There are those who believe there really isn’t much in the way of drama or surprise in the NCAA women’s tournament each year, as the same heavy-hitters get the same high seeds and trample their way through the brackets toward the Final Four.
And with top-ranked and unbeaten Tennessee entering this year’s tournament as a heavy favorite to capture its third consecutive title, the suspense may already be gone from this year’s march to Kansas City, Mo., the site of the national semifinals.
But just in case the mighty Vols fall, here’s a look at the regions:
Player to watch: Svetlana Abrosimova, UConn. With Nykesha Sales out for the tournament, Abrosimova, a 6-foot-1 freshman swing player, is going to have to shoulder an enormous load if the Huskies are to get past Old Dominion to the Final Four.
Surprise team: Six years ago, in head coach Joan Bonvicini’s first season, Arizona lost 19 games. The Wildcats narrowly missed a bid two years ago, and cracked the field for the first time last season. This year, behind Bonvicini, who led Long Beach State to the Final Four, and the play of senior forward Adia Barnes, one of only six Pacific-10 players to score more than 2,000 points, watch out for Arizona.
Outlook: Three weeks ago, the Huskies looked like overwhelming favorites to take on Tennessee for the title. Now, without Sales, UConn could be gone before the regional finals. Old Dominion, with two solid seniors, point guard Ticha Penichei ro and center Nyree Roberts and Final Four experience, looks to be the class of the region.
Player to watch: Kristin Folkl, Stanford. The Cardinal have won 15 straight, largely after Folkl, a 6-4 junior, reported from volleyball. Folkl gives Stanford’s front line athleticism as well as a badly needed inside presence.
Surprise team: Florida was two points away from the Final Four last year, losing to Old Dominion in the Mideast Regional final and the Gators are a veteran bunch with a power player, senior Murriel Page, who led the nation in rebounding. In a region top-loaded with finesse teams, the Gators could muscle through.
Outlook: Stanford will have a near home-court advantage at the regionals in Oakland, but a knee injury to forward Vanessa Nygaard could sap the Cardinal some.
Duke is superbly coached, by Gail Goestenkors, and has good balance, but its front-liners, juniors Michele Van Gorp and Peyton Black, must play with some intensity.
Look for the Cardinal to emerge.
Player to watch: Alabama’s Dominique Canty is one of the best guards in the country. She was at the forefront of two near upsets of Tennessee and is eminently capable of taking over a game.
Surprise team: One of these years, people will recognize just how good a coach Clemson’s Jim Davis is. The Tigers probably will have to knock off a big-time opponent on the road for that to happen, and this could be the year. Clemson could push through to the Sweet 16, but it will have to get through Louisiana Tech to do it.
Outlook: This is the toughest of the four regions.
Texas Tech, by virtue of hosting the regional and not having to leave Lubbock to earn a berth in K.C., is a slight favorite, but Alabama, Louisiana Tech or Clemson could emerge.
Player to watch: Next to Tennessee’s Chamique Holdsclaw, senior power forward Tracy Reid of North Carolina is the nation’s best player.
At 5-10, Reid is a terrific blend of power, speed and athleticism, typically outplaying opponents 5 to 6 inches taller.
Surprise team: Rutgers regained national prominence with a stunning upset of Connecticut before Sales got hurt and won’t be intimidated.
Freshman center Tammy SuttonBrown, a Canadian, is one of the next great pivot players and with her Knights could find themselves in the regionals.
Outlook: North Carolina might be the only team in the country that can match Tennessee’s athleticism, and Reid could exploit the Vols’ hole at center, but the Tar Heels can be undisciplined at times, and those are the moments Tennessee lives for. Vols should waltz into Final Four.