Commentary

Hurricanes hoping to stick around

Originally Published: March 21, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

Every team except Green Bay that will be playing in the second round of the women's NCAA tournament Tuesday night has previously been to the Sweet 16. Even though for some of them, it has been a long time.

That includes No. 3 seed Miami, which faces sixth-seeded Oklahoma on Tuesday for a trip to the Dayton Regional semifinals.

Miami is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 and on Sunday beat Gardner-Webb for the program's first victory in the event since 1993.

The year before that, Miami made its first -- and only -- NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. In 1992, the Hurricanes were 29-1 going into the NCAA tournament, which then was a 48-team field. As a No. 2 seed, they had a first-round bye, then beat North Carolina to advance to the regional in Charlottesville, Va.

And that's where the Hurricanes will be Tuesday night as well, trying to make it to the Sweet 16 in what has been a 64-team tournament for the women since 1994.

Getting back to the second round was a long time coming for Miami. Katie Meier took over the program prior to the 2005-06 season. The Hurricanes were 2-12 in the ACC in 2007, '08 and '09. There was definite progress last season, but Miami was still 4-10 in the ACC. Things finally clicked this season, though, as guards Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams led the Hurricanes to a tie for first place in the league along with Duke at 12-2.

At 28-4 overall, they'll hope to represent the ACC well on a fellow league school's home court Tuesday. A look at the final games of the second round (all games on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com unless otherwise noted):

Philadelphia Regional

No. 1 UConn vs. No. 9 Purdue (ESPN, 7:05 p.m. ET)
Later in the tournament, we can preview a UConn game by saying something more substantial than, "Yes, they're going to win." But with the Huskies in the second round, at home, in Maya Moore's final game at Gampel Pavilion in a UConn uniform (maybe she might play there again with Team USA) … sorry, Purdue.

It's a last chance for UConn fans to show affection in a home game to one of the greats of all time in the women's college game, and they certainly will do that.

Still, the Boilermakers have to be pretty pleased to have made it this far, having dealt with Drey Mingo's life-threatening fight with bacterial meningitis in November -- her hearing hasn't returned 100 percent and Mingo now wears hearing aids, but she had 16 points and started and played 35 minutes in Saturday's victory -- and a conference season in which they particularly struggled on the road (3-5 in Big Ten away games). Purdue has no seniors, so the Boilers should relax and just play as hard as they can against the Huskies.

No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 5 Georgetown (7:15 p.m. ET)
President Obama went way out on a limb and picked Princeton to upset Georgetown in the first round. Uh, not so much. Instead we get the expected showdown of greater Washington, D.C., that, just like an election, is a battle of red versus blue. This is only the third appearance in the NCAA field for the Hoyas; they made the Sweet 16 in their first trip, back in 1993.

The Terps have the advantage of being the hosts, at the Comcast Center, and the program has far more NCAA tournament experience. But this particular group of Terps is not really very experienced; there are six freshmen, led by Alyssa Thomas, and no seniors. The 6-foot-2 forward had 16 points in a first-round victory over St. Francis (Pa.). Meanwhile, sophomore Sugar Rodgers continues to spark the Hoyas, as she scored 26 in their NCAA opener. Georgetown beat Maryland 53-45 when they met in November on the Hoyas' home court.

Dayton Regional

No. 3 Miami vs. No. 6 Oklahoma (7:05 p.m. ET)
The guards will be on display for both squads, which have very different NCAA tournament histories. We've chronicled that for the Hurricanes. For the Sooners, they are coming off back-to-back appearances in the Final Four.

The key player for Oklahoma in getting that far in 2009 and 2010 is senior point guard Danielle Robinson. She is lightning-quick to the basket, but must avoid turnovers and foul trouble against the Hurricanes. Whitney Hand sat out last season with an ACL injury, but should be another key factor in the Oklahoma backcourt.

Miami's Johnson and Williams are as dynamic a guard tandem as there is in the women's college game. But they will need help from post player Morgan Stroman, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the opener.

Similarly, the Sooners could use a boost inside from freshman post Nicole Griffin, who had eight points in Oklahoma's opening win against James Madison, and sophomore Joanna McFarland, who had 10 points and 15 rebounds against the Dukes.

