The Cardinal will try and reach the Final Four for a sixth straight season and end Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer’s 21-year drought without a national championship.
Led by junior star Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford may already have the most impressive win this season, ending Baylor’s 42-game winning streak in November. That’s the only loss the defending national champion Lady Bears suffered this season.
The Cardinal, who will open up against Tulsa at home on Sunday, could face No. 2 seed California in the regional final. The Golden Bears shared the Pac-12 title with Stanford this season after ending the Cardinal’s 81-game conference winning streak in January.
Notre Dame will be trying to make it back to a third straight national championship game. The Irish, led by senior guard Skylar Diggins, have already had an incredible season losing only to Baylor. Notre Dame won its first Big East tournament championship last Tuesday and also went undefeated in the conference in the regular season.
Unlike the other three No. 1 seeds, who are playing at home, the Irish will open up on the road against Tennessee-Martin. Potentially they could face host Iowa in the second round.
“Lower-seeded team playing on higher-seeded floors is part of our format,” NCAA selection committee chair Carolayne Henry said. “We looked at putting Notre Dame in Columbus. But to make our bracket work, we weren’t able to put Notre Dame there.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said the Irish will just have to live with it.
“It’s disappointing that we didn’t get a neutral site. I thought that the committee would take care of the No. 1 seed, but you’ve got to play good teams,” she said. “If we’re the No. 1 seed, we ought to be able to take care of business in the first round, at least.”
The Irish swept all three meetings with Connecticut and have dominated the series recently, winning seven of the past eight meetings, including the past two in the Final Four.
To get to a third straight title game, they’ll likely have to beat UConn again. The Huskies will open on Saturday against Idaho, which will be making its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1985. It’s been a somewhat disappointing season for the Huskies, who didn’t win either the Big East conference regular season or tournament title for the first time in 19 years.
UConn lost four of its five games against the other top seeds, faltering down the stretch in each of the losses.
One intriguing story line for UConn before a potential rematch with Notre Dame could be if Elena Delle Donne and Delaware can advance to the regional finals in Bridgeport, Conn. Delle Donne was originally enrolled at UConn before transferring to Delaware before her freshman season. She’s put her team on her back.
“I knew the UConn question was going to come into this,” Delle Donne said. “But I do think it’s just going to be one game at a time. I’m not looking ahead and I know the rest of my team isn’t either.”
The sixth-seeded Blue Hens will be hosting the first two rounds and the games are already sold out. They open against West Virginia.
Delaware is one of 15 sites that have host teams in the tournament. The only one that doesn’t is Columbus. Ohio State didn’t make the cut, and perennial NCAA tournament team Rutgers also missed out on the field. The Scarlet Knights had been to the last 10 NCAA tournaments.