In the final week of the regular season, every result resonates as the bubble pecking order continues to shuffle. There were more losers than winners this week, although every loss at this stage makes some other bubble team a winner.
This story appears in the April 20, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Connecticut's junior center Tina Charles had just concluded a postgame radio interview at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis when she raised her arms over her head and screamed, "Anything is possible!!" Wait, wasn't that the mantra of underdog Louisville, the team that Connecticut had just whipped 76-54 (RECAP | BOX) to secure the Huskies' third undefeated season and sixth national title? Shouldn't Charles have screamed, "Some things are inevitable?!!"
Hard as it might be to believe if you've watched undefeated Connecticut play this year, Husky senior point guard Renee Montgomery loves tight games.
Before the Elite Eight meeting with Missouri, UConn coach Jim Calhoun noted that the Huskies liked to get out and run, but doing that all game against the Tigers wouldn't be in the Huskies' best interest. Doing some more of that against Michigan State, though, may very well be in UConn's interest, as a sludgy, grinding, halfcourt game likely is what the Spartans would like to see.
Michigan State (30-6) vs. UConn (31-4) Saturday, 6:07 p.m. Ford Field (78,000)
There are players who are simply too weak to be recruited. They have skills. They have passion. They have the pedigree required of a major college basketball player. But there comes a moment when a coach like Villanova's Jay Wright closes his eyes and imagines the teenager thrust among the powerful athletes who populate the game and finds him lacking in a primal way. "There are some kids you look at," says Wright, "and you just can't see them surviving the physical pounding." And just like that, the page is turned; a bigger young man is chosen. And through natural selection, the game evolves
The women's NCAA tournament has already provided us with plenty of entertaining moments. From Ball State's first-round upset of Tennessee to Stanford star Jayne Appel's dominating performance in the regional finals. With the Final Four approaching, there are still opportunities for more. Here are four reasons you shouldn't miss the action in St. Louis.
We may all know -- or at least we think we know -- what the ultimate outcome will be: UConn hoisting the trophy. But whether or not Connecticut clinches another undefeated season and national championship, the women's NCAA tournament has been well worth watching this year.
GLENDALE, Ariz -- The night before Saturday's West Regional final, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun told freshman point guard Kemba Walker that he needed to "stop enjoying the trip and go out and play basketball." Translated from coach-speak, Calhoun meant that Walker needed to go from bit player to a headliner.
PHOENIX -- If Connecticut had what Huskies coach Jim Calhoun called a "normal center," Purdue might have had a chance of knocking off the top-seed in the West Regional on Thursday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
For Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, the first weekend of the NCAA tournament started with a trip to the hospital, where he was treated for dehydration. The second week started with a nationally televised news conference, where he tried to defend his program against alleged recruiting violations.
He is a senior without a ring, the most desperate of NCAA tournament players, driven one last time to punctuate his career with a net draped around his neck and confetti in the air. Four and a half years have passed since A.J. Price's life was interrupted. One day he was greatness in waiting; the next he was fighting for survival. As a freshman at Connecticut in the fall of 2004, he became gravely ill from a congenital abnormality in the blood vessels of his brain. He spent his 18th birthday in the intensive care unit of a Hartford hospital, disconnected from basketball in the most terrifying manner.
When the March to the Arch has finally played out a few weeks down the road, it probably won't matter all that much how the brackets in the women's 2009 NCAA championship were shaped. When you have a team as dominant as Connecticut sitting at the top of heap (as an ESPN graphic pointed out, the undefeated Huskies have beaten ranked teams by more than 31 points a game), it may seem like the next few weeks are just an exercise in determining who gets the honor of being crushed by UConn in the championship final.
The first wave of conference tournaments is behind us. Here's what we know so far:
Underrated: Washington I realize the Huskies are a four seed, but for a team that won the Pac-10 regular season outright and has been ranked in the top 15 the last few weeks, they are generating little buzz. Washington looked a little ragged at the start of the season because it was working in a freshman point guard, but Isaiah Thomas really blossomed during league play. His improvement has allowed Justin Dentmon to play off the ball, where he's more comfortable. Plus, the Huskies have one of the nation's best defensive rebounders in Jon Brockman.
Connecticut stayed No. 1 in women's basketball Monday while a week full of upsets reshuffled the rest of the Top 25.
LSU's streak of Top 25 appearances is over while Connecticut became a unanimous choice at No. 1.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Will Stanford get anything right this weekend?
In his 31 years as coach at Villanova, Harry Perretta has become adept at distinguishing the great Connecticut teams from the merely good. His analysis of the 2007-08 edition of the Huskies, the overall top seed in the tournament? "Extremely talented," he says. "The only difference I see between this team and the one that went undefeated with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi in 2002 [and is considered one of the greatest teams of all time] is inexperience."
The loss of another starter to injury may end up hurting Connecticut later in the season. For now, though, the Huskies will stay right where they've been for weeks. Even without Mel Thomas, the second starter to go down with a torn anterior ligament, the Huskies are hanging at No. 1.
They are the Athens and Sparta of women's college basketball, linked by championship pedigree (12 titles between them), Hall of Fame coaches and an annual game that has been the highlight of the regular season. Until now. For the first time since 1994, Connecticut and Tennessee won't meet during the regular season. "And I don't think they are ever going to play us," says Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "Unless somebody makes them play us, I just don't see it. I think in today's day and age, with everyone having a blog, an Internet site and chat rooms, there is a lot of misinformation out there."
