Brittney Griner and Baylor’s path to a second straight national championship will have a familiar feel.
Then again, so will the whole NCAA women’s basketball tournament. For the first time ever, the top four seeds are the same for consecutive seasons. Baylor, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Stanford all earned No. 1 spots when the field was announced Monday night.
Unlike the men’s side, where it was a topsy-turvy season with major upsets seemingly every week, women’s basketball hasn’t seen the same parity. The top six teams in the final Associated Press poll only had two losses outside of each other, the fewest by far since writers began voting for the AP’s No. 1 in the 1994-95 season.
The women’s basketball madness gets started Saturday – the first step en route to the Final Four, which begins April 7 in New Orleans.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey hopes to make it to her home state with her Lady Bears, who will be trying to become the fourth different school to win consecutive national championships, joining Southern California, UConn, and Tennessee.
Standing in the way could be Tennessee. The Lady Vols, who have made every NCAA tournament since it began in 1982, are the No. 2 seed in Baylor’s region. This will be the first time that coach Pat Summitt won’t be on the sidelines. Summitt stepped down after last season because she had been afflicted with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Longtime assistant Holly Warlick took over this season and guided the Lady Vols to a SEC regular-season title.
Stanford will try and reach the Final Four for a sixth straight season and end Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer’s 21-year drought without a national title.
Led by junior star Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford may already have the most impressive win this season, ending Baylor’s 42-game winning streak in November. That’s the only loss that the defending national champion Lady Bears suffered this season.
Notre Dame will be trying to make it back to a third straight national championship game. The Irish, led by senior guard Skylar Diggins, have already had an incredible season losing only to top-ranked Baylor.
Unlike the other three No. 1 seeds, who are playing at home, the Irish will open up on the road against Tennessee-Martin. Potentially they could face host Iowa in the second round.
To get to a third straight title game the Irish will likely have to beat UConn again. The Huskies have lost four of their five games against the other top seeds.