PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh is an unlikely place for two of women's college basketball's most successful programs, Tennessee and North Carolina, to size up each other before a possible Final Four matchup next month.
Due to a quirky bit of scheduling, the two No. 1 seeds - North Carolina in the Dallas Regional, Tennessee in the Dayton Regional - find themselves in the same unfamiliar city during the NCAA tournament but without a chance to play a rematch of the Tar Heels' early season 70-57 victory. Yet.
"I've never heard of two No. 1 seeds coming to the same site," said Pitt coach Agnus Berenato, whose Panthers will play Tennessee (28-3) on Tuesday night if both win their first-round games today.
Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt hasn't, either, and today's game against Drake (14-18) will be her 112th in the tournament. Summitt has seen the sport grow from almost club-level status to a major event, though not to the point that some peculiar contests don't occur.
Tennessee, for example, is playing in its 26th consecutive tournament and Pitt is in its first, yet the Lady Vols might have to beat the Panthers on their home floor to advance to the round of 16. There's almost no chance such an advantage would occur in the men's tournament, yet Summitt accepts it as being necessary to grow the women's sport beyond its renowned powers - the likes of Connecticut and Tennessee.
"It's great to see what's happened with women's basketball," Summitt said Saturday. "I mean we're talking parity, and no one was talking about parity back then. Now we're talking about the excitement, the arenas, the sellout crowds."
Tennessee's draw, with second-seeded Maryland, third-seeded Oklahoma and fourth-seeded Ohio State in its regional, would be tough enough without having to play a subregional on another team's home court. However, Drake (14-18) - today's opponent - doesn't figure to be much of a test, just as North Carolina (30-3) is expected to easily beat Prairie View (19-13).
The two 8 vs. 9 games look to be much more balanced, with Notre Dame (19-11) playing eighth-seeded California (23-8) in the Dallas Regional and Pitt (23-8) facing ninth-seeded James Madison (27-5) in the Dayton Regional.
One of only two losing-record teams in the 64-team field, Drake dropped 12 out of 13 at one point but won four games in four days on its home court to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. That shouldn't worry UT dunk queen Candace Parker, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, but Summitt doesn't plan to take any chances.
"We're going to push, we're going to press, we're going to play the way this team plays best," Summitt said. "It's a contrast in style, a more deliberate team against a team that gets up and down."
Oh, and does Parker plan to dunk, as she did twice during last year's NCAA tournament against Army? She is the only women's college player to dunk this season.
"My focus is on winning the NCAA championship," Parker said. "I've proven I can do that (dunk). I'm looking for bigger and better things this year."
Prairie View doesn't look to be a challenge to North Carolina, despite the immediate impact first-year Panthers coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke has made at a school that had never previously qualified for the tournament or had a winning season. The former WNBA star once played for Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell on the U.S. national team. "We were showing film this morning, and I described a few of the players' moves as Cynthia Cooper moves," Hatchell said. Still, the mismatch in size was evident as the Prairie View players took the Petersen Events Center court for practice Saturday afternoon as North Carolina was leaving. Three of Prairie View's starters are 5-foot-9 or shorter, while only one of the Tar Heels' top five scorers - 5-6 Ivory Latta (18.4 points) - is shorter than 6-1. "No team is invincible," Prairie View freshman Gaati Werema said. "Don't look at the names or the careers, just go play basketball." Notre Dame, an unlikely tournament team after being picked to finished 11th in the Big East preseason poll, is led by former Pittsburgh area high school star Charel Allen (17.0). California has Pac-10 player of the year Devanei Hampton (16.7 points) but is 1-4 in NCAA play. Pitt has gone from winning six games in Berenato's first season to 23 this season, her fourth, and was rewarded with home-floor advantage despite being an at-large team and finishing sixth in the Big East. James Madison is making its first tournament appearance since 1996.comments powered by Disqus