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One major surprise in round of 16

3/24/2004

Most of the old, familiar teams made it to the final 16 in the woemn's NCAA Tournament.

Two-time defending champion Connecticut is back in the regional semifinals. Duke and Tennessee, too. So are Texas, Penn State, Purdue and UC Santa Barbara.

Wait. UC Who?

Every tournament can use a surprise team to spice things up, and 11th-seeded UC Santa Barbara is filling that role. The Gauchos have reached the regional semifinals for the first time and are the lowest seeded team still playing.

They did it by knocking off No. 6 Colorado and No. 3 Houston in the friendly confines of the Thunderdome on the Santa Barbara campus. All they have to do to keep advancing in the East Regional is beat UConn. At the Hartford Civic Center, the Huskies' second home. In front of 16,000 fans who bleed UConn blue.

The East and West semifinals are Saturday, while the Mideast and Midwest start Sunday.

All the No. 1 seeds are still in contention: Tennessee, Penn State, Texas and Duke. UConn, Purdue and Vanderbilt advanced as No. 2 seeds.

"A lot of the uncertainty has gone out of it, hasn't it?'' said Georgia coach Andy Landers, whose third-seeded team advanced in the West Regional. "As it's shaken down, it's looking more like all the favorites are strong again.''

A look at the round of 16:

East Regional
Penn State beat Virginia Tech on Tech's home floor and now faces the possibility of needing to beat Connecticut in front of a hostile crowd to reach the Final Four.

But first, the Lady Lions must deal with Notre Dame and its tough matchup zone. The Irish have held 14 of their last 18
opponents to fewer than 60 points and have a go-to player in Jacqueline Batteast, who scored 27 in a second-round victory over Middle Tennessee.

Penn State has two-time All-American Kelly Mazzante, the all-time scoring leader in Big Ten history, but the key for the Lady Lions might be Tanisha Wright, who scored 26 of the team's first 36 points against Virginia Tech.

Connecticut lost two of four games at the end of the regular season, but the Huskies seem to be on a fast track now after
dispatching Penn and Auburn.

UCSB hopes to cause UConn problems with 6-foot-8 Lindsay Taylor, a good shot blocker with a nice shooting touch. Kristen Mann can score from the wing, and transfer April McDivitt brings big-game experience from her days at Tennessee.

Connecticut, though, has two-time Naismith Award winner Diana Taurasi, and she's usually the difference in NCAA tournament games.

Mideast Regional
This is the last go-round for Duke stars Alana Beard and Iciss Tillis, who are missing only a national championship from their list of accomplishments.

To keep moving toward that goal, the Blue Devils will have to handle Louisiana Tech's speed and pressure defense. The Lady Techsters have won 21 straight.

With guard Lindsay Whalen back, Minnesota is better than the average No. 7 seed. After missing the last seven regular-season games with a broken hand, Whalen has scored 46 points in the Gophers' NCAA wins, including an 80-61 romp past second-seeded Kansas State.

Third-seeded Boston College barely slipped past Eastern Michigan in the first round but was impressive in beating Ohio State 63-48 on the Buckeyes' floor Monday.

Midwest Regional
Tennessee, the top overall seed, has a ton of tradition and a talented team. The Lady Vols are in the regional semifinals for the 23rd straight year; they've lost in this round only four times.

Fourth-seeded Baylor advanced to the round of 16 for the first time despite losing No. 2 scorer Steffanie Blackmon to a knee injury in the Big 12 tournament.

Stanford was sensational on defense in its first two tournament games, giving up just 44 and 43 points, and will need a similar effort against Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt will have to deal with Stanford All-American Nicole Powell, who can post up, drive or score from the perimeter. The Commodores come in with a 10-game winning streak and freshmen playing two key positions -- point guard Dee Davis and center Carla Thomas.

West Regional
This is the only regional with the four top seeds still playing.

Purdue has won 20 of its last 21 games and has four seniors determined to go as far they can, including second-team
All-American Shereka Wright.

It's also a team with an eye for style. The players have taken to wearing black knee-high socks to go with their black sneakers.

"They make us look quicker,'' Wright said.

Georgia could give Purdue problems inside with 6-5 Christi Thomas and 6-2 Jessica Pierce. Plus, the Lady Bulldogs have quickness on the perimeter with Sherill Baker, Janese Hardrick and Alexis Kendrick.

Texas is seeking a second straight Final Four trip and has the ingredients to get there -- depth, inside strength with Stacy
Stephens, versatility with Heather Schrieber, and leadership with point guard Jamie Carey. The Longhorns won their first two games by a total of 54 points.

LSU has survived with assistant Pokey Chatman running the team in place of ailing coach Sue Gunter. The fourth-seeded Lady Tigers have rising stars in sophomore Seimone Augustus and two of the quickest guards anywhere in 5-3 Temeka Johnson and 5-9 Doneeka Hodges.