Stanford could shatter UConn-Tenn. dream final NCAA WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT

MINNEAPOLIS — MINNEAPOLIS -- There are those who believe that a national championship game at the Target Center tomorrow matching top-ranked and unbeaten Connecticut and No. 3 Tennessee could do for women's basketball what the Michigan State-Indiana State classic did for men's basketball in 1979.

That is, give the sport some recognition and respect. But the dream matchup may not come off.


Here's a look at today's national semifinals:

* Tennessee (33-2) vs. Georgia (28-4): In 16 years of playing Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference, Georgia coach Andy Landers has gotten used to a team content to use the brute strength of its post players to pound an opponent into submission from the low blocks.


But this year's Tennessee team, perhaps as good as any of the three that have won national championships in the past eight years, has added a new component, speed on the perimeter.

"They're certainly not a one-dimensional team," said Landers. "Their wings are exceptionally quick. I'm willing to bet [two-time All-American] Nikki McCray and Latina Davis could run track and win SEC championships. They have tremendous quickness on the wings."

That's not to say that Tennessee, which stormed through the Mideast Regional, playing only on its home court, doesn't have ++ inside weapons. Senior Dana Johnson (Western), who is shooting 69 percent and averaging 24.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in four tournament games, has been Herculean in the postseason.

Of course, the Lady Bulldogs, who finished tied for second in the SEC with Vanderbilt behind Tennessee, aren't helpless, though the Lady Vols made them look that way in a 83-61 pasting in the final game of the regular season three weeks ago.

Landers said the Tennessee loss was one of the few times since he has been coach at Georgia when his team produced an "inept effort," but those things happen with teams as young as the Lady Bulldogs, who start four sophomores who were members of the nation's most acclaimed recruiting class two years ago.

"Georgia is young, but that could be a positive for them, because when you are young, you have no fears," said Tennessee coach Pat Summit.

* Prediction: The Lady Vols have won six of the past seven against Georgia, and while today's game may not be as lopsided as the last meeting, it's hard to imagine Tennessee falling short this close to its stated quest.

* Connecticut (33-0) vs. Stanford (30-2): Connecticut is two games away from becoming the second team to finish unbeaten in the 13 years the NCAA has had a women's tournament. It has the consensus national Player of the Year, senior forward Rebecca Lobo, who, with point guard Jennifer Rizzotti, was named to the Kodak All-America team.


So, why did coach Geno Auriemma spend all of yesterday's news conference conferring underdog status on his team? Perhaps because there are still major doubts among basketball observers whether Connecticut is as good as advertised, doubts that have reached the Storrs campus.

"I know we're 33-0 and we haven't played anybody and we play in the middle of nowhere and we're in a nothing conference," said Auriemma, with more than a hint of sarcasm.

There is also a suspicion that, rather than settling doubts about their legitimacy at the top of the polls, the Huskies raised new ones last Saturday. In the Huskies' 67-63 win over Virginia in the regional final on their court, the Cavaliers made up a 19-point first-half deficit and shut down Lobo, who had eight points, nine below her average.

Stanford, which has seven players 6 feet 2 or taller, could be the team that ends Connecticut's fabulous run. The Cardinal, which beat Purdue, 69-58, to reach the Final Four for the fourth time in the 1990s, with two titles to boot, are easily the best team Connecticut has faced since the Huskies beat Tennessee, 77-66, in mid-January.

And Stanford seniors Anita Kaplan, Rachel Hemmer and Kate Paye are the only players among the four teams with Final Four experience. They were freshmen on the 1991-92 team that won the championship.

* Prediction: Lobo and center Kara Wolters likely will be looking at two or three different defenders each, and by the middle of the second half, their stamina could be tested. The Cardinal is playing better than any team not named Tennessee, and its height and depth (11 players average 10 minutes or more) should be enough to get it to tomorrow's final.