NCAA women's notebook

As for Stanford, seeing has been believing

Associated Press / March 19, 2011

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UC Davis seniors Heidi Heintz and Paige Mintun were in the stands cheering for Stanford against Connecticut back in December. They scored a couple of tickets and made the two-hour trek to Stanford, Calif., to witness what was deemed the matchup of the season.

Now, Heintz and Mintun have to try to slow down the very team they watched dismantle Maya Moore and Co. that night.

“It was pretty unreal. They just locked down Maya Moore . . . what chance do we have?’’ Heintz said with a smile yesterday, a day before UC Davis makes its NCAA Tournament debut against the favored Cardinal on Stanford’s home floor.

Top-seeded Stanford has the remarkable winning streak at Maples Pavilion, the marquee victory over mighty UConn and the pedigree that comes with being a perennial national powerhouse with Final Four experience.

So, do the three other teams playing here in the coming days even stand a chance? Stanford, riding a 61-game home winning streak with 23 consecutive victories overall, begins its quest to reach a fourth straight Final Four with today’s game against UC Davis and retiring Aggies coach Sandy Simpson.

Don’t count on the Cardinal (29-2) looking past anybody — not with the history they made against Harvard in 1998. That year, Stanford earned a top seed and lost to the 16th-seeded Crimson, becoming the only team ever in the men’s or women’s tournament to lose to the lowest seed.

It still comes up on occasion.

This Stanford team won’t stand for just getting back to the Final Four. After losing in the championship game in 2008 and again last year, winning the program’s first title since 1992 is what the players care about.

Rooting interest Pat Summitt and Tennessee have long been a fixture in the NCAA Tournament. Now her alma mater is joining in for the first time.

Tennessee-Martin is the No. 15 seed in the Philadelphia Regional and plays Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium in today’s first round. It’s the tournament debut for a program that starts four freshmen and plays on a court bearing the Hall of Famer’s name.

“It’s kind of the beginning tradition of women’s basketball when you talk about what Coach Summitt has meant to the game and the people around UTM that are still there that were factors in influencing her career,’’ second-year coach Kevin McMillan said. “We just feel like it’s neat that we’re getting publicity in that group.’’

Summitt is the program’s No. 4 all-time scorer (1,405 points). ESPN showed a photo of Summitt from her playing days — wearing short shorts and Chuck Taylors — during Monday’s selection show that had her current players howling with laughter.

“Obviously I was very, very proud,’’ Summitt said this week. “I’m just so excited. UT Martin was the best place for me.’’

Bucking a trend? No team has been as up and down as Ohio State going into its first-round game today against Central Florida at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

The Buckeyes soared to No. 6 in the rankings by winning their first seven games, then lost 9 of 14.

Just when it appeared they would miss the NCAAs for the first time in coach Jim Foster’s nine seasons, they regrouped to win their last nine games, capture the Big Ten tournament title, and grab a No. 4 seed.

“It was in the past, but you never forget where we were to where we are now,’’ point guard Samantha Prahalis said of the swoon. “I just use that as motivation. People bring it up and it’s something that happened. It’s just something that we had to overcome as a team.’’

Green team Notre Dame players and female coaches will be easy to spot off the court as well as on it. Since 1997, it’s been a Fighting Irish tradition to wear green nail polish throughout the NCAAs.

The Irish scored a second-round win on St. Patrick’s Day at Texas that year and went on to their first Final Four. As a show of solidarity, the male members of the travel party usually paint their left pinkie green, and some (including associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis) have even gone so far as to shave their heads for the tournament.

Notre Dame is a No. 2 seed facing No. 15 Utah tonight in the first round of the Dayton Regional in Salt Lake City.