The Huskies are heavy favorites to win the women's basketball title, but there are some teams that can surprise.

By Frank Jakka

In today’s economy, there’s no sure thing or safe bet. In women’s college basketball, there may very well be one – the University of Connecticut. The Huskies enter the tournament undefeated at 33-0 and are the heavy favorite to be crowned champion at the Final Four in St. Louis on April 7.

Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris

However, anything can happen, and while UConn may be the smart place to put your money, there are a bevy of individuals and teams thinking this could be their year: Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris is putting up her scholarship money, hedging her Sooners can get the job done; Maryland is the team that many analysts say have a legitimate shot at upsetting the Huskies; and Rutgers, hasn’t let high preseason expectations or regular season dips defeat itsconfidence.
A breakdown of the regions:
The TRENTON REGION will be the battleground of open court players like UConn’s Maya Moore, Tanae Davis-Cain of FSU, Takia Starks from Texas A&M,Virginia’s Monica Wright and Arizona State’s Briann January.
It appears the region (and tournament for that matter) are Connecticut’s to win or lose. On paper, no team appears better than the 1-2-3 punch of Renee Montgomery, Maya Moore and Tina Charles. Moore is the most complete player in the country and is the biggest x-factor in taking UConn from a team that should win, to one that will win.
Texas A&M has terrific guard play and some of the quickest players in the country, led by Takia Starks. The Aggies aren’t tall or deep in their post rotation, so LaToya Micheaux must stay out of trouble and defend the interior.
The Seminoles of Florida State have surprised many this year, but they have the talent and experience to battle the best. Of the teams in this region, the ‘Noles may best match UConn in terms of experience, talent, quickness and athleticism.
Underachieving in the post-season has been the trademark of the California Golden Bears. However, the Bears will give a final push for seniors Ashley Walker and Devanei Hampton – two players who have helped turn Cal into a national contender.
Another team capable of giving the Huskies a game is Virginia. The Cavaliers have their own triple threat with Monica Wright, Lyndra Littles and 6-3 Aisha Mohammed. UConn Coach Geno Auriemma is a former Virginia assistant under UVA Coach Debbie Ryan.
Arizona State’s depth is a program staple, but the loss of Dymond Simon, the team’s leading scorer, to another ACL tear may be too damaging for even the deep Sun Devils to recover from.
From the Big East, Notre Dame gave the Huskies their closest game of the year, but would have to win three games just to get a rematch with the Huskies. The Irish have good perimeter play, but lack a consistent inside presence.
Best bets for an upset: 7th seed Notre Dame over 2nd seed Texas A &M; 11th seed Georgia over 6th seed Arizona State; 5th seed Virginia over 4th seed California
Who should win this region: Connecticut. Who will win this region: Connecticut.
The BERKELEY REGION will stand at the center of attention, with the forecasted height of such players as Michigan State’s 6-9 Allyssa DeHaan, Tennessee’s 6-6 Kelley Cain, Duke’s 6-5 Chante Black, Stanford’s 6-4 Jayne Appel and Ohio State’s 6-4 Jantel Lavendar. All will look to rally their teams from inside the paint.
Duke has experience, quality and depth, in the post and on the perimeter. Better still, a second season under the new system of Joanne P. McCallie.
Leading the West Coast swing once again is Stanford. The Cardinal have the best post depth of any team in the country. Losing starting point guard JJ Hones to an early-season knee injury raises questions about their backcourt, therefore Jeannette Pohlen’s play is critical.
Big Ten champ Ohio State has the look of a typical Jim Foster team – a big, low post presence in sophomore Jantel Lavendar and a savvy point guard in freshman Samantha Prahalis. The Buckeyes are young, and maybe a year away from making a real impression.
Iowa State battled through the tough Big XII, and are well coached and disciplined. However, the Cyclones don’t have a go-to player to push them over the top against other quality teams.
Tennessee is hoping their freshman class has made enough gains through a rugged schedule to put up a post season run. Nobody wants to play Pat Summitt in March – regardless of what has taken place in the regular season.
