No matter what happens along the way, the NCAA women's basketball tournament ultimately comes down to this: How is anyone going to beat Connecticut?
Connecticut has been so ruthlessly efficient on offense, so relentless on defense that coach Geno Auriemma's team is an overwhelming favorite to don the championship caps when the 63-game grind ends in San Antonio's Alamodome on March 31.
But the top-ranked Huskies (33-0), the No. 1 seed in the Mideast Regional, won't just be handed their third national title. There are plenty of other teams with championship aspirations of their own.
"If it's all right with everybody, we're going to go ahead and try to keep winning," said Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale, whose team is ranked second nationally and is the No. 1 seed in the West.
It all starts Friday night with 16 first-round games at eight sites. The remaining first-round games will be played Saturday.
The field has most of the usual suspects, but also some schools that usually aren't heard from at this time of year.
Minnesota, which has undergone a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Brenda Oldfield, made it for the first time since 1994. Syracuse is in for the first time since 1988. South Carolina, another of the season's surprise teams, earned its first berth since 1991.
And South Carolina isn't just a happy-to-be-here team. The Lady Gamecocks have high expectations after being seeded third in the East. They've already beaten the East's No. 1 seed, Duke, and have a victory over Vanderbilt, the top seed in the Midwest.
"Having wins over those teams should give us confidence," South Carolina coach Susan Walvius said. "Now we've got to handle the pressure of being here and the expectation to win."
There are no greater expectations than at Connecticut, which plays St. Francis, Pa., on Saturday night. The Huskies' closest game this season was nine points; they won all the rest by at least 14 and their average victory margin is 37.
They may have beaten up on some second-division teams in the Big East, but they also have defeated Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, North Carolina, Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion.
If complacency sets in, Auriemma usually harkens back to Connecticut's last loss. The Huskies blew a 15-point lead in losing to Notre Dame 90-75 in the semifinals at last year's Final Four.
"He always reminds us," Asjha Jones said. "Always, always, always."
Duke will be the only No. 1 seed playing Friday night. The Blue Devils (27-3), with just eight players on the roster, take an 18-game winning streak against Norfolk State, which is in the tournament for the first time.
It's not a game the Blue Devils will take lightly, promises All-American Alana Beard.
"We will play every game like it is our last," Beard said. "We have three more weeks and hopefully, the third week, we will be in the Final Four."
Oklahoma (27-3), the Big 12 regular-season and tournament champion, starts its Final Four bid Saturday against Hartford, one of two teams in the tournament coached by WNBA players.
Jennifer Rizzotti, who helped Connecticut win the 1995 national championship and plays for the Cleveland Rockers, guided Hartford to its first NCAA tournament.
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