- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) - Welcome to the Final Four, Syracuse and Washington.

It will be the first trip to the national semifinals for both teams, who are now headed to Indianapolis. Each had to knock off a perennial Final Four team to get there, with Syracuse beating Tennessee and Washington topping Stanford.

The Syracuse men have been to previous Final Fours, and the 10th-seeded Orange rallied from a 16-point deficit to knock off top-seeded Virginia and will join the women in a Final Four celebration.

It’s the first time since 2005 that two women’s teams will make their Final Four debut in the same season. If Oregon State can knock off Baylor on Monday night, there will be three teams with no prior Final Four experience.

Who said there’s no parity in women’s basketball?

“We’re not done yet,” Washington coach Mike Neighbors said. “‘What’s Next?’ has been our motto. It’s going to continue to be all the way through Indy.”

No team still playing had a tougher road to the national semifinals than Washington. The Huskies had to beat both Maryland and Kentucky on their home floors. Washington, which is only the second seven-seed to reach the Final Four, had to fly across the country twice in the tournament.

Syracuse, which played its first two games at home, had no trouble with Tennessee.

“We did what we had to do,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. “We knew we had to control the paint, and we did a good job of that. We knew we had to make 3s, and to be 14 for 30 behind the arc is really knocking down shots. That was the key to the game.”

UConn will face Texas and Baylor plays Oregon for the other two spots in next weekend’s Final Four.

Here are other tidbits from the tournament:

STILL ANOTHER STEP THIS SEASON:

Oregon State coach Scott Rueck and his players have a term for the steps forward the program has taken from 10 wins three years ago to within one victory of their first Final Four.

“It’s natural progression, and each year we’ve gone further and further,” said guard Jamie Weisner, part of the senior group that as freshman had those 10 wins and lost 10 consecutive Pac-12 games. “It’s just fun to be part of.”

The Beavers won their first Pac-12 regular-season title last season, a year after going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996. They shared another Pac-12 title this season, then won the conference tournament. Now they are in their first women’s NCAA Tournament regional final.

They have a chance to knock off two-time national champion Baylor, which has won the last six Big 12 titles.

So would that be a natural next step?

“Sure, yes. That’s next on the schedule,” said Rueck, in his sixth season. “It’s the next game and you do that by playing possession-by-possession and preparing the same way that you have. So yes, that would be natural.”

___

GETTING BEYOND ELITE:

This is Baylor’s third consecutive appearance in a women’s NCAA Tournament regional final.

The Lady Bears lost at that point each of the last two years, thus their “Eight is Not Enough” motto this season. They have been wearing bracelets with that phrase since last summer.

“Each team you have to have a theme. You have to have some goal, something to get their attention every day in practice and eight is not enough,” coach Kim Mulkey said. “It’s something to motivate them, nothing more than that. But it’s not weighing on us.”

Baylor has lost three of its last four regional final games. Along with losses to Notre Dame the past two seasons, the Lady Bears lost their only other regional final game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas - to Texas A&M; in 2011. They had their 40-0 national championship in 2012, and lost in the 2013 Sweet 16.

___

PLAYING THROUGH PAIN:

Syracuse star Alexis Peterson dinged her hip when she stumbled and fell late in the first quarter against Tennessee. No way was that going to stop her from scoring a season-high 29 points in the win that sent the Orange to the Final Four for the first time.

“I looked at my team. They said, ‘You’ve got to suck it up, you’ve got to play tough, because we need you,’” Peterson said. “It’s 40 minutes. If I have to play through, you know, being hurt or being injured, that’s what I was going to do. I didn’t want to let them down. So at that point it was just a will, overcoming everything I was being faced with.”

That doesn’t mean the hip didn’t bother her as the game progressed. She said Hillsman told her to use her judgment about whether she would keep going.

“This time of year, you just have to give it all you have,” Peterson said. “I’d rather win and be advancing than worry about a minor injury.”

___

AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and AP Basketball Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this story.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide