March 19, 2004
GAME: No. 9 Arizona (24-8) vs. No. 8 Michigan State (21-8).
REGIONAL: West, First Round.
TIME: Sunday, 9:30 p.m. EST.
SITE: The Frank Erwin Center; Austin, Texas.
Don't blame Arizona if it comes to the NCAA tournament with some hard feelings.
The Wildcats are upset about their seeding, upset about being sent to Texas, and upset that their conference is getting disrespected.
Now ninth-seeded Arizona has to open tournament play on Sunday against Michigan State - one of the best defensive teams in the country.
"I have coached a long time," Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini said. "This is my 16th year of coaching teams in the NCAA tournament. This is the lowest seed of any team I have had at Arizona, and this is the best team Arizona has ever had."
A higher seeding could have placed the Wildcats in Tempe, Ariz. for the first two rounds, giving them a huge home-court advantage.
"I was surprised. I was even more surprised to be sent to Austin, Texas, rather than Tempe, Ariz," Bonvicini said. "The West didn't get any respect whatsoever. Speaking on the behalf of not only Arizona, but also the Pac-10, the schools from the West are coming out with a chip on their shoulders."
Last year, Arizona entered the tournament as a No. 6 seed but lost to 11th-seeded Notre Dame in the first round. The 59-47 defeat was the Wildcats' worst shooting performance in over 20 years, as they shot 23.3 percent from the field and made only 2 of 25 shots from 3-point range.
But Arizona led the Pac-10 this season in both scoring (72.7 points) and field goal percentage (46.1) en route to a share of the conference title. One more win and the Wildcats will tie a school record.
Arizona is led by junior guard Dee-Dee Wheeler's 17.1 points per game. Wheeler also averages a team-high 4.7 assists, while sophomore center Shawntinice Polk scores 16.4 points and grabs 10.3 rebounds per game.
The Wildcats haven't played since March 8, when they lost to top-seeded Stanford in the conference championship game. That snapped Arizona's six-game win streak.
"I have coached a long time. This is my 16th year of coaching teams in the NCAA tournament. This is the lowest seed of any team I have had at Arizona, and this is the best team Arizona has ever had."
Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini
Even though the Spartans have lost four of the last six games, their defense still ranks 11th in the country.
Michigan State held opponents to a conference-best 55.2 points per game and 37.4 percent shooting. The Spartans also led the league with 9.79 steals per game.
"They like to run the zone, and they are a great zone team," Arizona guard Aimee Gryzb said. "They pride themselves on defense."
Michigan State also lost in the first round last season, falling to TCU and dropping to 2-4 in the NCAA tournament.
Sophomore guard Lindsay Bowen leads the Spartans with 13.4 points per game. She was named to the All-Big Ten second team.
Arizona won the only matchup between these teams, 89-46 win in 1993.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Arizona - F Shannon Hobson (4.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg), C Polk (16.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg), G Wheeler (17.1 ppg, 4.8 apg), G Gryzb (11.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg), G Natalie Jones (8.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg). Michigan State - F Liz Smiek (10.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg), C Kelli Roehrig (8.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg), G Kristin Haynie (9.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg), G Bowen (13.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg), G Rene Haynes (8.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg).
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Arizona - At-large berth. Michigan State - At-large berth.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Arizona - 5-5, 5 years. Michigan State - 2-4, 4 years.