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NCAA women's tournament overview

Updated 12:42 am, Friday, March 21, 2014

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  • Connecticut's Breanna Stewart, right, drives around Cincinnati's Jasmine Whitfield, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament, Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Uncasville, Conn. Connecticut won 72-42. Photo: Jessica Hill, AP / Associated Press
    Connecticut's Breanna Stewart, right, drives around Cincinnati's Jasmine Whitfield, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament, Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Uncasville, Conn. Connecticut won 72-42. Photo: Jessica Hill, AP

 

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UConn and Notre Dame have been regarded as the two top teams in the country for much of this season. Both teams enter the NCAA tournament undefeated, and they are expected to meet in the tournament final at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., on April 8. However, there are 62 other teams vying for a spot in that game.

Here is look at some of the top players and sleeper teams to keep an eye on as the tournament progresses.

Players to watch

1. Breanna Stewart, UConn: She has emerged as arguably the nation's top player in her sophomore season. Stewart averaged 20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.0 steals in five NCAA tournament games last season en route to being named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

2. Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford: She is the only player in the nation who ranks in the top 10 in scoring (26.8, third), rebounding (12.3, seventh), field-goal percentage (.610, third) and double-doubles (24, sixth). She has scored at least 30 points in 14 games this season, and with 2,629 career points, she needs just one to become the career leader in the Pac-12. She is seeking her third career trip to the Final Four.

3. Odyssey Sims, Baylor: The loss of All-American Brittney Griner placed a substantial load of responsibility on her shoulders this season. And she has proven to be everything Baylor has needed to remain among the nation's elite teams, ranking second nationally in scoring (28.4) and also averaging 4.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists.

4. Jewell Loyd, Notre Dame: Senior Kayla McBride is an All-American and is playing like one. But Loyd has had a breakout season as a sophomore to form a high-octane 1-2 punch with McBride. She leads the Irish in scoring (18.5) and steals (1.6) and is also averaging 6.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 29.4 minutes. Earlier this season, she became the third-fastest player in team history to reach 1,000 points (67 games).

4. Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina: She leads South Carolina in scoring (15.2), assists (3.5), steals (1.9) and minutes (31.0) and was named the SEC Player of the Year by the conference coaches. She is also averaging 5.5 rebounds and is shooting 51.5 percent from 3-point range. In 13 games this season as a sophomore, she has accounted for at least one-third of the team's offense (points and assists).

Sleepers to watch

1. Louisville: This is a team that is ranked No. 4 in the country, with three of its four losses coming to UConn and the other to Kentucky. The selection committee made the Cardinals, who shocked Baylor before advancing to the tournament final last season, a No. 3 seed in the Louisville regional. Shoni Schimmel (17.0p, 4.3r, 3.6a), Sara Hammond (10.9p, 6.2r), Asia Taylor (10.8p, 7.3r) and Co. have plenty of added motivation.

2. West Virginia: The second-seeded Mountaineers, in the same region as Louisville, have won 12 of their last 13 games, including a win at Baylor on March 2 and claimed the Big 12 regular-season championship. They are led by New Haven native Bria Holmes (15.1p, 3.6r) and seniors Asya Bussie (13.0p, 7.6r), Christal Caldwell (12.2p., 4.4r) and Taylor Palmer (10.1p,). The Mountaineers likely will face Louisville in the Sweet 16,.

3. Nebraska: The fourth-seeded Huskers have won 12 of their last 13 games en route to winning the Big Ten tournament title. They are led by conference player of the year Jordan Hooper (20.3p, 9.2r) and conference tournament MVP Rachel Theriot (14.3p, 6.9a). Should they reach the Sweet 16 for the third time, they would be playing in Lincoln, Neb. However, they could face top-seeded UConn in that spot.

4. Kentucky: The third-seeded Wildcats in the Notre Dame region are confident coming in, defeating South Carolina in the SEC tournament semifinals before falling to Tennessee 71-70 in the final. Led by Jennifer O'Neill (12.7p, 2.8a), DeNesha Stallworth (12.3p, 6.9r), Bria Goss (9.9p, 4.0r) and Samarie Walker (9.1p, 8.7r), they have plenty of experience. Keep in mind, they lost to UConn in the regional final in each of the last two seasons.

5. North Carolina: The youthful, fourth-seeded Tar Heels in the Stanford region have proven that they can beat some of the top teams on their schedule with wins over Duke (two), South Carolina, Nebraska, Maryland and NC State. Freshmen Diamond DeShields (18.0p, 5.4r, 2.6a), Stephanie Mavunga (11.0p, 8.4r, 2.5b) and Allisha Gray (14.3p, 5.5r) and sophomore Xylina McDaniel (11.8p, 5.8r) could make a splash in their first appearance on the big stage, beginning with a potential meeting against top-seeded South Carolina in the Sweet 16.

Final Four and championship predictions

Not much of a surprise here -- UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Louisville. UConn will win the national title.

Worth noting

This is the first time that two teams have entered the NCAA women's basketball tournament undefeated since Tennessee (34-0) and Liberty (28-0) in 1998. The top-seeded and eventual national champion Lady Vols defeated the 16th-seeded Flames 102-58 in the first round.

-- RICH ELLIOTT