The women's NCAA tournament may have reached a familiar endgame in New Orleans on Tuesday with Connecticut meeting Tennessee in the final, for the fourth time. (The game was played after SI went to press.) But along the way it provided a national stage for two budding stars from Sunday's losing semifinalists: Seimone Augustus of LSU (beaten by the Lady Vols 52-50) and Janel McCarville of Minnesota (eliminated by the Huskies 67-58).
Although Augustus struggled against Tennessee, scoring 16 points on 7-for-21 shooting, LSU's 6'1" sophomore guard was arguably the best player in the first two weekends of the tournament, averaging 26.3 points on 66% shooting, including 29 in each of two wins over West Regional top-seed Texas and No. 3-seed Georgia. The rare female player who can elevate, penetrate, post up, pirouette, get off a shot at will—and make a football-obsessed school mad for women's hoops—Augustus is living up to the hype that attended her signing with her hometown Lady Tigers two years ago.
McCarville, a 6'2" junior post player whom Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma called "one of the toughest kids in America," demonstrated the soft hands, deft passing skill and dominating presence that make her the closest thing to a Shaquille O'Neal that the women's game has produced. Averaging 19.4 points and 15 rebounds in the tournament, McCarville was the perfect complement to teammate and fellow Kodak All-America, guard Lindsay Whalen, whose breathtaking passes and contortionist penetration, alas, reached a national audience only at the end of a brilliant four-year career.
Weep not for UConn and Tennessee. The Huskies will lose star Diana Taurasi, but three other starters return, and two 2004 McDonald's All-Americans, including heralded 6'2" forward Charde Houston from San Diego, plan to matriculate at Storrs. Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, meanwhile, amassed one of her best recruiting classes, snagging five McDonald's All-Americans, including 6'3" forward Candace Parker, the national high school player of the year, from Naperville, Ill. But the performances of Augustus and McCarville put UConn and Tennessee on notice that another appearance in the championship game is far from a lock.