UNC seeks third straight Final Four; LSU wants fifth in a row
NEW ORLEANS -- Coach Van Chancellor would prefer that this not be about him. You know, none of that "Let's get the old guy to his first Final Four!" stuff. He dismissed such sentimentality, saying it's really all about the players.
|UNC freshman point
guard could be X factor
NEW ORLEANS -- When North Carolina senior guard Alex Miller suffered a knee injury in November, freshman Cetera DeGraffenreid recalls thinking, "Oh, Lord, please let her be OK."
DeGraffenreid didn't come to UNC expecting to be a starter. She figured she'd be Miller's understudy.
"I came in thinking I was going to play behind her and learn from her," DeGraffenreid said Sunday. "And when she leaves, take what she has taught me. But coach [Sylvia] Hatchell came in to the locker room and said, 'Alex is out, and you have to step up.' "
DeGraffenreid has certainly done that, and she could be the X factor for top-seeded North Carolina. The rookie has averaged more minutes per game, 30.7, than any of the Tar Heels. She is averaging 11.8 points and has 109 assists to 92 turnovers.
"She is a young point guard, but she's done an excellent job of running her team," LSU senior Erica White said. "Just coming in and being what their program needs.
"I think it's a big challenge. My freshman year I wasn't called on to run this program; I was more like a 13th man. I think she's been doing a great job in what she's been asked to do."
-- Mechelle Voepel
First, though, we'll give you a gauge of these two squads, both of whom have so much experience. All the players on both sides seemed pretty loose Sunday, and it's understandable why. They've been here before.LSU is trying to make its fifth consecutive appearance in the Final Four, while Carolina is going for three in a row. The nerves might set in during the afternoon before Monday night's game, as they think about how much is as stake. LSU will get the advantage of playing 80 miles from its campus and having more purple people than sky-blue people in the stands. Plus all five LSU starters -- Sylvia Fowles, Quianna Chaney, RaShonta LeBlanc, Ashley Thomas and Erica White -- are seniors. So LSU does have that edge, too, in that UNC has one starter -- guard Cetera DeGraffenreid -- who is a freshman and hasn't been at this stage before. Then again, she has never looked rattled all season, so there's no reason to expect she will now. LSU, the SEC's regular-season champion, could well have been a No. 1 seed. Instead, it will have to try to get to the Final Four against what might be the best of the teams it has faced in the Elite Eight the past four years. That is not a knock on the 2004 Georgia, 2005 Duke, 2006 Stanford and 2007 UConn squads. Rather, it's an acknowledgement that North Carolina is a pretty powerful group, leading Division I in scoring at 87.3 points per game. After falling behind Louisville by 18 points in the semifinals on Saturday, Carolina also showed that it can play at a very high level on the other end, too. The Tar Heels' defense was a key in helping UNC rally against the Cardinals. Carolina was outrebounded by Louisville, but it's pretty rare for that to happen. The Tar Heels outrebound their opponents by an average of nine per game. Erlana Larkins, even when she struggles offensively like she did against Louisville (seven points), is always very strong on the boards.
And LaToya Pringle is one of the most frustrating players any opponent has to box out. You can be sure she's behind you, but then suddenly she's in front of you and has the rebound. You never knew what happened.Rashanda McCants is dangerous not just for her inside-out scoring ability, but also the way she finds her teammates. She actually leads the Tar Heels in assists this season with 114.
2008 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament
Elite Eight• Dish: Tampa, here we come!
• Hays: Gutsy win gets UConn seniors to Final Four
• Voepel: Tough Tennessee wills itself to Tampa
• Dish: Losses by Maryland, UNC leave ACC empty
• Voepel: LSU the toast of New Orleans
• Miller: Second really is the best in Spokane
• Voepel: Elite Eight loss toughest on the seniors
• Hays: Second chances key to UConn-Rutgers
• Voepel: Like CP3, Hornbuckle important to Vols
• Voepel: LSU faces toughest Elite foe yet in UNC
• Miller: Terps, Cardinal feel slighted in Spokane
Sweet 16• Dish: Welcome to the Party, Texas A&M
• Hays: Knights not satisfied with win
• Hays: Hobbled Hunter finds ways to help Huskies
• Voepel: UNC overcomes slow start for comeback
• Voepel: White-Riley better than LSU-OK State
• Voepel: Black back, driving force for Blue Devils
• Hays: GW's Beck's must break out of slump
• ESPN.com experts' Sweet 16 picks
• Voepel: Overlooked Dores could test Terps
• Voepel: Talent-laden Louisville ready for UNC
• Hays: Louisville's Walz a real statement maker
• Voepel: Oklahoma City Regional
• Hays: Greensboro Regional breakdown
• Creme: Spokane Regional breakdown
• Mowins: New Orleans Regional breakdown
• Merrill: The meeting that saved Texas A&M
First two rounds• Tuesday's Tournament Dish: Big East flavor
• Hays: Awe-inspiring Allen leads Irish to OT win
• Voepel: Moore so good we're left wanting more
• Hays: Defending champs get defensive
• Monday's Tournament Dish: Cowgirls up!
• Hays: Irish guards hope to offset OU posts
• Voepel: Huskies vs. Horns? Try Geno vs. Gail
• Sunday's Tournament Dish: First-round wrap
• Voepel: Unusual suspects step up for UConn
• Hays: Not always pretty, but OU finds way to win
• Saturday's Tournament Dish: Typical Day One
• Mowins: Florida State too quick for Ohio State
• Voepel: Buckeyes make another early exit
• Voepel: Coach G, Horns feeling litte pressure
• Hays: Sibling act helps Utah prepare for Purdue
• Voepel: New tournament, same favorites
• Hays: Five underrated players to watch
• Smith: The storied saga of Geno and Pat
• Hays: UConn's Moore playing beyond her years
• Previews: G'boro | N.O. | Okla. City | Spokane
• Voepel: Calling all Volunteers
• Voepel: Big Easy? Not for Heels
• Hays: Bracket's big questions
• Creme: Good bracket with a few exceptions
• Hays: Magnificent seven on inside track
• ESPN.com experts break down the bracket
• Merrill: OU, Paris seeking shelter from storm
• Blog: There's nothing like your first tourney