A Distaff Juggernaut
The Virginia and North Carolina State women's teams couldn't match the drama of their meeting earlier this season, but the top-ranked Cavaliers didn't mind. Virginia, which had edged the Wolfpack 123-120 in triple overtime on the road in January, completed a sweep of N.C. State with a 95-78 win at home last Saturday.
Cavalier guard Dawn Staley, who had a triple double in the first game, repeated the feat with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists to help Virginia break the game open in the second half. The Cavaliers completed regular-season play with a 26-1 overall record and a 14-0 conference mark and have been out of the top spot in the rankings for only one week, after a 73-71 loss to Penn State on Jan. 3.
North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell goes so far as to call the Cavaliers "pretty close" to being a women's version of UNLV. " Virginia would have to have a really bad game to get beat now," says Hatchell. "They're blowing out everybody. They are as good a women's college team as I've ever seen."
How much difficulty Virginia has reaching the Final Four in New Orleans will depend largely on where the selection committee places teams. Most of the ones with a chance to upset the Cavaliers-Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn and Penn State—are in the East. So the Cavs could be the top seed in a very tough regional.
Still, the Cavaliers' record makes "How do you beat Virginia?" the overriding question of the tournament. "And they only lose [senior forward] Tonya Cardoza," says N.C. State coach Kay Yow. "We've got to go through this again next year."
The Big Party B-List
Last week was a weird one for several of the so-called bubble teams—most notably Cincinnati, Vanderbilt and Iowa. They all pulled off upsets that solidified their chances for NCAA tournament bids, then turned around and lost in upsets.
On Feb. 20, Cincinnati beat No. 11 Southern Mississippi for the second time this season, 86-72, and Vanderbilt upset No. 12 Kentucky 98-87. The biggest surprise, though, came the following night when Iowa knocked off fourth-ranked Indiana 80-79 in overtime in Bloomington.
Iowa appeared to have an invitation locked up after defeating the Hoosiers, but the Hawkeyes then lost 79-74 at home to Illinois to fall to 18-9. After their big wins, Vanderbilt and Cincinnati lost to Mississippi (74-58) and Tulane (70-59), respectively, on Saturday. At week's end, the Commodores were 16-10 and the Bearcats were 16-9. "I would think that by twice beating a team that's been in the Top 10 and after playing everybody else tough, it puts us in great shape [to make the tournament]," says Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins.