Connecticut’s quest for the fifth perfect season in NCAA history will begin at home.
The undefeated Huskies earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Monday night and will open against Vermont at Storrs.
Nine teams have entered the NCAA tournament unbeaten; only four have emerged unscathed. UConn and coach Geno Auriemma were the last in 2002.
Auriemma said he’s not worried about the bulls-eye on his team’s back.
“We don’t care who we play. We don’t care where we play,” Auriemma said. “We don’t care what time we play. I’m anxious to get started, and I know our players are as well.”
Oklahoma, Maryland, and Duke earned the other three No. 1 seeds. The Sooners are in the Oklahoma City regional, the Terrapins are headed to Raleigh and the Blue Devils will make the cross country trek to Berkeley.
Tennessee also extended its run as the only team to make every NCAA tournament but earned a No. 5—its lowest seed ever, creating a tough road to a third consecutive title.
The Final Four is scheduled for the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on April 5 and 7. When the city last hosted the championship in 2001, UConn lost in the semifinals.
The Huskies (33-0), who have run through their opponents this season winning by an average of 31 points, will be looking for their sixth national championship. A potential second-round opponent for UConn is former assistant coach Tonya Cardoza and Temple. The Owls must beat Florida to meet the Huskies.
If the Huskies advance to the regionals, they’ll take a trip down I-95 to Trenton where California, Texas A&M or Florida State could be waiting. The Seminoles lost to UConn by 12 in the Caribbean Classic.
One team UConn won’t play until at least the Final Four would be Tennessee.
Coach Pat Summitt said she was not surprised her 22-10 team received a No. 5 seed. The team also took 10 losses into the tournament in 1997, grabbing a No. 3 seed and winning the title.
Tennessee’s previous lowest seed was fourth—in 1986, and the team has advanced to the regional semis every season.
The Lady Vols have been a fixture atop the bracket since the first NCAA tournament in 1982. They’ve earned a top seed 19 times, a No. 2 seed four times and a No. 3 seed three times.
Not this time.
“For once in a long time, we’re not the top dog. We’re the underdog,” Summitt said. “They have nothing really to lose and everything to gain in laying it all on the line.”
They’ll play Ball State in their opener Sunday.
Duke’s a No. 1 seed for the third time in the past four seasons and potentially must beat No. 2 Stanford in the regional finals to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2006. The Blue Devils play Austin Peay in the first round at Michigan State—coach Joanne P. McCallie’s former school. She could meet up with the Spartans in the second round if they can beat Middle Tennessee State.
“I don’t know if that’s some drama by the committee,” McCallie said. “For us, it’s about us and what we want to accomplish and do. We finally have an opponent, and that’s our one concern, the one opponent we have.”
If all goes right, Duke could face former coach Gail Goestenkors and Texas in the regional finals.
In that same Berkeley regional Stanford will play UC Santa Barbara in the Cardinal’s opener. The Cardinal were a No. 2 seed last season and knocked off Maryland in the regional final before getting to the title game.
Despite having two players taken in the first round of the WNBA draft last season, the Terps earned their top seed in the Raleigh regional after winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament titles. Maryland (28-4), which won the national title in 2006, will face Ivy League champion Dartmouth on Sunday at home in the opening round.
Maryland is one of 12 teams that will be playing its opening round game on its own court or very close to home. The field went back to 16 first and second round sites for the first time since 2004, when it set an attendance record.
“We keep everything in mind with the economy and travel for teams,” women’s basketball committee chair Jacki Silar said. “One of our principles is to try to keep our teams as close to home as possible. This was no different from years past. The committee spends a great deal of time of aligning teams as close to their campuses as possible.”
Tournament newcomer South Dakota State will have a bit of a trip heading down to Lubbock, Texas, to face TCU in the first round. The other three teams at its site all hail from Texas. The Jackrabbits finished the season ranked 16th in the poll and earned a bid by winning the Summit League.
Whereas South Dakota State earned a tournament berth in its first year of eligibility, Oklahoma center Courtney Paris is feeling the pressure to produce.
The senior, who set an NCAA record with 112 straight double-doubles, has guaranteed she will pay back her scholarship if she doesn’t lead the Sooners to a title.
That path to the championship for the Sooners begins Sunday, when the No. 1 seed in the Oklahoma city regional opens against Southwestern champion Prairie View A&M in Iowa City. Oklahoma could face host Iowa in the second round if the Hawkeyes can beat Georgia Tech.
In the other half of the region, Auburn earned the second seed and will face Patriot League champion Lehigh, making its first appearance since 1997, in the opening round. The Tigers will travel up to Piscataway, N.J., where Rutgers faces tournament newcomer Virginia Commonwealth.
The Rams are one of four teams making their first appearance in the NCAAs. Joining them and South Dakota State are Ball State and Drexel.
Evansville became the seventh team with a losing record to make the field of 64 with its last-second upset victory over Creighton in the Missouri Valley title game Sunday. They’ll play No. 2 seed Texas A&M.
The Big East and Southeastern conferences put seven teams apiece into the tournament, and the ACC and Big 12 each had six.