The last roundup

USC, Hawaii, Florida and
Minnesota descend on Dallas
for the NCAA Final Four

When to watch

Tomorrow: Florida vs. Hawaii, live, 4:30 p.m., Oceanic Cable 16; USC vs. Minnesota, taped, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Saturday: Championship, live, 10:30 a.m., ESPN2

DALLAS >> The Big Three hit Big D this week with the same hopes they brought to the Big Easy last December.

No. 1 Southern California, No. 2 Hawaii and No. 3 Florida know what it's all about, having been to the NCAA women's volleyball final four a combined 17 times since the tournament began in 1981. The Women of Troy have two national titles, including the one won 12 months ago in New Orleans, and the Rainbow Wahine have three, the last coming in 1987 when the majority of their players were in preschool.

And the Gators ... impressive in that they have made it this far six times. More amazing, they've won just one game (1-18) in the national semifinals, that coming in Game 2 against USC last year.

The three started the preseason ranked the same as their respective seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Most expected the trio to be giving interviews today at Reunion Arena and "I think the schedules we all played and the results we had separated us from the rest," Florida coach Mary Wise said. "That fourth spot was wide open. At different points of the season, it looked like it would be Georgia Tech or Pepperdine, maybe Nebraska."

But Minnesota? The Golden Gophers were the preseason No. 6 but dropped quicker than a Kim Willoughby bullet serve after opening the season 0-3.

However, Minnesota grew from the adversity and put it together when it counted: at the end of the season. The Gophers have won their last five, including two five-game matches in the regional, to advance to their first final four ever.

April Ross and the USC Trojans are 33-0.

"WE WILL BE a bit of an unknown," Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. "Most people were thinking some other teams would be in the final four. We'll be a bit of a surprise since we are an unknown in some circles, but we are happy to take that role. We aren't going to lay down against USC. We have a lot of respect for them. It will be a David vs. Goliath battle."

And it will be a scenario of "better you than me." At least that's how Wise was feeling coming into this week.

"I think there are still about 315 teams we'd rather play than USC," she said. "But we have Hawaii ... and when you think of them, you think of their great outsides (seniors Kim Willoughby and Lily Kahumoku)."

Willoughby, a leading candidate for Player of the Year, had 36 kills in last Saturday's victory over Georgia Tech. Kahumoku added 25 kills and 19 digs against the Yellow Jackets.

"For us to get into the final, we have to somehow do what no one else has been able to do," Wise said. "And that is to have Lily and Kim play at a human level. They've raised their level of play and it's not the normal human volleyball level."

Lily Kahumoku leads UH in digs per game.

Wise had one idea as how to beat Hawaii, but she doubted that Wahine coach Dave Shoji would go for it. Since the Gators lost All-American middle Benavia Jenkins to an ACL in October, Wise suggested that Shoji hold out his senior All-American middle Lauren Duggins.

"I think that would be only fair," she said.

Florida has managed pretty well since Jenkins went down early in the match against South Carolina on Oct. 26. The Gators finished 16-0 in the Southeastern Conference without dropping a game. Except for a 0-3 loss to Southern California in the season opener, and dropping a game to Kansas State the next night in a 3-1 victory, Florida has won the other 34 matches in sweeps.

"I give a lot of credit to our players," said Wise, who picked up her 500th career win on Oct. 31 against Tennessee. "There could have been a lot of 'I feel sorry for me's' on Oct. 26. Benavia was leading the country in hitting percentage (.465) at the time of the season-ending injury. Our players picked it up and carried on with the same attitude as before."

Wise has ended her losing skid in the NCAA semifinals and has her sights set on ending another. No female coach has ever won the national title since the NCAA took over running the tournament in 1981.

Match 1

Southern California

All matches 33-0 16-0 12-0 5-0
Conference 18-0 9-0 9-0 0-0
Non-conference 15-0 7-0 3-0 5-0

All matches 26-10 16-2 6-6 4-2
Conference 15-5 9-1 6-4 0-0
Non-conference 11-5 7-1 0-2 4-2

Match 2


All matches 34-1 16-0 11-0 7-1
Conference 16-0 8-0 8-0 0-0
Non-conference 18-1 8-0 3-0 7-1
All matches 36-1 22-1 10-0 4-0
Conference 13-0 6-0 7-0 0-0
Non-conference 23-1 16-1 3-0 4-0

Statistics as of Dec. 14


E-mail to Sports Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --