The Ones Strike Back

By Jeff Lippman - April 01, 2008

With Stanford and LSU doing damage and eliminating their region's top seeds to advance to the Final Four, you can only imagine the ideas running through Texas A&M and Rutgers' heads.

Not so fast, ladies. Maryland and North Carolina are no Tennessee and UConn.

This is the side of the bracket that everyone cares about. We all want to see the best two programs in the history of the sport meet for the national title on April 8.

Before that can happen, though, the other matchup everyone wants to see has to take place. And that matchup is coming tonight at 9 p.m. when two Big East rivals tangle for the third time on the season. Rutgers and UConn's season series is tied at one game apiece, and tonight we find out what kind of nerves they have.

You won't find a better game anywhere and the Greensboro Coliseum is the place where it all takes place.

Rutgers has been playing excellent basketball of late. The re-emergence of the "55" defense in the tournament has awoken a sleeping giant on offense and the Knights' stars are going to work.

Essence Carson stepped up huge in Sunday's Sweet 16 win over George Washington, scoring 25 points. Kia Vaughn has been big as well this postseason, where at times she was lost during the year.

Rutgers is familiar with the Final Four. They went last year. In fact, the Knights are the defending national runners-up, while not a single player on UConn's roster has ever played in a national semifinal game.

For a team that has eight Final Fours to its credit, this current bunch is as inexperienced as it gets. Of course, they are probably as good as it gets, too.

Connecticut has three Big East Freshman of the Year on its roster in Renee Montgomery, Tina Charles and Maya Moore. And in Moore, they not only have this year' s top frosh, but the Big East Player of the Year as well - the first freshman to do so.

They can be beaten, as evidenced when the Scarlet Knights won on their home court in Piscataway earlier in the season. But that was also the only game the Connecticut lost this year. And if Geno and company have anything to say about it - and they do - that will continue to be the only loss the Huskies suffer.

I just can't see Rutgers pulling this one out. But if the "55" gets going, Carson and Matee Ajavon are firing on all cylinders AND Vaughn is doing damage inside, then maybe Rutgers can pull the upset and become the third two seed in the Final Four. But I doubt it.

Texas A&M (2) vs. Tennessee (1) - Oklahoma City, 7 p.m.

Texas A&M has seven losses on the year. Tennessee has only two. Simple match tells us that the Lady Vols are better.

I've always been a fan of simple math. Maybe that's because I still count on my fingers...

Candace Parker and Pat Summitt won't let Tennessee lose this game. Texas A&M has looked great this postseason in wins over San Antonio, Hartford and Duke. Their defense is stellar and their roster - not comprising a single McDonald's High School All-American - has been playing out of its head.

That said, Tennessee is straight crushing folks like they did on last year's march to the NCAA Title. There is something eerily similar about this year's and last year's teams performances in the tournament that tells me that the Lady Vols will not lose before Tampa.

That's right, I'm predicting the Lady Vols and Huskies come one step closer to meeting in the final. And yesterday I was 2-for-2 picking both upsets.

Should the Huskies and Lady Vols advance tonight, they'll face Stanford and LSU, respectively, before their own meeting can take place. But after tonight you can start licking your lips, because women's basketball's marquee matchup is getting close.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 10:41 AM on April 01, 2008

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