UConn women earn top overall seed for NCAA tournament

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Another NCAA tournament will begin with Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies at the top of the mountain.

The Huskies, seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship, earned the first overall seed in the women's NCAA tournament on Monday. If Auriemma can again outlast the field, it would be his 11th national championship and would move him past UCLA men's coach John Wooden for the most all time.

"They know obviously that this is an opportunity for them to win the fourth national championship. They know that," Auriemma said. "And they've known it since the first time we met at half court there for the first day of practice. The only other time it has been mentioned is in passing when they do something stupid and I say, 'Teams that are trying to do something great, they don't do that stuff, not in March.'"

Joining the Huskies as No. 1 seeds in the 64-team tournament that begins Friday are South Carolina, Notre Dame and Baylor.UConn, which has been a No. 1 seed for 10 consecutive years, has already beat the Gamecocks and Irish this season, and the Huskies would would face Baylor on April 3 in the national semifinals if both teams advance that far.

The Huskies (32-0) open the tournament against 16-seed Robert Morris (20-12) in the Bridgeport Region on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN2/WatchESPN). The Colonials won the NEC championship.

The top four seeds in each region will host the opening two rounds except for No. 4 Michigan State, which has a conflict so fifth-seeded Mississippi State will take over as the host.

UConn, which has the third-longest winning streak in team and NCAA women's Division I history at 69 games, once again is led by senior Breanna Stewart, the espnW player of the year.

Stewart is averaging team highs with 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds, plus 107 blocked shots. She's second on the team in assists with 125. For her UConn career, she has scored 2,554 points and pulled down 1,113 rebounds, plus she has a double-double no one has ever had before in Division I women's basketball: topping 300 in assists (404) and blocked shots (395).

"Honestly, I don't feel that much pressure," Stewart said. "The pressure was more last year or my sophomore season, just because I needed those to finish this one. Now, it's just this is it. This is my last try."

South Carolina (31-1) is the top seed in the Sioux Falls Region and will host Jacksonville (22-10) on Friday (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).

Notre Dame (31-1) headlines the Lexington Region and will face North Carolina A&T (19-11) in their tourney opener on Saturday (6:30 p.m., ESPN2).

Baylor (33-1), led by Nina Davis and Alexis Jones, will open the tournament as the top seed in the Dallas Region against Idaho (24-9) on Friday (5 p.m., ESPN2).

Tennessee -- the only other school aside from UConn to win three straight women's titles -- earned a No. 7 seed, the lowest in school history. The Lady Vols, who have played in every NCAA tournament, will face Green Bay in the opening round at Arizona State.

"Is it where we usually are? No, but it's a great spot for us to go to work," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said.

While Tennessee has to head west, fourth-seeded Stanford could be heading east. Tara VanDerveer's team hosts former player Jennifer Azzi and her San Francisco Bay Area program in the opening round.

If Stanford can advance to the Sweet 16, the Cardinal will play in Kentucky. The third-seeded Wildcats won't have to leave the area until the Final Four. They host the opening two rounds and then would play in Rupp Arena for the regional.

"For our team to work hard enough and be able to earn a top-16 seed and host in Memorial Coliseum is great," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "So they had to earn that and I am grateful the committee put us in Lexington. We are going to have to really work hard to get a victory in the first round, but the prospects to get to play in Lexington for the Sweet 16 is exciting."

Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina are three of a record-tying nine SEC teams to make the field. That matches the Big East (2011) for the most ever in the women's tournament.The SEC has an all-time record of 383-202 in tournament play, including eight national championships by Tennessee.

Days after announcing the first Ivy League postseason tournament, the league earned the first at-large bid for either a men's or women's team with Princeton earning an 11-seed. The Tigers, who will face West Virginia, lost to Penn twice during the regular season -- their only conference blemishes.

"I'm bursting with pride for my team and for this great university," Princeton coach Courtney Banghart said. "Princeton just became the first team in Ivy League history to earn an at-large bid. That's something that will mean so much to me for forever."

Penn is a 10-seed and will face Washington in the opening round.

Duquesne headlines five first-time NCAA tournament teams. The ninth-seeded Dukes are the only at-large team of the group and open against Seton Hall. Other newcomers include Buffalo, Central Arkansas, Iona and Jacksonville.

Iowa, NC State, Ohio and UTEP were the first four teams left out of the field, according to the NCAA. Princeton, Missouri, Purdue and St. Bonaventure were the final four in.

"I think the toughest decision with the first four out was that there was a large group of teams looking a lot alike," NCAA women's basketball committee chair Chris Dawson said. "Each team had their own merits. Through our vetting and voting process we came up with the last four I mentioned."

For the first time since 1988, Duke, North Carolina and NC State all missed the tournament. The Blue Devils, who had been in the tournament the past 21 years, were on the bubble but did not get in.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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