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2014 women’s NCAA tournament: Battle for the No. 1 seeds

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No. 1 Connecticut Huskies became the second women’s basketball team to secure a number one seed for the upcoming NCAA tournament with its 68-48 victory over No. 3 Louisville Cardinals on March 3. With the victory, the Huskies (31-0) finished their seventh regular season undefeated.

No. 2 Notre Dame is the only other team to secure a number one seed thus far.

The Fighting Irish (29-0, 16-0) wrapped up an unbeaten regular season with a 84-60 victory over North Carolina State on March 2. Notre Dame is the first ACC team to finish its regular season undefeated in six years.

While Notre Dame secured their spot as a No. 1 seed on Sunday, Duke and South Carolina saw their chances take a slight hit with losses. The No. 7 Blue Devils fell to No. 14 North Carolina (64-60) for the second time this season while the No. 4 Gamecocks suffered their third loss of the season with a 73-61 loss at No. 10 Tennessee.

No. 3 Louisville (28-2),No. 5 Stanford (28-2), No. 6 Tennessee (23-5) are also in contention for a number one seed. Connecticut (17-0 AAC) will travel to Louisville (16-1 AAC) on March 3, with the American Athletic Conference regular season title on the line. The Huskies have already clinched a share of the conference title.

This article will look at the six teams that will likely receive one of the four number one seeds. No. 10 Duke (25-5) and No. 9 Baylor (25-4), which lost to No. 7 West Virginia on March 2, were in contention for a top seed prior to their recent losses.

Connecticut Huskies

Breanna Stewart scored 22 points and grabbed 14 points to help the Huskies secure the first ever American Athletic Conference regular season crown with their 68-48 victory over Louisville. After falling behind 7-0, two minutes into the game, UConn scored 21-of-the next-34 points over the subsequent 5:30 to take their first lead of the game (21-20). Then following a pair of free throws by Louisville’s Sara Hammond to put the Cards back ahead 22-21, Bria Hartley found Stefanie Dolson for a layup to put the Huskies up for good.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis also produced a double-double – 13 points and 10 caroms – while Bria Hartley (14) and Moriah Jefferson also reached double-figures.

UConn , which has been ravaged with injuries this season, is ranked third in the RPI and has the 38th hardest schedule. Not only are the Huskies undefeated, they have 16 victories on the road and two neutral sites wins over some stiff competition. UConn has won 37 straight games.

UConn is 7-0 vs. RPI Top- 25 teams and 17-0 vs. top-100 RPI teams.

The Huskies also have road victories at No. 10 Duke, No. 11 Penn State, at No. 8 Maryland and at No. 9 Baylor. The Huskies also have defeated No. 20 California at a neutral site and Louisville at home.

UConn is the top defensive team in country (47.0 ppg) and fifth in the country in scoring (84.3). The Huskies have won each game by double figures and have only had five games decided by fewer than 20 points.

Stewart, the MOP of the Final Four last year, leads the team with 19.4 points a game and is second on the squad with 8.1 boards. She is shooting 50.2 percent from the floor and 37.1 percent from the the three-point line.

Hartley (16.6 pppg, 130 assists), Dolson (12.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Mosqueda-Lewis (12.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Moriah Jefferson (10.1 ppg, 160 assists) also are averaging double-figures.

Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish, who were expected to slip back this season , won the ACC regular season title in their inaugural year in the conference. Notre Dame is one win away from tying the school record for most victories.

With the No. 1 RPI in the country and the sixth toughest schedule, the Fighting Irish are hands on favorites for the overall number one seed in the tournament.

Notre Dame has 13 road victories and is 1-0 at neutral sites. The Fighting Irish have road wins at Duke, North Carolina, Penn State, Tennessee and Maryland.

Notre Dame is 8-0 vs. RPI-top 25 teams , 16-0 vs. RPI-top 50 teams and 21-0 vs. RPI-top 100 teams.

The Fighting Irish average 87.5 points a game and surrender 61.9 points.

Notre Dame has three players scoring in double-figures — Jewell Loyd (18.4), Kayla McBride (17.7) and Natalie Achonwa (14.7). Additionally, Michaela Mabrey averages 9.0 points, Taya Reimer 8.0 and Lindsay Allen 6.9.

Notre Dame, the ACC number one seed, will play winner of No. 8 seed Miami (16-13, 8-8) and No. 9 Florida State (19-10, 7-9) on March 7.

Stanford

The Cardinal’s won the Pac-12 regular season title for the sixth consecutive year. Stanford has won six straight and will now face either UCLA/Colorado in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.

Stanford is No. 2 in the RPI, behind Notre Dame and ahead of UConn, and has the 12th hardest schedule. The Cardinal’s are 11-2 on the road, with losses coming at Connecticut (76-59) and at Washington (87-82), and 3-0 at a neutral location.

Stanford is 5-1 vs. RPI-top 25 teams with best wins coming against Tennessee and Purdue. The Cardinal’s are 9-1 vs.-top 50 and 18-2 vs. RPI-top 100. Stanford has only played one team with a 200 or higher RPI.

Stanford is 27th in the nation in scoring with 78.2 points a game and 42nd in the nation in defense surrendering 59.9 points a game.

