- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Florida coach Amanda Butler had a bemused look on her face Tuesday night when someone asked if she was pleased that her Gators seemed to have had Baylor flustered at least a little bit in the first half of their NCAA second-round meeting.
"Really?" Butler said with a wry smile. "OK. If you say so."
Despite Florida trailing by just nine points against No. 1 seed Baylor at halftime, Butler said she never saw the Lady Bears looking rattled. Neither did Baylor coach Kim Mulkey.
"We won," Mulkey said after the 76-57 victory in Bowling Green, Ohio. "I mean, I don't know what you all want us to win by. I thought we were pretty much in control of the game the entire time."
You could extend that and say that Baylor has pretty much looked in control of this entire season. The undefeated Lady Bears now go into the Des Moines Regional to try to make it to the program's third Final Four.
Baylor is the favorite, but Tennessee might be the sentimental favorite with head coach Pat Summitt facing the illness that has changed her role on the bench. Summitt is still engaged in the game but conserves her energy. She can still scold, though, and if she's yelling at anyone this weekend -- besides officials -- it will be senior Shekinna Stricklen to try to get her fired up.
No. 1 seed Baylor and No. 2 Tennessee were the teams expected to make it to Des Moines. Fourth-seeded Georgia Tech was, too, from a seeding standpoint. But having never gotten this far before, the Yellow Jackets are in new territory.
Kansas is not treading new ground as a program, because the Jayhawks have made the Sweet 16 twice previously. But not since 1998, and never as a double-digit seed. They are the Cinderellas, and they are also the team the closest geographically to Des Moines (about a 3½-hour drive from Lawrence). Also, they will not have to go head-to-head with their men's team for fan attention on the same day; the KU men play their Sweet 16 game Friday night in St. Louis.
We look at three X factors for each matchup.
(11) Kansas vs. (2) Tennesseee
ESPN/ESPN3: noon ET Saturday
1. Get it in gear, pronto: In the second round, Tennessee had a harder time putting away No. 7 seed DePaul than you might have expected. The biggest reason, other than the Blue Demons' pure scrappiness, was the Lady Vols' hit-and-miss offense. Tennessee has had trouble being a strong first-half team, but has made up for that in the second half most of the time. However, against DePaul, the smaller Blue Demons were able to hang on until late in the game because Tennessee never went on a run to put the game away. Yes, Tennessee did finally get breathing room and won by 15, but the Lady Vols will feel a lot better if they are more in control throughout this game. Or at least throughout most of the second half.
2. Three in a row? As for Kansas, this is a surprise Sweet 16 team that has put together two really strong performances back-to-back, which has been a rarity for the Jayhawks. The overall matchups against Nebraska and Delaware were favorable to KU, though, while this one against Tennessee won't be. The Lady Vols' senior trio of Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen and Vicki Baugh would be hard for KU to handle even if the Jayhawks had injured post player Carolyn Davis. Since they don't, more weight is on senior Aisha Sutherland and freshman Chelsea Gardner inside.
3. Eyes on Angel: Tennessee has gotten better at defending the 3-point shot this season, and the Lady Vols now can be very effective in their 2-3 zone as well as their traditional man-to-man. KU is a mediocre 3-point shooting team (just 121 this season to Tennessee's 183), but with Angel Goodrich, the Jayhawks do have the advantage at point guard. But can she score as effectively against Tennessee's greater size and quickness? Goodrich exploited Nebraska and Delaware on the perimeter and was able to get to the rim against both. That will be much harder against Tennessee.
Pick: Kansas followed coach Bonnie Henrickson's two really good game plans in getting this far, and had a breakout performance from freshman post Gardner. But the sheer physicality and experience of Tennessee inside is probably too much for KU. Plus, there's also more quickness on the perimeter from Tennessee. The Lady Vols are the pick to move on to the Elite Eight.
(4) Georgia Tech vs. (1) Baylor
ESPN/ESPN3, 2 p.m. ET Saturday
1. The other dynamic duo: When you think of Baylor, the Terrific Twosome that first comes to mind, of course, is center Brittney Griner and point guard Odyssey Sims. The "unsung hero" who actually always has Mulkey singing her praises is junior post Destiny Williams. But there is another key to Baylor's attack: the guard tandem of Jordan Madden and Kimetria "Nae-Nae" Hayden, who combined for 24 points and eight rebounds and were all over the floor defensively Tuesday against Florida. "When they had opportunities, they capitalized on them," Butler said. "I thought the thing they did best was their defensive pressure."
2. Show your stuff, Sasha and Sydney: Now a senior, Yellow Jackets 6-foot-5 center Sasha Goodlett has gotten into much better shape in her time at Georgia Tech. We'll see how she can match up against the best center in the college game, Griner. Goodlett has had a good postseason in her final year, including 14 points and 11 rebounds against Georgetown in the second round.
Meanwhile, freshman guard Sydney Wallace came alive in the NCAA tournament, scoring 28 points against Sacred Heart and 23 against Georgetown. Wallace is averaging just 6.6 points this season, so she really did elevate at the right time.
"She's done that in spurts throughout the whole ACC season, and it's really pushed us over the edge and helped us win some key games, especially going down the stretch," Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said after the first-round game. "But today she took it to a whole other level. We knew if she could put two halves together, she could have big numbers"
Now, Wallace has put four halves together, and hopes for two more against Baylor.
3. Back in the day: Joseph (Purdue) and Mulkey (Louisiana Tech) were both outstanding college guards, the former more known for scoring and the latter for playmaking. Strategically, they are both very strong and still carry the competitive mentality they had when they were actually out on the court. For that matter, both are enthusiastic and energetic enough on the sidelines that you still will see them wander onto the court from time to time.
Pick: How do you choose against Baylor, which hasn't fallen yet this season? You don't. That said, the game Georgia Tech played against Maryland in the ACC tournament title game showed the Yellow Jackets do have upset potential as underdogs. Just hard to see them stinging Baylor.
12dBonnie D. Ford