Women's Final Four gets a new cast All semifinalists making first trip


Iowa. Ohio State. Texas Tech. Vanderbilt.

Each team is in its first Final Four, and each is looking to have the last word in front of a sellout crowd of 16,510 at The Omni in Atlanta in Sunday's 4 p.m. championship game.

Ohio State and Iowa are the first Big Ten schools to make it to the Final Four. They will face each other at 3 p.m. Saturday for the third time this season. The teams split during the regular season, with Ohio State winning the last meeting, 72-60.

"It assures there will be a Big Ten team playing for the national championship," Ohio State coach Nancy Darsch said. "There's a special appeal to playing on a neutral court. Perhaps it's a truer test, a truer indication of the competition."

Iowa (27-3) is led by 6-foot-1 senior Toni Foster, who is averaging 16.3 points.

The Hawkeyes beat Tennessee in the Mideast Regional final Saturday to give coach Vivian Stringer her second Final Four appearance; the first was in 1982, when she coached at Cheyney (Pa.) State College.

"It almost seems like deja vu. Once again I had a lot of stress [during the season] with my daughter who had contracted meningitis," said Stringer, recalling the 1982 season.

Stringer's husband, Bill, died of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day 1992, and she took off five weeks this season. Because of an emotionally trying year, winning the regionals was a bittersweet moment for her.

"It was a relief, but it's sad," she said. "I would've liked to have shared it with the person who meant the most to me."

Ohio State (27-3) is led by 5-11 guard Katie Smith, who is probably the best freshman player in the nation. Smith leads the Buckeyes in scoring (18.1) and is second in rebounding (5.7). In the team's most recent meeting against Iowa, she scored a team-high 25 points.

In the other semifinal, Texas Tech (29-3) will face Vanderbilt (30-2), which was ranked No. 1 in the final polls by The Associated Press and CNN/USA Today.

Texas Tech is led by 6-1 senior forward and Player of the Year candidate Sheryl Swoopes (27.4 points).

"Sheryl Swoopes has been a catalyst and a major factor," Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said. "We're a pretty good half-court team."

Vanderbilt has four players averaging in double figures -- Julie Powell (12.7), Shelley Jarrard (11.6), Misty Lamb (10.3) and 6-10 junior Heidi Gillingham (14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds), the tallest player in U.S. women's basketball.

"The key ingredient is unselfishness and the willingness to put egos in check, if they had egos," Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster said.

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