Stars will be on displays as Sweet 16 opens
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — There will be plenty of star power and Pac-12 teams on display when the women’s Sweet 16 tips off on Friday night with four games.
Napheesa Collier and UConn will get things started when they face UCLA. The Bruins crashed the Albany Regional by upsetting third-seed Maryland. With the school on spring break, coach Cori Close decided to keep the team on the East Coast after the victory in College Park. It just didn’t make sense to fly all the way home, only to turn around.
Asia Durr and Louisville play the second game in New York, facing Oregon State. The Bruins and Beavers are two of five Pac-12 teams still in the tournament. All the coaches in the conference are rooting for each other.
“What I really like is I know genuinely we all care about each other’s programs, and we’re pulling for each other,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “The first text I got after we won our last game was from coach (Tara) VanDerveer. She’s always championing the league. That always means a lot.”
The Ducks, led by NCAA triple-double career record holder Sabrina Ionescu, will face South Dakota State. It’s the first time the Jackrabbits, who have won 18 straight games, have made the Sweet 16. Mississippi State and star center Teaira McCowan will face Arizona State in the final game of the night.
Here are some other tidbits from Friday’s games:
ROCKY TOP SPECULATION: While his name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Holly Warlick at Tennessee, Jeff Walz suggested a different person for the open position — Geno Auriemma.
“I think Geno would be a wonderful candidate for that position that is open,” Walz said jokingly.
Walz then got more serious saying that “I’m the head coach at the University of Louisville. I’ve loved it, enjoy it, it’s been great. So now I’ll start talking about our team so we can focus on that.”
Hours earlier, Auriemma had opened his press conference saying that he “Just want to let everyone know that I’m still the coach at UConn, and I intend to be the coach at UConn next year in case anybody had any questions about that.”
Auriemma later said he felt bad for Warlick, who was a longtime Tennessee assistant before moving into the head-coaching role in 2012 after Pat Summitt stepped aside because of early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
“It wasn’t easy from day one to do that job,” Auriemma said. “And then, you know, you add the pressures of what’s expected at a place like Tennessee. And the fact that everybody else has gotten better, and it’s much more difficult to recruit the same players that were being recruited back then. And you add it all up, and it’s not easy.
“So Holly was in a very difficult position from the minute she took the job. I feel terrible for her. Every school is entitled to have their own coach, obviously, and Tennessee is entitled to have whoever they want as their coach. But any time a coach is in that situation, I feel it, because we’re all part of the same community. Holly will land on her feet for sure.”
HUGE CROWDS: Organizers are expecting big crowds in Portland at the Moda Center where they’ve opened the top level after 10,650 tickets were sold as of Thursday morning. The Albany Regional has also already sold nearly 8,000 tickets.
REMATCHES: Many of these teams have met over the past few years in the NCAA Tournament. Louisville ended Oregon State’s run last season in the regional final. UConn topped UCLA in the Sweet 16 in 2017. Oregon has played all three other teams left In its region. The Ducks defeated South Dakota State 87-79 on Dec. 12 in Brookings, then beat Mississippi State 82-74 in Las Vegas, before twice defeating Pac-12 foe Arizona State (77-71 at home on Jan. 18, and 66-59 on March 3 in Tempe) during the conference season.