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Matchup could be start of great rivalry

An interesting contrast ... both Vanderbilt and Stanford were surprised by their NCAA Tournament seeds. They were just really different kinds of surprises.

For Vandy, which won the SEC tournament after finishing tied for fourth in the regular season, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest was the "Oh, hooray! Look at that!'' kind of surprise. For Stanford, which tied for the Pac-10 regular-season title and then won the league tournament, the No. 6 seed was a "This ugly shirt is what you got for my present?'' surprise.

Tonight in Norman, Okla., the two braniac schools meet in the Sweet 16 (7 ET, ESPN2). That will be followed by Tennessee-Baylor (9:30 ET, ESPN2), as the Midwest's two SEC teams try make that entire half of the bracket all-SEC, joining West Region upset winners LSU and Georgia.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said she didn't get to see the Commodores during the regular season but now, "The more I watch them, the better they look.''

Vandy's season is one of those circumstances where a team loses an all-America player but then actually goes further the next year. Vandy and Chantelle Anderson were upset in overtime in the NCAA second round last year by the Amber Jacobs Express (she, incidentally, will try to lead Boston College over Minnesota today).

But the Commodores have Jenni Benningfield back, and she has battled through a stress-fracture injury to have another outstanding season.

Carla Thomas was on the SEC all-freshman squad. And then there's this "ALF'' thing ...

I'm just going to go ahead and confess that I was huge "ALF'' fan back in the day, before the stuffed star of the show started doing the stupid long-distance commercials. I thought ALF was quite funny in the 1980s, and I believed my mother did, too. So I got her an ALF doll one Christmas and ... that was the "You got me this ugly stuffed animal for my present?'' surprise.

I had to get a replacement present, pronto, and ALF kind of went under a bed or something ... but other ALF dolls have fared much better in the world. Such as the one that Thomas used as a good-luck charm in high school and AAU, and which has become a source of magic on the Vandy bench.

However, ALF is probably out as a defender on Nicole Powell; there's only so much help his obnoxious goofiness can really provide. Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb said the Commodores were going to guard Powell "by committee,'' which is probably a wise idea.

Powell has looked as if she's out to prove something in this NCAA Tournament, and so far she has done that. But she hasn't been alone as a Cardinal threat, and that is what has gotten Stanford this far.

Which brings up another "surprise'' -- somehow this is the first meeting between Vandy and Stanford.

VanDerveer said, "This could be the start of a good rivalry.''

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.