Let The Sweetness Begin

By Jeff Lippman - March 29, 2008

The first four of eight Sweet 16 games commences Saturday with the New Orleans and Spokane Regionals playing their semifinals.

In what can only be described as a weird and annoying schedule, North Carolina and Louisville and Louisiana State and Oklahoma State meet early with noon and 2 p.m. ET starts, respectively, while the Spokane games begin late at 9 and 11:30 p.m. ET.

That means that Pitt and Stanford won't declare a winner until the early morning hours on Sunday. But of course, She's On Fire will be here to let you know what happened.

New Orleans Regional from the New Orleans Arena

Louisville (4) vs. North Carolina (1) - noon

How They Got Here:
The Tar Heels defeated 16-seed Bucknell (85-50) in the first round and then handled 8th-seeded Georgia (80-66) in the second. Sylvia Hatchell's team had no problem against the Bison - and why should they? - but the Bulldogs hung around for far longer than Hatchell would have liked. Unlike No. 1s Tennessee and Connecticut, UNC has looked beatable in this tournament.

The Cardinal are one of the hottest teams in the nation right now, winning 13 of their last 15 games, and that includes topping 13-seeded Miami of Ohio, 81-67, in the first round. The Cardinals followed that up by taking out 15th-ranked and 5th-seeded Kansas State, 80-63.

UNC Wins If...
Everything goes as planned and the 'Heels win the battle of the boards. This is an excellent matchup because Carolina is one of the most athletic and young great teams in the tournament, but Louisville can run with anyone and plays stellar defense themselves. But if North Carolina plays its game, they shouldn't have a problem pulling this one out.

Louisville Wins If...
Angel McCoughtry goes off. And I don't just mean for 25 points. I expect at least 25 points. I'm talking like 40. Jeff Walz' team needs to run and never stop against the Tar Heels. They must put their best on-ball defender on Cetera DeGraffenreid and then they need to rebound, rebound, rebound.

North Carolina is just too tough inside for Louisville to handle. McCoughtry will keep it close, but in the end, the Tar Heels will be one step closer to making their third consecutive trip to the Final Four.

And their Elite Eight opponent will be the winner of...

Oklahoma State (3) vs. Louisiana State (2) - 2 p.m.

How They Got Here:
One of the best defenses in the country has held their opponents to a total of 81 points in two games this postseason. Against 15th-seeded Jackson State, the Tigers won 66-32, and then followed that performance up by beating 22-ranked and 7th-seeded Marist, 68-49.

Oklahoma State:
The Cowgirls and their superstar sophomore guard Andrea Riley didn't exactly run away from 14-seeded East Tennessee State in the opening round. The Cowgirls managed a 85-73 win in that one. In the second round, Oklahoma State needed a Riley free throw with just seconds left to get by 11-seeded Florida State, 73-72.

Oklahoma State Wins If...
Andrea Riley must lead her team in scoring. And I'm talking she needs to think about that game against Oklahoma at home earlier in the season when she dropped 45 points on the Sooners. The Cowgirls must play great defense on the perimeter, but more than that, must find an answer for Sylvia Fowles. Unfortunately, there is nobody on OSU's roster that is anywhere near Fowles' 6-foot-6 frame.

LSU Wins If...
They keep doing what they're doing. Fowles should score early and often and win the rebounding advantage for LSU. If Q Chaney and then Erica White can hit a few from the outside, forcing the Cowgirls to pay attention to them, it could be a long night for the OSU front court.

Oklahoma State would love to thwart LSU's attempt to make their fifth consecutive Final Four. They just don't have the talent and athleticism to accomplish the upset. The Tigers will move one step closer to their fifth.

Spokane Regional from the Spokane Arena

Vanderbilt (4) vs. Maryland (1) - 9:30 p.m.

How They Got Here:

The Commodores have looked pretty solid en route to making the Sweet 16. In the first round they handled 13-seeded Montana swimmingly 75-47, and in the second, they beat 17th-ranked and 5th-seeded West Virginia, 64-46.

Stealing a one seed from Stanford, the Terps haven't exactly looked like a dominant top team. Beating 16-seeded Coppin State 80-66 isn't exactly my idea of dominance over a lesser program. And if not for running away late in the game, Nebraska very well could have ended the Terps' road in the second round for the second consecutive year. As it is, Maryland managed to defeat the Cornhuskers, 76-64.

Maryland Wins If...
The Terps snap out of it and play like the champions they are. Crystal Langhorne has been sensational this postseason like the ACC Player of the Year should. But point guard Kristi Toliver has shot just 32 percent from the field and 2-of-12 from long range. If Toliver can awaken from her shooting slump and drill her open shots, it will be a long night for the Commodores.

Vanderbilt Wins If...
What I wrote above doesn't happen. If Vanderbilt's Liz Sherwood and Christina Wirth can hold down Langhorne and Toliver is still not hitting shots, then opportunistic Vandy could pull the upset.

The bottom line is, for as much as Toliver has struggled this postseason, she's one of the best point guards in the nation. Something tells me she won't let three tournament games go by without having a big night. Toliver goes off, Langhorne goes off, Marissa Coleman goes off and Maryland comes another step closer to returning to the Final Four.

Pitt (6) vs. Stanford (2) - 11:30 p.m.

How They Got Here:

The Big East's lowest remaining seed almost was upset in the opening round against 11-seeded Wyoming, 63-58. Then, in the second round, the Panthers showed why the Big East is the best league in the nation by beating 3-seeded Baylor from the Big 12, 67-59.

Cleveland State and UTEP were just casualties for perhaps the hottest team in the NCAA Tournament right now. Currently on a 20-game winning streak, the Cardinal beat up on Cleveland State, 85-47, and then got a career-high 44 points from Candice Wiggins in her last-ever game at Maples Pavilion to beat up on the Miners, 88-54.

Pitt Wins If...
Pittsburgh has three excellent players in seniors Mallorie Winn and Marcedes Walker and sophomore Shavonte Zellous. Walker will need to be a beast inside for the Panthers and she must eliminate the inside game of Stanford's Jayne Appel in the process. Zellous and Winn have to shadow Wiggins like they are actually apart of her anatomy and even still, might not be able to stop her from scoring. The bottom line here is, this one will be close if it is isn't a Stanford run away.

Stanford Wins If...
Candice Wiggins doesn't suffer a freak injury before the game. I'm serious. The only way the Cardinal loses is if their star can't go. Not happening.

Stanford. And not by a small margin, either.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 10:49 AM on March 29, 2008

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