USC Women Are Seeded No. 3 in West, Where Stanford Is No. 1 : Pairings: The Trojans get first-round bye, will play second-round game Sunday at Lyon Center.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stanford's defending national champion women's basketball team wound up in the West Regional with USC in NCAA tournament pairings announced Sunday.

Stanford (25-5), winner of the Pacific 10 Conference championship, was seeded No. 1 and USC (21-6), the Pac-10 runner-up, was seeded third.

The Trojans drew a first-round bye and will play the winner of Wednesday's first-round game between Nebraska (22-7) and the University of San Diego (16-11). The Trojans' second-round game will be played Sunday at USC's Lyon Center.

Stanford expects its fourth sellout this year at 7,500-seat Maples Pavilion when it plays the winner of Wednesday's game between Georgia (20-12) and San Diego State (19-8).

In something of a surprise, the nation's top-ranked team, Vanderbilt (27-2), was assigned to the Midwest bracket. On Saturday, the Commodores will meet the winner of a Wednesday first-round game between Kansas (21-8) and California (18-9).

Vanderbilt Coach Jim Foster had expected his team to be assigned to the East or West brackets.

The four No. 1-seeded teams: Stanford (West), Vanderbilt (Midwest), Tennessee (Mideast) and Ohio State (East).

Either Stanford or Tennessee have won the last four NCAA championships.

The other two seeded teams in the West bracket are No. 2 Texas Tech (26-3) and No. 4 Colorado (25-3).

Second-round winners in the four brackets advance to the round of 16, the four-team March 25 and 27 regionals at the University of Montana at Missoula (West); Virginia Commonwealth University at Richmond (East); University of Iowa at Iowa City (Mideast) and Stephen F. Austin State University at Nacogdoches, Tex.

The pairings mean Stanford and USC can't both go to the Final Four April 3-4 in Atlanta, and Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said that was a disappointment.

"I'm disappointed they put three Pac-10 teams (Washington was also assigned to the West) in our bracket," she said.

"I believe USC deserved better than a No. 3 seed, and I believe they're capable of being a Final Four team."

USC Coach Marianne Stanley said her team wound up right where she expected.

"We felt we'd stay in the West bracket, as the third or fourth seed, and that's just where they put us," she said.

"The best thing about it is we get a first-round bye, and we really need it. The conference race was grueling toward the end, and we all need a rest."

VanDerveer said her Stanford players are injury-free, but Stanley said two of her key players are hurt. Kim Gessig, 6-foot-3 senior forward, has been playing for several weeks with a partially separated shoulder and 6-2 freshman forward Rashida Jeffery has aggravated a knee injury.

Lisa Leslie, USC's 6-5 All-American junior center, said her team was disappointed at not winning the Pac-10 championship. USC was tied with Stanford for the conference lead until it lost at home to Arizona State Thursday.

"Our conference season ended on a low note, but we're very excited about the playoffs and our seeding," Leslie said. "But we all need a rest before that first game and feel we earned that first-round bye.

"We feel we're very capable of winning the national championship, but all we're looking at now is the winner of that Nebraska-San Diego game."

Stanley, whose team is 3-2 against teams in the West bracket, predicted USC's best game is yet to come.

"We've had a good season, but we haven't played our best game yet," she said. "And we'll need it in the postseason."

Stanford was ranked eighth in the last Associated Press women's poll, USC 15th, Texas Tech sixth and Colorado ninth.

Vanderbilt's Foster said his team is at the top of its game.

"Our offense left us for about 10 games late in the regular season, but we got it back," he said. "But our defense has never wavered. We've been outstanding defensively all year.

"We're the leading field-goal shooting team (50.5%) in the nation and a lot of people think of us as an offensive team, but I see us as a defensive team."

Vanderbilt is led by the nation's tallest women's player, 6-9 Heidi Gillingham, who has blocked 99 shots and is shooting 63%.

The Commodores are 3-0 against teams in their Midwest bracket and have beaten all four seeded teams in the East regional. Against all their regular-season opponents who made the playoffs, they are 13-2.

Stanford's VanDerveer, whose teams since 1987-88 have gone 27-5, 28-3, 32-1, 26-6, 30-3 and 25-5; won two national championships and made a third Final Four appearance, said much the same. "We're playing our best basketball right now," she said.

"This is finals week at Stanford, so this first-round bye is perfect for us.

"Our players are really excited about the playoffs. It's like Christmas in March. It's not old hat to them at all--I just hope we have the same outcome this year.

"Our practices lately have been very intense and very short. They're upbeat, too. We're enthusiastic."

VanDerveer has recruited football Coach Bill Walsh as an inspirational speaker for her team this week.

"He's going to talk to our girls about repeating, things to think about while they play," VanDerveer said.

UC Santa Barbara (18-11), winner of the Big West tournament championship on Saturday, will meet Brigham Young (24-4) at Goleta on Wednesday, the winner meeting Colorado (25-3) on Saturday.

The Gauchos are led by Cori Close, who paced Santa Barbara's Big West tournament semifinal and final victories over Nevada Las Vegas and Hawaii. She won the tournament's MVP award.

The Southeastern Conference put six teams, more than any other conference, into the playoffs. The Pac-10 has four. Washington (16-11) has a first-round game Wednesday against Montana State (22-6).

This year's tournament is expected to be the last 48-team tournament. Judith Holland of UCLA, chairwoman of the NCAA's postseason women's basketball committee, said the NCAA probably will expand to 64 teams next season.

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