Originally Published: March 20, 2011

After one round, Big East has nine lives

Voepel By Mechelle Voepel
Big EastAP PhotosWest Virginia, Rutgers, Louisville, Georgetown and UConn each won Sunday.

Editor's note: This edition includes all games played Sunday as the first round wrapped up.

Big East goes perfect 9-0 in first round

West Virginia lost eight of its last 12 games heading into Selection Monday, and probably would have been described as a rather shaky bubble team. Seeing how well the Big East has performed in the first round of the NCAA tournament puts some perspective on why the Mountaineers were struggling coming into the Big Dance: Big East play is pretty tough.

This isn't a new phenomenon; the league has been growing and building for a while now. But the Big East's 9-0 record through the opening round of NCAA play is solid evidence of the league's talent.

But now the question is: How many Big East teams can get into the Sweet 16? That will be far more difficult.

Sunday, five Big East squads won to join the four that had been victorious Saturday. UConn, the overall No. 1 seed, started Sunday afternoon with a 75-39 victory over No. 16 seed Hartford. The Huskies, at home in Storrs, Conn., for the early rounds in the Philadelphia Regional, will next face ninth-seeded Purdue.

The Boilermakers shot 40.5 percent from the field and were outrebounded by 17, yet still defeated Kansas State 53-45 in an uninspiring game that suggested that the Huskies faithful don't have much to worry about in the second round. That said, UConn, the two-time defending champion, has proved adept at being consistently "up" for every opponent.

[+] EnlargeSugar Rodgers
AP Photo/Gail BurtonThe Hoyas' Sugar Rodgers had more points in the first half than Princeton (16-14). She finished with 26 points and eight boards.

Meanwhile, the Big East foe that UConn defeated for its 2009 NCAA title, Louisville, got 19 points from freshman Shoni Schimmel in an 81-62 victory over No. 10 seed Vanderbilt in the Spokane Regional. And the Big East team that played two grind-it-out games against UConn during this season, Georgetown, laid down the law against Princeton on Sunday. The Hoyas got out to a big lead early and then coasted to a 65-49 win, led by Sugar Rodgers' 26 points and 8 rebounds.

In Shreveport, La., Rutgers used its famed defense to clamp down on Louisiana Tech, keeping fans from Ruston, La., from giving the Lady Techsters any home-state edge. Louisiana Tech shot 27 percent from the field in a 76-51 loss to No. 7 seed Rutgers in the Dallas Regional

And the Big East's other victory Sunday also came in the Dallas Regional, as No. 9 seed West Virginia beat No. 8 Houston 79-73. The Mountaineers are a senior-strong team, and were led by Liz Repella's 26 points. Fellow senior Madina Ali had 13 points and 15 rebounds for West Virginia.

As good as the Big East can feel about its play this weekend, though, as mentioned, it gets much tougher in Round 2. Not for UConn, frankly, but for most everyone else.

Staying in the Philly Regional, No. 5 seed Georgetown will have a Beltway Battle with fourth-seeded Maryland -- and the Terps have the advantage of hosting the game. No. 3 seed DePaul will have to face the same issue, as the Blue Demons play at sixth-seeded Penn State next.

In the Dayton Regional, No. 8 seed Marquette has a mammoth task upcoming: top-seeded Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., where the Lady Vols have never lost an NCAA tournament game.

Meanwhile, the No. 2 seed in Dayton, Notre Dame, will be on a neutral court in Salt Lake City against 11th-seeded Temple, which rather easily upended No. 7 Arizona State in the first round.

The four teams on the other half of the bracket all face major obstacles to try to make it into the Sweet 16. In the Spokane Regional, No. 9 seed St. John's has to play top-seeded Stanford on the Cardinal's home floor; Stanford hasn't lost there since the 2007 NCAA tournament, a string of 62 consecutive victories. And Louisville meets No. 2 seed Xavier on the Musketeers' home court.

It doesn't get any easier in the Dallas Regional; West Virginia now must meet No. 1 Baylor at the Lady Bears' Ferrell Center. And Rutgers goes against No. 2 seed Texas A&M on a neutral court in Shreveport.

So … a terrific start for the Big East, no doubt. But it will take some very big upsets to keep that same momentum all the way into the Sweet 16.

Hurricanes' defense grows stronger

By Mechelle Voepel

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AP Photo/Andrew ShurtleffRiquna Williams helped Miami win its first NCAA tournament game since 1993.

Four months ago as the season was just getting under way, Miami traveled to Nebraska and got big offensive games from standout guards Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson, who combined for 54 points that day. However … the Hurricanes lost the game, 99-85.

Sunday, the Hurricanes got 39 points combined from Williams and Johnson, and won pretty easily, 80-62, in their NCAA tournament opener against Gardner-Webb.