Spokane Regional

No. 2 Xavier vs. No. 7 Louisville (7:10 p.m. ET)
Xavier's Kevin McGuff and Louisville's Jeff Walz have taken programs that did have some success before they arrived and have made them better. It's a great regional rivalry between teams from different conferences, and has been a boost for women's basketball. Louisville went to the national championship game in 2009, while Xavier came just short of making the Final Four last year.

When they met Nov. 23 at Xavier, the Musketeers won 71-59 behind Amber Harris' 28 points and 18 rebounds. With Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips clearing the glass, it is very hard to match Xavier on the boards. And especially in an NCAA tournament contest, that could be the difference. Walz will do whatever he can strategically to offset that, and will hope the Cardinals can take advantage of being the better 3-point shooting team.

Dallas Regional

No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 6 Georgia (9:35 p.m. ET)
Coach Sue Semrau has the Seminoles as far as the second round for the seventh consecutive year. The past three seasons, Florida State has won at least 10 games in ACC play. Last year, FSU advanced to the Elite Eight. All of which is to say, there might be eyes on Semrau from other programs looking to make a coaching hire. She has made FSU a consistent winner.

Meanwhile, it has been kind of a frustrating last few years for Georgia, a program that has made the NCAA tournament 28 times in the event's 30-season existence and has reached the Final Four five times. But the last trip was in 1999, so it has been awhile. Georgia made the Sweet 16 last season, but then was clobbered, 73-36, by Stanford.

The Seminoles went 4-0 against the SEC in nonconference play, including a victory at Auburn, where FSU and Georgia will meet in the second round. Junior post player Cierra Bravard (14.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is playing well now. She and freshman post Natasha Howard (10.8, 6.5) could be difficult for Georgia, led by guard Jasmine James, to counter.

No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 7 Rutgers (9:40 p.m. ET)
These are two teams with the reputation of being defense-first, almost to a fault. The Aggies, though, have shown the capacity to be the better offensive team over the past few years.

Texas A&M was upset in the second round last year as a No. 2 seed by then-No. 7 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs did that with a confident offense sparked by a terrific point guard. But that's not how it will happen if the Scarlet Knights duplicate the upset this year.

That said, Rutgers has scored at least 67 points in five of its last seven games -- and for the Scarlet Knights, that's notable. April Sykes had 22 points in a first-round win against Louisiana Tech, and at 13.8 points per game, she is leading Rutgers this season.

Texas A&M has multiple threats and doesn't have to rely on senior Danielle Adams -- but she still needs to play well for the Aggies. Reserves such as Maryann Baker and Kelsey Assarian shouldn't be overlooked for the experience they can bring off the bench.

No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Green Bay, (9:40 p.m. ET)
It's the Phoenix's big moment to shine, and they'll never be more ready to make the program's first trip to the Sweet 16 than they are now with a balanced, experienced group.

But the Spartans might have had the best preparation possible for Green Bay by facing Northern Iowa in the first round. Like the Phoenix, the Panthers are a team led by upperclass players who usually execute well and have confidence going against schools from bigger conferences. Northern Iowa gave Michigan State, the Big Ten's regular-season champion, all it could handle before the Spartans prevailed 69-66 in the first round.

However, the Panthers were not able to execute well enough to get a decent look at a potential game-tying shot against Michigan State. If Tuesday's game comes down to a similar situation, the Phoenix will get a look. It's important for Michigan State, led by senior Kalisha Keane, to try to avoid turnovers; the Spartans have 549 of those this season, compared with 424 assists.

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 9 West Virginia (9:45 p.m. ET)
The Mountaineers' experience with facing UConn should help in their effort to try to control the pace of this game against Baylor, the huge favorite.

West Virginia does have some size to put up against Baylor's 6-8 star Brittney Griner, with 6-4 sophomore Asya Bussie. But this is more a guard-led Mountaineers team, with senior Liz Repella (14.3 ppg) its top offensive threat.

The Mountaineers have held their opponents to an average of 52.9 points per game, while Baylor is averaging 79.6 and holding its foes to 53.0. Griner (22.4 ppg) has blocked 154 shots. The Lady Bears have forced their opponents into an average of 16.6 turnovers, which they often convert into points.

West Virginia can't match Baylor on offense, and the Lady Bears' defense is one of the best in the country. So the Mountaineers will have to keep the pace slower and the score lower to have any chance, especially on Baylor's home court.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.