- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

STORRS, CONN. (AP) - The NCAA tournament is just about survival and the Big East has done it better than any other conference in the women’s field this year.

Five teams from that conference advanced to the round of 16 that begins Saturday. It’s no surprise that UConn and Notre Dame made it through. DePaul is in the midst of its best season, yet the Blue Demons needed a huge rally to advance.

Georgetown won the Beltway matchup by routing Maryland while Louisville pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament.

“You know people can say all they want about their leagues. The facts are the facts,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “We have to play in the toughest league in America and play unbelievably good teams. Those teams have proven since the tournament started they aren’t an easy out for anybody.”

Auriemma could have to face two of those teams in Philadelphia this weekend after his Huskies breezed to their 18th straight trip to the round of 16 with an easy 64-40 victory over Purdue. Next up is Georgetown with third-seed DePaul waiting in the wings if the Blue Demons can get by the Duke Blue Devils.

“I don’t know if it’s a reunion,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno told The Associated Press by phone Tuesday night. “I’m happy for the Big East and proud of the Big East. We had nine teams in and we had nine go to the round of 32 _ five of the nine have moved to the round of 16.”

Georgetown will be making its second trip to the regional semifinals after winning the Beltway battle against Maryland on Tuesday.

Having to face the top-seeded Huskies for a third time this season wasn’t something that the Hoyas were thrilled about.

“It’s a crying shame. They shouldn’t have matched us up with UConn,” Georgetown forward Monica McNutt said with a wry smile. “But you know, there were so many teams from our conference that I think the committee had a tough time with that.”

The round of 16 isn’t just about the Big East. Parity is slowly creeping into women’s basketball _ just ask No. 2 Xavier, No. 3 UCLA, and No. 4 Michigan State who already are headed home.

The Bruins can thank Gonzaga and point guard Courtney Vandersloot for their early exit. The Zags’ senior became the first player in NCAA history _ men’s or women’s _ to score 2,000 points and have 1,000 assists in her career.

Now she’s got the Zags back in the regional semifinals for the second straight year. It definitely helped that the 11th-seeded Bulldogs were spurred on by a raucous home crowd in their two upset wins.

They only need to head across town this weekend to the Spokane Arena for their matchup with seventh-seeded Louisville, which knocked off No. 2 Xavier on Tuesday night. A victory there and top-seeded Stanford could await them. The Cardinal have cruised through their first two rounds and will face North Carolina in the other semifinal game in Washington.

There is plenty of star power and high-profile coaches left. Maya Moore bid farewell to UConn’s home arena, finishing her stellar career unbeaten in 40 games at Gampel Pavilion.

She’s trying to guide the Huskies to a third straight national championship, putting her in a very select company.

Brittney Griner has helped Baylor get through the first two rounds. The Lady Bears will next have to deal with mid-major darling Wisconsin-Green Bay. The Phoenix easily dispatched Michigan State to extend its winning streak to 25 games.

All season long the question has been how good are the Phoenix since they didn’t have the strongest schedule. They played only four foes ranked in the top 100 of the RPI during the regular season.

“I know they’ve only lost one basketball game,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I watched them a long time last year in the Iowa State game in the playoffs, I have not watched much film on them this year, but we will. When you’ve only lost one game, that gets your attention.”

Unlike last season, one team that Baylor won’t have to go through to get back to the Final Four is Tennessee. The Lady Vols won both games on their homecourt to advance to Dayton. They got a scare from Marquette in the second round which coach Pat Summitt hopes will provide a renewed focus for her team.

Oklahoma ended Miami’s stellar season and the Sooners hope to get back to the Final Four for a third straight season. A matchup with No. 2 Notre Dame awaits in Ohio.


AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas, and David Ginsburg in College Park, Md., and Associated Press Writer Murray Evans in Wichita, Kan., contributed to this report.

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