Sunday, March 30
Updated: April 1, 2:15 AM ET
A look at the Elite Eight
By Nancy Lieberman
Special to ESPN.com
East | West
The Elite Eight field is set. And so far, the chalk has held up. For just the second time in NCAA Tournament history -- and first since 1988 -- all four No. 1 and 2 seeds will meet in the regional finals.
Several familiar faces are just one step away from reaching the Final Four, but only one -- Villanova -- is making its Elite Eight debut. Most of the traditional powers remain, and three of the teams left -- Connecticut, Tennessee and Duke -- also reached last season's Final Four.
The group isn't lacking in star power. At least one team in each Elite Eight matchup has won an NCAA title, and all together, the regional finalists have combined for 12 national championships.
Which teams will be in Atlanta next weekend fighting for this year's crown? Here's our take on how things might shape up Tuesday in the regional finals:
East Region: Dayton, Ohio
(1) Connecticut (34-1) vs. (2) Purdue (29-5)
When: 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, ESPN
Series history: Purdue leads 1-0. The team's only meeting was in December 1990, an 89-87 Boilermaker win in overtime on a neutral court.
Notables: UConn's Diana Taurasi is averaging 27.3 points per game in the tournament and shooting 60 percent from the field (29-for-48) and 55 percent from 3-point range (11-for-20). Purdue has won eight straight games, holding four foes to 51 or fewer points in that span.
The skinny: These teams play very similarly. They both have star players, very good shooters, active rebounders and solid supporting casts. Both also are physical and have depth.
Like Tennessee, UConn is playing really well right now, and any questions we had about the Huskies' freshmen being able to rise to the occasion have been answered. With three tournament games behind them, experience is no longer an issue.
Everyone knows UConn graduated four starters from last season's NCAA championship team. Those four averaged 53.4 points per game last season. Although that loss is great, this year's Huskies have something last year's version didn't: a true post presence. Both Barb Turner and Jessica Moore are playing terrific down low, combining for 20.8 points and 12 rebounds a game.
Tamika Williams, Asjha Jones and Swin Cash were more than capable of playing well in the paint last season, doing drop-steps and all kinds of post moves. But they were really great 4s who hung out in the 5 spot. Now, when UConn puts the ball inside, opponents have to double-down on them, which opens up the middle. That's a good thing, especially since UConn is playing so much more from the perimeter, where Diana Taurasi, Ann Strother and Maria Conlon have combined for 162 of the team's 209 3-pointers. Conlon, who pretty much was an understudy these past two years, has been very important to UConn's chemistry.
Shereka Wright, on the other hand, has meant everything to Purdue. She's a fantastic slasher and a tough matchup; she's 5 feet 10, but plays a lot bigger. You can't guard her on the perimeter and she's too quick for posts. Beth Jones and Erika Valek also need to continue to play well. Valek, who has had a breakout year this season, runs the show for Purdue, while Jones is the unsung hero.
Purdue did a tremendous job of applying ball pressure and forcing Notre Dame into turnovers on Sunday. The Boilers do a good job of using their strengths -- quickness and depth and the ability to steal and score -- to hurt you.
And that's really the X-factor -- Can Purdue get the ball in the net and then set up some fullcourt pressure? The Boilers probably won't press to steal, but rather press to contain and take some time off the shot clock and force the Huskies to start their offense with seven or eight fewer seconds than they're used to.
Edge: UConn. I like the Huskies' intensity, their mentality and their body language. They are rebounding phenomenally well, playing great when they need to and have all the elements it takes to win a championship. They feed off Taurasi, and she has really taken her game to another level. Sometimes it seems she's a woman playing against little girls. She makes passes other people wouldn't even think about attempting. And coach Geno Auriemma made perhaps the best argument for UConn in his postgame interview. After naming off several things UConn did better than BC to win on Sunday, he added, "And we got Diana and they don't."
West Region: Stanford, Calif.
(1) LSU (30-3) vs. (2) Texas (28-5)
When: 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, ESPN
Series history: Tied 3-3, but they met just three months ago. LSU beat Texas 76-58 in Baton Rouge, La., on Dec. 28, 2002. Aiysha Smith scored 19 points and DeTrina White added 16 and 12 rebounds as then-No. 3 ranked LSU rallied for the win over then-No. 15 Texas. The Longhorns led by nine points with 14:11 to play before LSU responded with a 15-1 run. Heather Schreiber had 20 points for Texas, which is 0-1 vs. LSU at neutral sites.
Notables: LSU freshman Seimone Augustus (1-for-6 from field) and Texas junior Stacy Stephens (2 of 11) each scored just six points when the 'Horns and Lady Tigers met in December. Neither Jamie Carey (mononucleosis) nor senior guard Alisha Sare (sprained wrist) played in that matchup.
The skinny: This is the best Texas team I've seen in years. The Longhorns are very versatile, have players who can shoot and penetrate and hurt you on so many levels. Minnesota, one of the biggest blue-collar teams in the country, couldn't outwork Texas on Sunday. The 'Horns aren't a big team, but they're tenacious and difficult to box out and guard. Inside, Stacy Stephens and Heather Schreiber can hurt you, and if you push Schreiber outside, she can hit the jumper or drive back inside. When Stephens was double-teamed Sunday, she still knew exactly where her passing lanes were. And if you need a 3-pointer, Alisha Sare is one of several 'Horns who can hit it.
Jamie Carey, whose emotional return to Stanford is one of many great subplots in the tournament, has truly been the biggest difference for Texas this season. She is an incredible floor leader, and her teammates feed off that. She is vocal, accountable, and like every great point guard, makes her teammates better. She's very unselfish and a big reason the Longhorns do such a great job of moving the ball around inside and out.
Like the Longhorns, LSU also has a fantastic floor leader in Temeka Johnson. She means everything to this team, and it was wonderful to see her play so well after suffering the two broken facial bones in the Lady Tigers' second-round win. Although she struggled a bit early on, her tenacity and emotional fire kick started LSU's rally. Johnson's impact Sunday was huge, and without her we might have seen a No. 1 go down in the Sweet 16.
The biggest thing LSU showed us on Sunday was its perseverance. Louisiana Tech brought an incredible amount of energy and Cheryl Ford was outrebounding everybody early on. But instead of folding, the Lady Tigers refused to give up. They stayed focused, stuck to their game plan and made some incredible adjustments in the second half, such as getting more physical in the post on Ford and containing Tasha Crain.
Both teams play a lot of man-to-man defense and get after you in the passing lanes, so this game is probably going to come down to halfcourt execution, which team takes better care of the ball and which squad can create some uncontested shots. LSU, which prefers to rebound and run, has more team speed than Texas, so scoring and offensive rebounding are critical for the Longhorns. If the Tigers have to inbounds the ball after a made Texas basket -- rather than grab the rebound and bolt the other way -- it gives the 'Horns a chance to get back and play defense. LSU, of course, can play the half court rather well, but Texas is going to make the Tigers make four or five passes and hit more jumpers.
Edge: This one might be too close to call. Both LSU and Texas have hit big plays and foul shots at the right time. Both come from the two best conferences in the land and will be prepared. LSU coach Sue Gunter and Texas coach Jody Conradt are truly two of the game's biggest legends and know each other very well. It might come down to foul trouble. Stephens and Carey have to be on the court and producing for Texas to advance. And while we've seen a lot of players miss chippies throughout this tournament, hitting those easy shots will be key in this tight game.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.