- Associated Press - Thursday, March 31, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer feels as if she’s coming home to the women’s Final Four.

She played at Indiana, coached at Ohio State and won four Big Ten titles before turning Stanford into one of the most prestigious programs in women’s basketball.

Even her college coach, Bea Gorton, plans to be around for the games in Indianapolis.

Now, that’s a Hoosier welcome.

“She’s actually in assisted living and will come down to go to the game,” VanDerveer said Wednesday. “That was a long time ago. It’s very exciting and it does have a little special feel to it _ and I love the arena.”

VanDerveer isn’t the only one eager to get inside Conseco Fieldhouse this weekend.

Two-time defending national champ Connecticut, 2001 champion Notre Dame, first-time Final Four participant Texas A&M and VanDerveer’s team, which has finished second twice in the past three years, are all ready to play for a national title.

Three of the schools have strong ties to Indiana.

There’s VanDerveer, an Indiana University Hall of Famer; UConn forward Kelly Faris, who played prep ball at Heritage Christian; and Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins, the 2009 Indiana Miss Basketball.

And, of course, South Bend is just a short drive away.

“We’re hoping a big Notre Dame crowd follows us down to Indy,” Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We are so excited to be playing close to home and hoping for a lot of green in the stands.”

Organizers could benefit from the field, too.

With roughly 18,000 seats in the arena and tickets still available, the composition could generate enough excitement locally to sell out the fieldhouse.

Spokesman John Dedman acknowledged Wednesday he expects most of those tickets to be gone before Sunday’s two semifinal games, but having Notre Dame, VanDerveer and Faris in town will help.

“I think local fans will get to see some really good basketball,” Dedman said. “Hopefully, they were excited about all the teams in the Elite Eight, but now that we’ve got some local story lines, hopefully, they’re even more excited.”

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