 points but scored 11 points. The junior guard was really the difference-maker in the Cougars' four-point victory.
So, can she step forward to provide needed offense off the bench against the Huskies? That will be a more difficult task. For one thing, now UConn knows to look out for her. For another thing, the Huskies' defense has continued to be pretty airtight.
ESPN, 7 p.m. ET Saturday
|Courtney Williams averages 13.8 PPG, but Texas A&M's defense is its trademark.|
Courtney squared: What a strange coincidence: Last year, Nebraska ended Texas A&M's season in the second round with an upset victory on the Aggies' home court. Now, the Aggies will be playing in a regional on Nebraska's home court, and the Huskers won't be there.
But Courtney Walker (15.4 PPG) and Courtney Williams (13.8) will be. The Texas A&M sophomores have been the team's consistent leaders throughout this season. Walker is a 5-8 guard; Williams is a 6-1 wing player. Both are good at getting to the rim.
On a roll: DePaul has never made it to the Elite Eight, but maybe this is the year. Why? Because the Blue Demons come into this Sweet 16 game with a great deal of momentum. In the new Big East, they no longer faced the UConn roadblock (although they did play Notre Dame in a nonconference game this season). DePaul won the Big East regular-season and tournament titles. The Blue Demons have lost just once since mid-January and are on a nine-game winning streak. The upset over second-seeded Duke in the second round didn't even look like that much of an upset; DePaul seemed the better team throughout that game. Now, though, can the Blue Demons handle the athletic defense of the Aggies?
Big D for defense: This has been the Aggies' trademark over the years. This season, their opponents are averaging 59.2 points per game and a 36.3 percent shooting percentage. But with four players averaging in double figures for the Blue Demons -- led by Megan Rogowski (15.8 PPG) and Jasmine Penny (15.5) -- this is not an easy offense to shut down. DePaul averages 84 points per game.
Pick: Texas A&M