CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The four teams and coaches participating in this year's women's Final Four took care to say all the right things about respecting their opponents and the routes each took to get to the national semifinals during yesterday's press briefings.
But lurking under the surface of their talk was a testiness and an edge that demonstrated that while Connecticut, Tennessee, Georgia and Stanford may respect each other, they may not necessarily like each other.
"It's like the four guys in the neighborhood arguing about who's the best," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "Familiarity breeds contempt, is that what they say? That's good. There's nothing wrong with that."
Georgia, the Midwest Regional champion and the only team among the four to have spent time at No. 1, beat both Connecticut and Tennessee in the regular season, but declined the role of favorite.
"We read the papers, we watch the television and not one of you [reporters] picked us to win Monday night [in the regional final against Louisiana Tech]," said Georgia coach Andy Landers. "We've gotten this far without you, so don't start picking us now."
Landers' protestations to the contrary, the fifth-ranked Lady Bulldogs appear to have the best balance and the best player, senior guard Saudia Roundtree -- the consensus national player of the year -- and look to have the ingredients to win their first national title in four Final Four appearances.
Here's a look at the matchups:
No. 2 Connecticut (34-3) vs. No. 4 Tennessee (30-4), 7 p.m., ESPN.
Overview: In contrast to last year's championship meeting, in which the unbeaten Huskies convinced a lot of doubters about their place in the sport by knocking off the Lady Vols, Connecticut comes in with a bit of a swagger.
The Mideast-winning Huskies have not only won 20 straight, but more importantly have beaten Tennessee three times in the last 15 months -- all of the games being decided in the last five minutes -- including this season's 59-53 win in Knoxville, which ended the Lady Vols' record 69-game home winning streak.
"It's been in the back of my mind all year. You want to forget about it, but in the back of our minds we're 0-3 against them," said Tennessee point guard Michelle Marciniak. "If we can win this one, it's the most important game to this point."
Key matchups: The Huskies will have to contain Tennessee freshman forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who had a team-high 15 points in the January game. The 6-foot-2 Holdsclaw, who was named a Kodak All-American yesterday, is a gifted offensive player who can hurt Connecticut both inside and out, and will test both Nykesha Sales and Jamelle Elliott, two gifted defenders who will likely take turns on her.
Tennessee, however, will need to slow down Jennifer Rizzotti, the Big East Player of the Year and the core of the Connecticut effort. The 5-foot-5 senior point guard averaged more than 16 points a game in the three games against the Lady Vols, and burned them badly with her ability to drive and dish in the lane to center Kara Wolters, a first-team Associated Press All-American. Marciniak and backcourt mate Latina Davis will have their hands full.
Outlook: The Lady Vols are the more talented team, and if Holdsclaw hits some early jumpers, they could blow the Huskies out of the coliseum, but Connecticut is one of the most resourceful teams in recent memory. If the game is close down the stretch, the Huskies probably will find a way to win.
No. 5 Georgia (27-4) vs. No. 3 Stanford (29-2), 9: 30 p.m., ESPN.
Overview: The Cardinal, on a 23-game roll, has shown a resourcefulness, as co-head coaches Amy Tucker and Marianne Stanley have filled in for Tara VanDerveer, who took a year's sabbatical to lead the U.S. Olympic team.
"It took a lot for us to get here. We've battled through the problems and that's helped create great chemistry on the team," said Tucker.
Each team looks to run, has a gifted perimeter player -- Roundtree and Stanford's Kate Starbird-- and is deep, particularly in the frontcourt.
As with Holdsclaw, Starbird, a 6-2 forward who is averaging 20.3 points a game, can play either on the perimeter or inside.
Meanwhile, Roundtree has been brilliant in the tournament, with a career-high 37 points in the Midwest title game against top-ranked Louisiana Tech.
Key matchups: The Lady Bulldogs' active and athletic front line of juniors La'Keshia Frett and Tracy Henderson average a combined 28 points and 15 rebounds a game, and run the floor as well as any big players in the country. If Roundtree is on her game, she'll put them into excellent position to score.
The Cardinal frontcourt, meanwhile, has six forwards averaging at least 15 minutes a game.
Outlook: Both teams were humbled in last year's semifinals and this game should be just as dramatic as the lead-in. But the Lady Bulldogs look to have too much firepower for Stanford.
Pub Date: 3/29/96