NCAA Tournament 2001 - Injuries don't deter UConn, Tennessee

Injuries don't deter UConn, Tennessee

Associated Press

As the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA women's basketball tournament, Tennessee, in theory, should have the easiest draw.

Svetlana Abrosimova
A torn ligament in her left foot will keep Svetlana Abrosimova out of Connecticut's lineup.

Of course, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt knows how much theory means in March.

Absolutely nothing.

"There's no easy brackets," Summitt said. "I think that women's basketball, if you watched it this year, you know there's very few easy games. I don't think you can afford to say, 'Hey, this is an easy bracket or an easy road.' "

That road starts with first-round games at campus sites Friday and Saturday, and ends with the national championship game in St. Louis on April 1.

Tennessee, seeded No. 1 in the Mideast, will begin pursuit if its seventh national championship without Tamika Catchings, twice a first-team All-American. Catchings has been out since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee Jan. 15.

But the Volunteers' loss was just half that of defending national champion Connecticut, the top-seeded team in the East. The Huskies are missing two first-team All-Americans from last season, Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph.

Abrosimova has been out since Feb. 1 with a torn ligament in her left foot. Ralph blew out the ACL in her left knee in UConn's victory over Notre Dame in the championship game of the Big East tournament.

"All we've been preaching is just go out and play like you normally play," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, whose team has been unbeaten since Abrosimova got hurt. "But everything's got to be done exactly right. We're walking a tightrope. Before we had a little bit of a safety net. Now, look out below."

Notre Dame was made the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and Duke tops the bracket in the West.

In ranking the No. 1 seeds, the selection committee had Tennessee first, Notre Dame second, Connecticut third and Duke fourth. Duke edged Georgia for the final No. 1 spot.

"Those No. 1 seeds need to be ready to play, because there are good teams right under them and they are going to come right at them," said Maryalyce Jeremiah, who chairs the selection committee,

Tennessee's bracket includes Texas Tech, the team the Vols beat in the regional final last year, as the No. 2 seed. Tech finished second in the Big 12 and lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

Purdue is the No. 3 seed. The Boilermakers won the Big Ten regular-season title but lost to Iowa in the finals of the conference tournament. At No. 4 is Xavier, which has won just one NCAA tournament game in its history.

The Big 12 is sending seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. A look at how the bracket breaks down:
  • The SEC and ACC each are sending six teams apiece.
  • Five teams from each of the Big Ten and Big East qualified.
  • Ten teams will make their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
  • The tournament field included two teams with sub-.500 conference records.
  • "I see a lot of people in that bracket that I think have the potential to beat Tennessee if Tennessee doesn't take care of what we need to do and play strong for 40 minutes," Summitt said.

    Connecticut has Georgia, winner of the Southeastern Conference tournament, as the No. 2 in its region and Louisiana Tech, with 10 Final Four appearances, at No. 3.

    Notre Dame could end up facing second-seeded Iowa State and its band of 3-point shooters. Duke's challengers include Big 12 regular-season champ Oklahoma at No. 2, a quick, talented Florida team at No. 3 and Rutgers with its suffocating defense at No. 4.

    "Even though there are those four No. 1 seeds out there, there are more than four teams that could win the national championship," Jeremiah said. "If everything we did in seeding this tournament comes out as seeded, it's going to surprise everybody in this room."

    Tennessee got the top seed overall despite losing to Vanderbilt in the semifinals of the SEC tournament. The Vols won the regular-season title with a 14-0 record. After Catchings went down, they won their next 13 games.

    "I have to say their loss in the conference tournament helped Vanderbilt more than it hurt Tennessee," said Jeremiah, the senior associate athletic director at California State-Fullerton. "A lot of credit needs to go to those teams that go out week after week and win their conference."

    Jeremiah said the late injury to Ralph, the most valuable player of the Final Four last season, did not affect Connecticut's seeding. Though not as gifted athletically as Abrosimova, Ralph was UConn's emotional engine and usually set the tone for the Huskies with her gritty, determined play.

    "I think UConn showed they didn't deserve to be moved," Jeremiah said. "They played without her and won without her, and I'm sure they'll win again. They're that good of a team."

    Duke got the edge over Georgia as No. 1 seed because it won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament championship. Though Georgia won the SEC tournament, the Bulldogs finished three games behind Tennessee in the regular season.

    "I'm actually disappointed," Georgia guard Coco Miller said. "I kind of felt like we had played a tough schedule and had some good wins. After winning the SEC tournament, I definitely thought we deserved a No. 1 seed."

    Then again, the Bulldogs -- or anyone else -- can make the seedings moot. All they have to do is win the national championship.

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