By Arnie Leshin
Could it be nervous times for the likes of Louisiana State, Virginia Tech and Iowa as women’s hoops prepares for Friday night‘s NCAA basketball tournament.
For the No.1 Hokies, it’s a first appearance at this level, for the Bayou Tigers, it’s the first time since 2011, and for the Hawkeyes, it’s the first time in 23 years, when none of their present players had been born yet.
But for No. 1 undefeated South Carolina, it’s no sweat as it’s back for a sixth time and third in a row after downing Connecticut in last year’s final.
One thing though, or maybe three, Virginia Tech, LSU and Iowa have been through tough seasons in their respective conferences and have played plenty of quality non-conference opponents.
Add to that, up and down good lineups, and heck, maybe they even have a chance to leave American Airlines Arena hoisting the championship trophy.
Except for one thing, the Gamecocks have had a few tough tussles, one an overtime win over then-unranked Ole Miss, but they still own the unblemished record, have a well-balanced attack with size and patients, and head coach Dawn Staley, a former All-America at Temple University, is determined to reel this in.
South Carolina has played its eight postseason games behind great support, the first two on its home court in Greenville, the last two in up the road Columbia. It scored 309 points and gave up 183. In the Elite Eight final, it rolled past No. 2 Maryland, 76-65.
Iowa played its first two in Iowa City, the next two in Seattle, and tallied 327 points while allowing 239. It’s Elite Eight final was a convincing 97-83 romp over No 6 Louisville.
Virginia Tech opened at home with two games in Blacksburg, then concluded in Seattle. It turned in 271 points and yielded 220, with its Elite Eight final a 72-54 victory over No. 5 Ohio State.
LSU had its home court in Baton Raton for its first two starts and finished in Greensville in front of a huge Gamecock throng. It accounted for 259 points against 147 allowed. In the Elite Eight final, it had an easy time outscoring No. 9 Miami, 54-42.
It doesn’t mean much because it now becomes different match-ups and basketballs does take funny bounces, injuries can happen, offenses will see other defenses and vice-versa.
Another question is, can South Carolina continue its magical season on a neutral court, can the pressure get to the other three also on a neutral floor, and the bounces picking its spots.
The 5 o’clock opens sends LSU against Virginia Tech, the scheduled 7 o’clock closer has Iowa testing South Carolina. Neutral court yes, but a huge turnout is expected in the Lone Star State.