Blind dates, old rivals equal Final Four Iowa, OSU know each other too well WOMEN'S NCAA TOURNAMENT


ATLANTA -- When the teams tip off at today's women's Final Four before a sellout crowd at the Omni, familiarity, and lack of it, will be the theme.

Top-ranked Vanderbilt and No. 5 Texas Tech, meeting in the first semifinal, haven't faced each other in seven years.

Meanwhile, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Iowa already have played twice this season, splitting the Big Ten championship in the process.

Neither Vanderbilt (30-2) nor Texas Tech (29-3) has a lot of first-hand knowledge of the other, but what they know is enough to scare them.

The Commodores will spend much of the day trying to contain National Player of the Year Sheryl Swoopes, a 6-foot forward from Brownfield, Texas.

Swoopes, who averages 27.4 points and 9.3 rebounds, is as gifted on the perimeter as she is at posting up, and will give the Vanderbilt defense fits.

Swoopes has been brilliant in the postseason, averaging 36 points in her past five games -- including a spectacular 53 in the Southwest Conference final against Texas.

"She runs fast. She jumps high. She can shoot the three. She can guard. I'm not sure what is left. I haven't found anything she can't do," said Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster.

The Red Raiders will have to contend with Vanderbilt's Heidi Gillingham, at 6-10 the tallest player in women's basketball, and is eight inches taller than anyone on the Texas Tech roster.

"Heidi does an outstanding job and we are going to try and double her as much as we can and keep the basketball out of her hands as much as we can," said Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp.

Swoopes said: "Having a 6-10 girl in the middle is definitely going to make us think twice about shooting in the middle, but we are going to attack her and hope to get her in foul trouble."

Both teams play zone defenses to the exclusion of everything else, though the Commodores are more likely to switch to a combination of zones, including the 2-3 or the 2-1-2. Texas Tech almost always will use a matchup zone.

The zones should free up the perimeter and both teams shoot well from three-point range, leading to the prospect of a wide-open game.

Texas Tech guard Krista Kirkland said: "We have not seen very many zones this year, so we may not know how to play. They play a 2-3 zone, so it will open it up more and we are a good three-point shooting team, but so is Vanderbilt."

The Hawkeyes (27-3) and the Buckeyes (27-3) will play out their Big Ten rivalry on the Omni floor, with the winner claiming league bragging rights and a shot at the national championship.

"With the Big Ten not playing a tournament, the truth of the matter is, someone is going to have something to say," said Iowa coach Vivian Stringer. "We're playing this game on a neutral court, and there's a lot to be settled."

The two teams split their regular-season meetings, each winning at home. In the first game, won by Iowa, 79-62, in February, the Hawkeyes led from wire to wire, holding off a late Ohio State charge.

The Buckeyes won the rematch a month later, 72-60, hitting 13 of 14 free throws down the stretch.

"We are playing a team that we are familiar with as opposed to playing a totally new opponent that you have never seen on the court before," said Ohio State coach Nancy Darsch. "I hope that is to our advantage, not our disadvantage."

The hallmark for both teams is aggressive defense. Iowa, which held Maryland to just 50 points in a December win, leads the nation in fewest points allowed, surrendering just 53.6 per game, while Ohio State, which beat Virginia twice, forces an average of 24.5 turnovers per game.

"Our games are usually in the 60s and 70s," said Darsch. "I just hope we're not so familiar that the game is ugly."

Final Four at a glance

At The Omni, Atlanta

No. 1 Vanderbilt (30-2) vs. No. 5 Texas Tech (29-3) When: Today, noon

TV: Channels 11, 9

Outlook: Both the Commodores, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, and the Red Raiders, No. 2 in the West, like to run and are good perimeter-shooting teams. Texas Tech features F Sheryl Swoopes, the National Player of the Year, who is averaging 36 points in the postseason, but the Commodores with 6-foot-10 C Heidi Gillingham anchoring the middle and F Shelley Jarrard on the wings, are better balanced. If the Commodores can keep Texas Tech below 70 points, they'll win.

No. 3 Ohio State (27-3 vs. No. 4 Iowa (27-3)

When: Today, 3 p.m.

TV: Channels 11, 9

Outlook: The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes, the first two Big Ten teams to reach the Final Four, shared the Big Ten title and split their regular-season meetings, each winning at home. Iowa leads the nation in defense and held Ohio State freshman F Katie Smith to 10 points in Iowa City, but watched her score 25 in Columbus. Smith's ability to get to the foul line and disrupt the Iowa zone likely will be the difference.

Championship game When: Tomorrow, 4 p.m.

TV: Channels 11, 9

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad