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LSU joins ACC trio in semis

BOSTON – The 2006 NCAA women’s Division I Final Four would be historic simply for its number. This is the 25th year of the basketball tournament.

But there’s more to it than an anniversary celebration.

Start with who’s not here – no Connecticut or Tennessee in the Final Four for the first time since 1999, and only the second time in 12 years.

Then consider who is here: North Carolina (33-1) and Maryland (32-4) in tonight’s first semifinal, Duke (30-3) vs. Louisiana State (31-3) in the second game.

North Carolina, Maryland and Duke come out of the Atlantic Coast Conference – the first time in women’s basketball that one conference has had three teams in the semifinals.

“It’s interesting how all three teams got here, but I’m not surprised at all,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “That’s just how good our conference is. It may be even better next year.”

LSU, from the Southeastern Conference, is making its third consecutive Final Four appearance and is led by senior guard Seimone Augustus.

“We’ve been asked a lot of questions about this being the third trip and, no, it does not diminish it,” LSU coach Pokey Chatman said.

But even with the experience of three straight Final Fours, Chatman said her team was not in a comfort zone. “I think it’s tremendous that a conference could put three schools in this event. That’s just a compliment to Duke, Maryland and North Carolina.”

Unlike the men’s tournament, the woman’s brackets largely held to form. North Carolina, Duke and Louisiana State were top-seeded in the Cleveland, Bridgeport and San Antonio regionals. Maryland, which won the Albuquerque Regional, was seeded second.

So Maryland is the closest thing to a party crasher. In fact, the Terrapins may be a year ahead of schedule. Five of their six leading scorers are freshmen and sophomores.

But don’t call them George Mason, the surprising team of the men’s tournament.

“We think that not only we’re not underdogs, but we should have gotten a No. 1 (seeding),” Maryland junior guard Shay Doron said. Added sophomore forward/center Crystal Langhorne, the Terps’ leading scorer at 17.2 points: “I think actually nobody thought that George Mason would have made it to the Sweet 16, and we were expected to go further. So I think we’re a little bit different.”

The one thing that ties all four teams together is that they all run. North Carolina, Duke and Maryland thrive at a breakneck pace, in part because that is the ACC style.

LSU is more selective about when it runs, but it’s still one of the best teams in transition from offense to defense.