Chiney Ogwumike, who was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year for the second consecutive on March 4, led the Cardinal with 27.0 points and 12.2 rebounds a game. She shot 62.2 percent from the field, blocked 54 shots and produced 22 double-doubles this season. Ogwumike was also named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of Year for the third consecutive season.

Mikaela Ruef (6.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 94 assists) and Amber Orange (10.1 ppg, 140 assists) along with freshmen Lili Thompson and Karlie Samuelson where also recognized by the conference. Tara VanDerveer, who became the fifth women’s basketball coach to reach 900 victories, was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year for the fourth consecutive season.

South Carolina

The Gamecocks won their first ever SEC crown with a 14-2 conference record despite losing their final game against No. 7 Tennessee (73-61) on March 2.

South Carolina is sixth in RPI and 32 in strength o f schedule. The Gamecocks are 10-2 on the road, with losses coming at Tennessee and at Texas A&M (67-65 OT), and 0-1 on a neutral court with the loss coming against North Carolina.

The Gamecocks are 3-3 vs. RPI –top 25 teams and 15-3 vs. RPI-top top-100 teams. South Carolina has played five teams against teams with a 200 or higher RPI. The Gamecocks best wins are over Kentucky (two) and at LSU.

South Carolina is fifth in the nation in defense surrendering 54.8 points a game.

Tiffany Mitchell (15.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 100 assists), Aleighsa Welch (13.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 40 blks), Alaina Coates (12.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 55 blks) and Elem Ibiam (9.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 74 blks) were honored by the SEC conference on March 4. Mitchell was named the conference’s Player of the Year while Coates was selected as the conference’s Freshman of the Year and co-Sixth women Player of the Year. Dawn Staley was named Coach of the Year by conference coaches.

South Carolina has won 10-of-past 11 games and will play either Auburn/LSU in the SEC quarterfinals on March 7.

Tennessee

The Lady Vols are still in contention for a number one seed, thanks to their regular season ending victory over South Carolina. The Lady Vols have won four straight games.

Tennessee is fifth in the RPI rankings and has the fourth toughest schedule. The Lady Vols are 6-4against RPI-top 25 teams and 18-5 vs. RPI-top 100 teams. Tennessee has played four teams with an RPI higher than 200.

The Lady Vols are 9-2 on the road -- with losses coming against Stanford and Vanderbilt -- and 2-0 at neutral locations. Tennessee’s best wins are over Texas A&M, at North Carolina, at Middle Tennessee St., at LSU and home against South Carolina.

Meighan Simmons (16.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg and 72 assists), Isabelle Harrison (13.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and Ariel Massengale (12.5 ppg, 110 assists) lead the Lady Vols, who will play either Vanderbilt or Alabama on March 7 in the quarterfinals of the SEC on March 7. Simmons and Harrison were named to the All-SEC first team.

Louisville

The Cardinals are 18-2 in their last 20 games with both losses coming against Connecticut. Louisville will play either Memphis or Houston in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament.

The Cardinals, who are 11-2 on the road, have an RPI of seven and strength of schedule of 69. Louisville is 1-3 vs. RPI-top 25 teams with the losses coming against UConn and Kentucky. The Cardinals’ lone top-25 victory is over LSU.

Louisville is also 5-3 vs. RPI-top-50 teams and 12-3 vs. RPI-top 100 teams. The Cardinals have played five teams with a RPI of 200 or higher.

Louisville, led by Shoni Schimmel, is 17th in the nation in scoring with 81.1 points a game and 43rd in the nation defensively (60.0 ppg).

Schimmel leads the Cardinals in scoring with 17.2 points, grabs 4.4 rebounds a game and has 116 dimes. Sara Hammond (11-3 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Asia Taylor (11.1 ppg ,7.3 rpg) also average double figures.

Teams with an outside chance for a number one seed

West Virginia (27-3). The Mountaineers are co-Big 12 regular season champions and have won 10 games in a row. West Virginia is 11-1 on the road with their best win coming against Baylor. The Mountaineers have an RPI of 13 and strength of schedule of 72. They are just 1-2 vs. RPI-top-25 teams.

Duke (24-5). The Blue Devils chances of a number one seed took a serious hit with their loss to North Carolina on March 2. Duke is just 4-4 in their last eight games. The Blue Devils do have the forth best RPI and third toughest schedule. Duke is 6-5 vs. RPI-top 25 teams, with three of those losses coming against UConn and Notre Dame (2).

Predictions: Connecticut and Notre Dame are in but they will battle for the top-seed overall. If both teams win their respective tournaments, Notre Dame deserves the top overall seed , though it is probably a 50/50 chance that UConn will get it if both are undefeated or both have one loss.

Stanford probably needs to get to the Pac-12 tournament championship to secure a bid while the fourth number one seed will go to Tennessee, South Carolina or Louisville. The Lady Vols have a slight edge but South Carolina will get the last top spot if they win the SEC Tournament. Louisville will need to at least get to the American Athletic Conference title game in order to stay a viable candidate for the number one seed. The Cardinals will likely have to win their conference tournament and have both South Carolina and Tennessee not win the SEC tournament.

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