Where the Elite meet
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- We knew half of the Elite Eight on Saturday night, and one part of it -- no Duke -- was an upset. The same thing happened Sunday, as we got one more upset: No. 7 seed Mississippi over No. 3 Oklahoma.
Then again, considering how good Rutgers and Mississippi have looked of late, neither of those results should have completely stunned anyone as it would have if No. 13 Marist defeated No. 1 Tennessee.
That didn't happen, and with North Carolina cruising into the Elite Eight in Dallas on Sunday, three of the No. 1s have advanced.
|ELITE EIGHT SCHEDULE|
(7) Ole Miss vs. (1) Tennessee
7 p.m. ET, ESPN (Dayton)
(2) Purdue vs. (1) UNC 9 p.m. ET, ESPN (Dallas)
With the Tar Heels' matchup Tuesday against second-seeded Purdue (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET), we have another "flashback" rematch. These things don't necessarily matter, except to show that Sylvia Hatchell has been around awhile for the Tar Heels because she was coaching in those flashbacks.
In 1994, North Carolina beat Purdue in the national semifinals in Richmond, Va., and the Tar Heels won the NCAA title the next day over Louisiana Tech.
In 1999, the programs met in the regional semifinals, and the Boilermakers won that one on their way to the NCAA title. Then last year, the Tar Heels beat the Boilers 70-68 in the regional semifinals. North Carolina went on to the Final Four.
That latter game, obviously, has significance because not much has changed since last season. The Boilermakers proved they could hang with the Tar Heels inside then, which is what they also will have to do Tuesday.
As for the all-SEC matchup in Dayton between Tennessee and Ole Miss, it bears repeating that as great as the league has been in the postseason, Tennessee is still the only member school to win an NCAA women's hoops title.
These other SEC schools have been to the Final Four at least once: Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia, LSU and Vanderbilt.
Usually when another SEC team meets up with Tennessee in the tournament, it's good news for coach Pat Summitt. She is 13-2 against SEC opponents in the NCAA Tournament. She's also 19-1 against Carol Ross, the Ole Miss coach who also spent 12 seasons at Florida. Earlier this season, Tennessee beat the Rebels 81-69 in Knoxville.
Meanwhile, the Elite Eight tips off with fourth-seeded Rutgers against No. 3 seed Arizona State at 7 p.m. ET Monday (ESPN) in a "rematch" that didn't produce flashbacks. That's because the game was on the schedule -- but was never played. The two teams were in the Virgin Islands for a tournament in November, but the game was canceled when ASU forward Aubree Johnson's younger brother died the morning of the game.
When Rutgers and Arizona State were preparing to meet in November, the Scarlet Knights were not really the team that they are now. The biggest obvious difference between now and then is that Rutgers didn't have guard Matee Ajavon in November; she was still out with a stress fracture. She returned for Rutgers' game Dec. 4 against Duke but was not anywhere near 100 percent.
Ajavon had 20 points Saturday in the Scarlet Knights' upset win over the Blue Devils, and she should be a key factor again Monday.
"It's a big difference," ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. "[Without her], Essence Carson is playing the point and people are faking it at certain positions, and they just didn't have their floor general. Insert possibly their best player, and that made a huge difference for their team."
Ajavon isn't just leading the show at point guard -- she's also a top defender. And anyone familiar with Rutgers and ASU knows how much defense is likely to be the main factor Monday. So much so, it's almost expected the winning score will be in the low 50s, as was the case in the Rutgers-Duke contest.
Both teams like to trap and press. It has been the trademark of Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer wherever she has coached, and Turner Thorne said it has become more the Sun Devils' style.
"Back three or four years ago, as we started to turn a corner with our program, we made a very conscious decision to go with a deep roster," Turner Thorne said. "And as we did that, I've always wanted to play a full-court game, not just pressure defense but to extend our defense more. You need depth to play hard every possession. So it's kind of evolved.
"Pressure is pressure, and I think it is hard to simulate. And most teams, frankly, don't play pressure defense. So we don't really practice against it very often. We don't have much preparation time. Obviously we know a thing or two about pressure, and hopefully we will be able to counter it."
What ASU doesn't know is whether Briann January is going to be available; she missed the Sweet 16 game because of a concussion sustained in the second round against Louisville.
Stringer said that had the Sun Devils and Scarlet Knights played in November, she think Rutgers would not have had much chance to win. Not just because of the absence of Ajavon, but because her team was so inexperienced on defense then.
"We could not have handled that team at that time," she said. "We've come quite a ways since then. This is going to be a real test of our maturity, because I know that Arizona State is for real."
LSU and Connecticut clash in Monday's other regional final, in Fresno, Calif. Those two also met earlier this season, with the Huskies' 72-71 victory snapping the Lady Tigers' 43-game home-court winning streak at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. A long field goal at the final buzzer from LSU's Porsha Phillips -- which would have tied the game had it been ruled a 3-pointer -- was ruled a 2-pointer, after replays showed her toe had barely crossed the 3-point arc.Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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