Sports

Undefeated Princeton has a tough road ahead in NCAA women's tournament

Connecticut, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland are the top-seeded teams in the four regions

The NCAA women's basketball tournament field was announced Monday, and usual suspects took the spotlight.

Connecticut, the top seed overall, will try for its third consecutive national title. Tennessee, the second-seeded team in the Spokane region, continued its streak as the only school to appear in every women's tournament.

Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland, along with Connecticut, were the top-seeded teams in the four regions. Even Stanford, which had a down year by Cardinal standards, goes in as the fourth-seeded team in the Oklahoma City region and gets a home game in the first round.

But the nation's only undefeated team was handed a tough path to the Final Four.

Princeton (30-0), only the 15th team to enter the tournament undefeated, is the eighth-seeded team in the Spokane region and will play Wisconsin-Green Bay at Maryland in the first round. A victory probably will result in a second-round game against fourth-ranked Maryland.

"It's going to take a really good team to beat us," Princeton Coach Courtney Banghart said after her team beat Pennsylvania last week to finish the regular season. "And we're going to have to play really well to beat a good team."

The thought of going 30-0 took hold back when Princeton was still playing nonconference games.

"We started to recognize it was a possibility after we beat Michigan," said guard Blake Dietrick, who averages 14.9 points to lead the Tigers. "That was such a monumental win for us, beating a big conference team on their home floor."

Michigan did not make the NCAA tournament. But, Tigers forward Alex Wheatley said, "Princeton basketball is good basketball."

The Tigers will have to prove it on the national stage.

Connecticut (32-1) has lost only to Stanford this season. The Huskies have won eight national titles since 2000.

The Pac-12 Conference has five teams in the tournament — conference champion Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford, California and Washington. Cal State Northridge is the only team from the Big West Conference. The Matadors play at Stanford, which finished third in the Pac-12 after having won or shared every title since 2001.

"The thing about the NCAA tournament, there are only good teams in it," Banghart said. "It's not because your football team is good. It's not because you play against the top 10 teams every week. It's who are the best teams in the country."

The Ivy League has not held up well against that competition. Princeton has won five of the last six league championships, but has lost all four of its NCAA tournament games.

This season, the Tigers have beaten two teams that made the NCAA tournament — Pittsburgh and American — and are No. 13 in the Associated Press media poll, the highest ranking ever for an Ivy League team.

"Winning an NCAA tournament game is No. 1 on my list right now," Dietrick said. "Finishing my thesis is probably second."

Ivy League basketball has had a handful of tournament moments in its history, all on the men's side. And all long ago.

Ivy League women's teams have won only one of 22 NCAA tournament games. Harvard beat Stanford in 1998.

Banghart said that winning at least one tournament game "means everything to the league. We know we owe it to the league to show well."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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