Gail Goestenkors has quickly turned things around in Texas. The Longhorns' key to a run will be to play with consistency.
Michigan State, though a No. 9 seed, has a shot at an upset as the Spartans get to play host. Looming in the second round is former Coach McCallie.
Best bets for an upset: 11th seed Mississippi State over 6th seed Texas; 10th seed San Diego State over 7th seed DePaul; 5th seed Tennessee over 4th seed Iowa State
Who should win this region: Stanford. Who will win this region: Tennessee.
The RALEIGH REGION is where perimeter play pays dividends, as Kristi Tolliver of Maryland, Jessica Morrow from Baylor,Louisville’s Angel McCoughtry, Shalee Lehning of Kansas State, LSU’s Alison Hightower and Christina Wirth of Vanderbilt lead their squads.
At Maryland, the inside game is finally complementing the perimeter game. Dee Liles and Lynetta Kizer have stepped up their play. When the chips are down, the one player you want taking the final shot is Terp senior guard Kristi Toliver.
Baylor has rebounded from a tough loss when center Danielle Wilson suffered a late-season knee injury. Jhasmine Player and Jessica Morrow are playing their best basketball and will need to continue to do so if the Bears are to live up to their seed.
One of the best blue chips in the country is Angel McCoughtry of Louisville. The senior forward will look to put a Sheryl Swoopes-esque ending to her senior season.
The Commodores of Vanderbilt are short on height, but play as hard as any team in the country. If the ‘Dores can hold their own in the paint, they have a shot in any game.
Kansas State surprised everyone with last year, not so much this year, as senior triple-double threat Shalee Lehning looks to score, rebound and pass her team to a deep run.
A few months ago, nobody would have thought LSU a team to be in the tournament, let alone get a high seed. However, the youth movement is underway and thriving under Coach Van Chancellor.
Is South Dakota State for real? We will find out, as they Jackrabbits have a shot at upsetting the injury-plagued Baylor Bears in round two.
Best bets for an upset: 10th seed TCU over 7th seed South Dakota State; SDSU/TCU over 2nd seed Baylor; 3rd seed Louisville over 1 seed Maryland
Who should win this region: Maryland. Who will win this region: Maryland.
The OKLAHOMA REGION is where it pays to be quick, with players like Epiphanny Prince of Rutgers, Auburn’s Whitney Boddie, North Carolina’s Cetera Degraffenreid, Pittsburgh’s Shavonte Zellous, Xavier’s Tuday Reed and Dee Dee Jernigan and Fahkara Malone of Purdue. All look to regulate and dictate tempo.
Courtney Paris is putting her money where her mouth is, saying that Oklahoma will win the national title or she’ll repay her scholarship money. With UConn in the field, maybe not the safest bet. However, if the guards can hit from outside, Paris will be free to own the paint.
Auburn is another surprise this year, as 6-4 DeWanna Bonner leads the Tigers. Critical to the Tiger’s success is their guard play – led by Whitney Boddie.
As usual, North Carolina enters the tournament with some of the quickest and best athletes in the country. However, even Coach Sylvia Hatchell has to be scratching her head at some of the unnecessary turnovers the Heels have had this season.
Pittsburgh has one of the best kept secrets in the game in guard Shavonte Zellous. Zellous is capable of willing her team to victory, and the Panthers may be ready to pull an upset.
The Musketeers of Xavier have a good mix of quickness and size with their guards and 6-6 Ta’Shia Phillips manning the post. An interesting matchup looms between Phillips and Paris if both can advance.
Purdue has bounced back from last season’s injury-plagues losses and are flying under the radar. 6-2 senior Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton is quality, veteran player.
The freshman class has not lived up to its billing at Rutgers. However, the Scarlet Knight’s stock has been climbing over the last two months behind the resurgence of 6-4 senior center Kia Vaughn.
Best bets for an upset: 7th seed Rutgers over 2nd seed Auburn; 6th seed Purdue over 3rd seed UNC; 4th seed Pittsburgh over 1 seed Oklahoma
Who will win this region: Oklahoma. Who will win this region: North Carolina.
Final Four
Connecticut over Maryland in the national championship game.

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