Saturday, April 02, 2005

SEC powers Tennessee, LSU headline Women's Final Four

INDIANAPOLIS - A possible rubber match between Southeastern Conference heavyweights Louisiana State and Tennessee could cap the women's college basketball season. Michigan State and Baylor will have plenty to say about that.

LSU (33-2) entered the NCAA Tournament as the overall top seed and advanced to its second straight Final Four with a 59-49 victory over Duke in the Chattanooga Region final. The Tigers face Baylor (31-3) in the first national semifinal on Sunday.

Tennessee (30-4), which has won six national championships under coach Pat Summitt, meets Michigan State (32-3) in the second semifinal.

LSU won a regular season meeting with the Bears, 71-70, on November 14 after leading by 19 points at halftime. It was LSU's third game of the season and Baylor's first and was played on a neutral floor in Austin, Texas.

Much has changed since that earlier encounter as Baylor blossomed into one of the strongest teams in the nation under coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson and LSU posted a sterling 27-1 regular-season record.

What has not changed is the play of LSU's Seimone Augustus and how Baylor defends her, which will be a key to the game.

"There are very few girls in the game as you watch it that have the ability to elevate and shoot it right in your face. Seimone Augustus is that type of player," Mulkey-Robertson said. "I said it when we played them back in November, that she's the best player in the game today and my mind has not changed."

The region's outstanding player, Augustus is averaging 23.0 points and five rebounds in the Tournament and helped the Tigers overcome a 12-point deficit against Duke with 24 points. Look for Baylor sophomore defensive stopper Abiola Wabara to draw the assignment of guarding the outstanding junior.

"For us it's going to take a tremendous defensive effort if we are to be victorious," LSU coach Pokey Chatman said. "And I go back to our previous outing with Duke. It was nice to see our kids go down by 12 and not panic and hang their hats on the defensive end of the floor and go to work on the boards and lead us to a victory."

While the Tigers are in the Final Four for the second straight year, the Bears are in uncharted territory. Baylor, which never made the NCAA Tournament prior to Mulkey-Robertson's arrival in 2000, defeated No. 1 seed North Carolina in the Tempe Region final to earn the school's first Final Four berth.

Tennessee is the polar opposite of Baylor, making its 16th Final Four visit and fourth in a row. The Lady Vols avenged a regular-season loss with a 59-49 victory over Rutgers in the Philadelphia Region final. Summitt passed North Carolina's Dean Smith for all-time coaching wins with 880 in a 75-54 second-round victory over Purdue.

With all of its success, Tennessee is in search of its first title in six years and will have to get by a Final Four newcomer.

"We are all very excited to be back at the Final Four," Summitt said. "For our senior class for this to be their forth trip, I think that speaks to the impact that they have had on our program."

The Spartans beat Stanford, 76-69 in the Kansas City region final. The Cardinal ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in both polls.

Michigan State should match up well with Tennessee. The Spartans have played 18 of their 35 games against NCAA Tournament teams and four starters averaging in double figures.

"We have played some great teams and we have been able to get better and move on, which is a lot of fun," Michigan State coach Joanne McCallie said. "And we are definitely looking forward to the opportunity tomorrow night. Again, another great team."

Forward Liz Shimek (15.0 points) and Kelli Roehrig (13.5) anchor the post for the Spartans while Lindsay Bowen (13.5) and Kristin Haynie (10.8) provide perimeter scoring.

"We have played great teams this season. We have played a great schedule and we're ready," Haynie said. "It's definitely a fun experience. It's every kid's dream to make it to the Final Four and it's just been a lot of fun."

The winners meet Tuesday for the national championship.

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