Battles in the paint could decide regional semis
At this point in the women's NCAA Tournament, every game is a good one. But at the San Antonio Regional, expectations are high with two great matchups and some of the best players in the game.
Saturday's regional semifinals could be high-scoring affairs as all four teams average around 75 points per game or higher. They all like to get the ball and go with very good transition games.
The buzz around the Alamo is about a potential Elite Eight showdown Monday between young post players Courtney Paris of Oklahoma and Sylvia Fowles of LSU.
But All-Americans Khara Smith of DePaul and Candice Wiggins of Stanford have every intention of breaking up that party. The Blue Demons and Cardinal will be heavy underdogs in the minds of many fans. But both teams have the ability to score and hang with the favored Lady Tigers and Sooners.
In LSU's second-round win, we saw just how important it is for the Lady Tigers to have Fowles and Seimone Augustus on the court together. With Fowles in foul trouble in the first half, LSU looked beatable. With her back in the game in the second, the Tigers looked unstoppable.
Augustus is the rock-steady Wade Trophy winner from 2005 who guides LSU with her consistency. She's good for at least 10 points every night (an NCAA-record 129 games in double figures) and also has the skills to drop the occasional 30 points when necessary. Expect DePaul to try to chase Augustus through close to 100 screens (officials from LSU say the Lady Tigers set that many in a regular-season win over Tennessee).
Fowles is a likely Kodak All-American who despite her two quick fouls in the second round has not been disqualified from a game all season. She is a disruptive force in the paint and is playing with tremendous confidence on the offensive end.
While LSU is gunning for its third straight trip to the Final Four, DePaul is in the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. Any pressure the Blue Demons might have felt last weekend playing at home is gone. They can relax and play with the typical underdog mentality of "we've got nothing to lose."
Smith, a 6-foot-2 senior, played perhaps the best 20 minutes of her storied career in the second half of DePaul's second-round victory over 12th-seeded Tulsa. She scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 20-minute span that saw the Blue Demons rally to keep their season alive. Smith showed why she is an All-America candidate, making the big plays when her team needed her the most.
DePaul will need more of the same Saturday in trying to contend with the 6-6 Fowles. Smith will be at a considerable size disadvantage and will have to rely on her senior savvy to battle on the boards and score on the block.
DePaul's success also rests on Smith's ability to rebound and throw the long outlet pass that allows her teammates to score in transition. And Allie Quigley will have to regain her shooter's touch and join forces with Jenna Rubino to score from the outside. That would give Smith a fighting chance in the paint. The Blue Demons are a potent offense at their best on the break. In the half-court game they have had trouble scoring.
Oklahoma freshman Courtney Paris this week joined a very distinguished list of Naismith player of the year finalists: UNC's Ivory Latta, Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter and LSU's Augustus.
That the rookie is in such select company speaks volumes about the contributions Paris has made for OU. She leads the NCAA this year with 32 double-doubles, including a 30-point, 15-rebound performance in a second-round victory over BYU. No one has had an answer this year for how to stop Paris, and Stanford will be hard-pressed to find one with its front line.
OU point guard Britney Brown has elevated her game in the postseason and is a good decision maker. Erin Higgins is a tremendous 3-point shooter who hit five in the second round. And when the other Sooners are scoring, Paris becomes even more of a handful.
Tara VanDerveer has done a tremendous coaching job this year for Stanford after losing five seniors off a team that reached the Elite Eight a year ago.
Sophomore Candice Wiggins is rolling along and had another 30-point performance last weekend against Florida State. Brooke Smith will rely on her patented hook shot to try to score over the top of Paris inside. Wiggins and Smith, however, are the only double-figure scorers for the Cardinal, so someone else will have to come up with a career performance.
Krista Rappahahn was a reserve for the first three years of her career. This season, the senior has drilled more than 80 3-pointers to make the most of her opportunity. Freshman Roslyn Gold-Onwude has taken over the controls in her first season.
Forwards Jillian Harmon and Kristen Newlin need to come up big to deny the Sooners a dominant night on the boards.
Beth Mowins is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
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