ALBANY, N.Y. >> The cream of women’s basketball has risen to the top.
For the fourth time since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, all the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds advanced to the regional finals.
It last happened in 2012, when Baylor won the national championship. The Lady Bears are in position to reach their first Final Four since that season when they face second-seeded Iowa on Monday night. Notre Dame, which Baylor beat for the title that season, will play Stanford in the other Elite Eight game Monday. By that point, two teams will already have earned a spot in Tampa for the national semifinals Friday night.
Top seed Louisville faces UConn on Sunday and then No. 1 seed Mississippi State will play Oregon.
“I think it’s great this year just to see the parity. When you get down, especially — the Sweet 16, there’s 16 good teams, but the final eight, boy, anybody could win it,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said after her team held off Texas A&M on Saturday. “I think it’s great for the game for people to turn on and see competitive games at every level. … I think it’s really good for the women’s game to see that there’s parity now.”
Even though it’s the top seeds that advanced, the games were competitive for the most part in the Sweet 16 and there were 10 first-round games decided by single digits — more than double the previous year.
For No. 1 seeds Louisville and Mississippi State to advance, they will have to find a way to win in virtual road games. Albany and Portland are relatively short drives for the fans of No. 2 seeds UConn and Oregon. There were over 11,000 fans in Portland on Friday night cheering on the Ducks. A similar number is expected Sunday.
Both the games Sunday are rematches of earlier regular-season contests. Louisville beat UConn in January, and Oregon topped Mississippi State in December at home.
Here are a few other tidbits from the Elite Eight:
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM
Oregon is playing in the Elite Eight for the third straight season and hopes to change its fortune by advancing to the Final Four for the first time.
“Ultimately, we are trying to win this game, and we are trying to get further than we have these last couple years, at least with this core group,” coach Sabrina Ionescu said. “I think that’s what’s going to separate us as a more mature and veteran group. I think we want to get better. We want to do more than we have in the past.”
Mississippi State also is hoping the third time could be its lucky one. The Bulldogs have made it to the last two national championship games only to fall short against South Carolina and Notre Dame. The team hopes to have a third chance at the title.
UConn senior Katie Lou Samuelson deflected talk of the back injury she suffered toward the end of the season. She had an off-game in Friday night’s win over UCLA, scoring six points on 1-for-6 shooting. She didn’t score a point until the third quarter and had her lone basket in the fourth quarter when she converted a steal into a three-point play.
“At this point in the season, it’s all mind over matter,” the senior said. “There’s people all over the country that are playing still that have injuries and have little things that are bothering them. Stuff that’s going on with me, I’m not letting it affect me. I’m doing whatever I can to feel my best, but mentally if I feel good, then that’s good enough.”