And that's an indication of how the Hurricanes, the No. 3 seed in the Dayton Regional, have grown from the start to near the end of this season. They are still getting great offense from their guard combo -- Williams had 28 points; Johnson had 11 -- but also terrific defense from the whole team.

Coach Katie Meier complimented Williams, in particular, on how she played Sunday. Gardner-Webb did get eight 3-pointers, but was unable to successfully attack the Hurricanes in any other way. Gardner-Webb was just 6-of-7 from the line compared with Miami's 24-of-33.

Miami also had a very good performance from sophomore forward Morgan Stroman with 17 points and 12 rebounds. It's rather rare that a dozen boards wouldn't give someone team-high honors, but for Miami it didn't. That went to Johnson, one of the top rebounding guards in the country, as she had 18 rebounds. She also had six assists.

Williams added 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals to her 28 points, and she will pose quite a threat to Oklahoma in the second round.

Louisville's Life After Angel

By Graham Hays

Louisville's Jeff Walz has an entry on his résumé that few young coaches can claim -- a championship game appearance in 2009, just his second season in charge of the Cardinals. But if not quite as glitzy as that feat, Sunday's 81-62 first-round victory against 10th-seeded Vanderbilt offered something of significant import.

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AP PhotoShoni Schimmel (19 points) was one of four Louisville players with at least 16 points.

His first NCAA tournament win without Angel McCoughtry.

What Walz did with the runner-up team two years ago established on a national scale what people in the Big East knew almost from his arrival -- the guy can coach a little bit. It can be difficult for a new coach to take a mix of players, some of his choice and some wary holdovers from a previous regime, and get them operating on the same page. It's a borderline Herculean task when the new boss had as distinctive and demanding (and, well, loud) a style as Walz on the sideline. And when the incumbent star, McCoughtry, was herself unique in both personality and skills.

It all worked for that particular group. Walz gave McCoughtry, a player with Team USA talent even then, the freedom to be herself on the basketball court, and at the same time folded those skills and that personality into the whole. The team's best players, McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham, carried the offensive load, but everyone played defense and most stepped up on offense on an as-needed, if not regular, basis.

And if you've got a good blueprint, you might as well stick with it.

Walz again has a team playing outstanding, opportunistic defense (the Cardinals forced "only" 14 turnovers Sunday but pressured the Commodores all game and force as many turnovers per game as the Final Four team). The coach again has two players leading the way offensively. Junior Monique Reid and freshman Shoni Schimmel combined for 39 points against Vanderbilt and had scored nearly 43 percent of the team's points through the regular season and conference tournament. Others step up as needed, as sophomore Tia Gibbs did Sunday with 19 points and five 3-pointers. More …

Oklahoma's Hand-made Victory

By Mechelle Voepel

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AP Photo/Andrew ShurtleffOklahoma's Whitney Hand matched her career high with 24 points Sunday, hitting 8 of 14 attempts.

There are many nuggets of wisdom and philosophy that come from Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale that stick with you. One of them is her theory that there are several players who can win a lot of games … but not as many who can win the most important games.

It's a valuable personality trait among athletes to have the capacity to be both in the moment and simultaneously see the big picture. And play effectively while doing both.

Coale is a deep thinker who also knows very well how to simplify. If there is a defining characteristic to her teams, it's that they understand the magnitude of moments without being overwhelmed by them.

So it's no wonder Whitney Hand, who led sixth-seeded Oklahoma to an 86-72 first-round victory over No. 11 seed James Madison on Sunday, is such a perfect fit playing for Coale. The daughter of a former major league baseball player, the 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore Hand grew up with an understanding of the less glamorous things that go into athletic success. She knew and appreciated the daily maintenance of achievement.

As a freshman, Hand was an important contributor to Oklahoma's 2009 Final Four team. Last season, she was expected to be even more important in the Sooners' attack … but she suffered an ACL tear in the fifth game of the season on Nov. 27, 2009.

A lot of people go through serious knee injuries, especially in women's basketball. And whether they truly have the personality to learn through painful adversity when they start the rehab process, most do gain something from it.

For someone like Hand, though, it was automatically understood that she'd make the most of any bad situation. After her initial disappointment and sadness about getting hurt, there was an immediate rearrangement of goals and objectives. She couldn't help the Sooners on court last season, but she could be an aid in so many other ways.

She could offer not just encouragement, but real instruction as she served as a conduit in the relationship between the players and staff. Much was made, for good reason, of the Sooners' ability to make a second consecutive Final Four trip after losing the Paris twins to graduation and Hand to injury. But the truth is, Oklahoma didn't actually "lose" Hand last season. Every practice and game, she was still there. More …