Baylor, LSU, Lady Vols, Spartans head to Indy
And now, on to Indy.
The field is set for the women's Final Four, and naturally it includes Tennessee, in for the 16th time in 24 years. LSU is back for the second year in a row, while Michigan State and Baylor both made it for the first time, though they shouldn't be considered surprise entries.
Michigan State advanced as a No. 1 seed. Baylor was seeded second in its region.
Tennessee (30-4) and Michigan State (32-3) claimed the final two spots with regional victories on Tuesday night. They'll meet in the national semifinals Sunday night at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
LSU (33-2) and Baylor (31-3) advanced with victories on Monday and will meet in the other semifinal, setting up the possibility of an all-Southeastern Conference championship game.
Tennessee and LSU have already met twice this season. LSU won 68-58 during the regular season. Tennessee, which hasn't lost since that Feb. 10 setback in Baton Rouge, was a 67-65 winner in the championship game of the SEC tournament.
It will be the fourth straight Final Four trip for Tennessee, and for once the Lady Vols won't see Connecticut. UConn, which beat Tennessee at the Final Four in each of the last three years, was knocked out of the NCAAs by Stanford in the regional semifinals.
Tennessee booked its trip to Indianapolis with a 59-49 victory over Rutgers -- win No. 882 for coach Pat Summitt, who has is seeking her seventh national championship. The Lady Vols haven't won the title, however, since 1998.
Michigan State is on a ride like no other the Spartans have taken before. In five previous NCAA appearances, Michigan State never made it past the second round. Now the Spartans are two victories from a national championship after beating Stanford 76-69.
"The players are amazing and they have created something very, very special," Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "Here we are with a berth in the Final Four and it is a bit overwhelming for our family. I can say that this opportunity is shared by all those who came before."
Michigan State becomes the sixth school to advance both its men's and women's teams to the Final Four in the same year. Connecticut did it just last year and both won titles, the only time that has happened.
"This was definitely a dream for everyone," said guard Kristin Haynie, who used to sit behind the Michigan State bench as a youngsters. "We knew what we were capable of doing as a team."
LSU's Pokey Chatman is quickly becoming a star in coaching circles. She guided LSU to its first Final Four trip last year while filling in for ailing coach Sue Gunter and has now done it as the permanent coach.
Gunter retired after last season and Chatman called her after LSU beat second-seeded Duke 59-49 in Chattanooga on Monday night.
LSU has a star on the court as well in Seimone Augustus, a unanimous All-American. Augustus scored 24 points against Duke and is averaging 19.5 for the tournament.
The regional final was the only time LSU has been tested in this tournament. The Lady Tigers had won their first three games by an average of 36 points.
"I know that we can play in tough situations," Augustus said. "(That) game helped us."
Baylor has given the school a huge morale boost with its unprecedented postseason run and might be a fan favorite at the RCA Dome. The Baptist school in Waco, Texas, has little basketball tradition and its image took a beating from NCAA violations in the men's program and the arrest of former player Carlton Dotson, accused of killing a teammate.
But the Lady Bears are hardly sneaking into the Final Four. They posted decisive victories in the first two rounds, beat a Minnesota team filled with Final Four veterans in the regional semifinals and then led top-seeded North Carolina by as many as 19 points before winning 72-63 on Monday night.
Baylor's Sophia Young was the MVP of the Tempe Regional and teams with Steffanie Blackmon to give the Lady Bears a frontcourt duo that can match any still playing.
They also have plenty of energy on the sideline in coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, who raised the program to this point five years after taking over a team that had sunk to the bottom of the Big 12.
"It's so exciting for the university and our community," Mulkey-Robertson said. "You can't put a dollar value on the positive publicity these girls have brought to the university."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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