- Kate Fagan, Columnist, espnW.com
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The second round of the NCAA women's tournament begins Monday when top-seeded UConn hosts Vanderbilt, the No. 8 seed, at Gampel Pavilion (7:05 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Tennessee, the No. 2 seed, tips off a few minutes later against No. 10 Creighton (7:10 ET, ESPN2). The Huskies and Lady Vols, perennial powerhouses in women's hoops, are jump-starting a full slate of games. Here are five things to watch for as you settle in for a night of tourney action.
1. Height vs. Quickness
In the first game, UConn's 6-foot-5 center, Stefanie Dolson, likely will be paired against Vanderbilt's ultra-quick forward, 6-foot Tiffany Clarke, who was named espnW's player of the week at the end of February. The Commodores are expected to start a small lineup, with no one taller than Clarke, which should be interesting, as Dolson is one of the game's more traditional post players.
Clarke averages 16.7 points and 8.6 rebounds a game, numbers slightly better than Dolson's averages of 14.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. In addition, Clarke has held her own against bigger centers, most notably Texas A&M's Kelsey Bone (6-4), whom Clarke held to an inefficient 6 for 18 from the floor during a crucial SEC victory for the Commodores late in the season.
Who will set the tone in the interior?
2. The first five minutes
Only 4,627 fans showed up to Gampel Pavilion for UConn's first-round win over Idaho (the Huskies won by 68 points). Of course, thousands more are expected for Monday's second-round game with an opponent that has a fighting chance at victory. Vanderbilt (21-11) is making its 14th consecutive NCAA appearance. UConn (30-4) is . . . well . . . you know the story. It's UConn.
But if the Commodores are going to do the unthinkable, eliminate the Huskies on their home floor, they're going to need to get to the second media timeout (at the 12-minute mark) either leading or within a bucket or two. If not, the Gampel Pavilion crowd will get rolling, as will UConn, and this thing could turn into another runaway.
3. Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons
The Lady Vols are 51-0 in NCAA tournament games at home. And Monday night's game against Creighton is, yep, at home. But keep in mind that Tennessee is a different team this season. There's the obvious change at coach, with Holly Warlick taking over for Pat Summitt. And the Lady Vols also have been a little more inconsistent, losing two games this season to unranked teams.
Tennessee is going to need another strong game from junior guard Meighan Simmons, who scored 18 points in the team's first-round win over Oral Roberts. Simmons is fast and attacks the basket in a straight line. But she can also shoot from beyond the arc and possesses a nice mid-range game.
When Simmons is on -- and she usually is -- Tennessee can play with anyone.
4. Points in the paint
No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 6 seed Oklahoma have already played this season, with the Bruins earning an 86-80 victory on the Sooners' home floor in November. Of course, that was four months ago, and both teams have changed since then (injuries as well as improvement), but one number stands out from that box score: points in the paint.
UCLA scored 45 points in the lane and also dominated the Sooners on the offensive glass, with the Bruins grabbing 17 more offensive rebounds than Oklahoma (the official count was 23 to 6). Even though much time has passed, the Bruins still have the potential to control the paint.
5. Can Alyssa Thomas finish?
Monday night's game between No. 4 Maryland and No. 5 Michigan State might come down to one simple thing: Will Alyssa Thomas finish her drives to the basket? Maryland has been ravaged by injuries this season, losing its starting backcourt to ACL tears. This has meant that much of the Terrapins' offense runs through Thomas, their 6-2 star forward.
Thomas presents a matchup problem for most teams, because she can post on the block and attack off the bounce. But she also occasionally struggles with her touch near the rim. If she has an off game, Maryland has few additional weapons. Of course, if Thomas is on fire, she's virtually impossible to stop.