With Mark Turgeon's hiring at Texas A&M on Tuesday, an eventful spring coaching carousel (particularly for Arkansas) appears to finally be slowing to a stop. Because so many high-profile programs have changed coaches -- and so many high-profile coaches changing jobs -- now seems as good time as any to survey the current coaching landscape in college basketball.
When Ed Lynch was 10 he crouched in a tree by the third hole at the Wethersfield (Conn.) Country Club to watch Arnold Palmer beat Ken Venturi in a playoff to win the 1956 Insurance City Open. It was the first of numerous victories for the future golf immortal.
A BIG UPSET
In an interview with SI a few weeks ago, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma sang the praises of his well-balanced, no-star team. "I like the fact that they don't look at anyone other than themselves to try to do it for them," he said. "For the whole season, I think that is a great way to go. But come tournament time, I still like the idea of having one person in the huddle that you know on any given night, on any given possession, can get you whatever you need. That would be my only concern going forward."
On Friday, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was asked about the challenges of playing against N.C. State, a senior-led team that was getting extra motivation from the valiant battle its coach, Kay Yow, was fighting against Stage 4 breast cancer. "Their season is going to end sometime," he said. "If not tomorrow, then Monday or next weekend."
Cinderella is alive. And she's a fox.
Dribbling to avoid the St. Michael's Academy (Manhattan, N.Y.) defenders and running around like her hair was on fire, Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) point guard Lorin Dixon was not about to watch the Royals' dynasty go up in flames.
You may have read recently that the ever-savvy NFL is attempting to trademark the phrase "The Big Game" in an effort to reap whatever remaining Super Bowl-related money in which they're not already swimming.
This year's Huskies may not be the most talented or experienced group Geno Auriemma has ever coached at Connecticut, but they do have a special gift: They make him laugh. "They say and do the dumbest stuff," he says. "Kids will forget to bring sneakers to a game or will come with one sneaker! It's goofy stuff that keeps everyone having fun and not taking it like it's the end of the world if we don't play well. And that's the way it can be around here: If you don't go to the Final Four, if you don't win a national championship, it wasn't that great a year."
Last March the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee drew the ire of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt by rewarding her 28-4 Lady Vols with a No. 2 seed and a trip to the stacked Cleveland Regional, where they eventually fell to top-seeded North Carolina. ("A slap in your face," Summitt told her players of their seeding.)
It could be some time before LSU players and fans get a definitive explanation as to why their head coach quit less than a week after the Tigers' appearance in the SEC championship game.
NEW YORK -- Eric Devendorf admits he's been a little nervous lately about his team's NCAA tournament status.
While reading through yet another brilliant article written by Pete Thamel in the New York Times, I was struck by a brief item that appeared in Pete's college basketball spotlight column on Sunday. The item contained a quote from Brown coach Craig Robinson (aka Barack Obama's brother-in-law) indicating a postseason tournament in the Ivy League may be in the offing. "It's closer than I would have ever imagined it," Robinson said.
Stanford junior guard Candice Wiggins doesn't know much about Willis Reed, the legendary New York Knick who limped into Game 7 of the 1970 NBA championship on a leg shot up with pain killers and inspired his teammates to a 113-99 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. But that's the player the 5-11 two-time All-America evoked in a game at Oregon State last Thursday.
I picked him up at the airport in Bangor, Maine, and I asked him, 'How many bags have you got?' He said he had four. I said, 'Good. That will take you only two trips to get it in the van.' And I walked off and left him. Let him make two trips carrying the bags by himself."
The 'Bag comes bearing apologies this weekend. Thanks to the Nor'easter that struck this week, our trip back from last weekend's soccer extravaganza in Italy turned into a 45-hour door-to-door saga that involved planes (three), trains (three more) and automobiles (two), to say nothing of patchy 'Bag beards and epic poor hygiene.
Five years ago Gillian Goring was one of the most sought-after women's basketball recruits in the country. A 6-foot-7 center with rare agility and an array of post moves, she could run the floor, shoot the three and catch any pass that came anywhere close to her. Some compared her to Lisa Leslie or Dikembe Mutombo, while Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who desperately wanted to sign her, called her "the female Olajuwon." The coach who did get her signature could pencil in double-doubles most nights, All-America awards every year and three or four national titles.
Sometimes, you just have to cherish the little victories.
Courtney Paris or Candace Parker. Nothing seemed to prompt more arguments last season than the debate of who was the best freshman in women's college basketball.
This week marks the midway point of conference play, when college hoops heads into the final turn toward March. Here are seven pressing questions facing the field.
Happy New Year, Hoopheads. As we all know, the new year signifies a new season in college hoops as conference play finally gets underway. That means teams are going to have to board real buses and airplanes to play real games against real teams.
Each week SI.com will select the athlete who displays excellence on and off the field as the Primetime Performer.
Posted: 12:13 a.m. ET From Todd Leopold, CNN.com
On the freshly groomed Har-Tru courts of the Saddlebrook Golf and Tennis ! Resort near Tampa, Florida, 64 players from Seattle to St. Petersburg met on a steamy October weekend to decide the Lipton...
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