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Big East matches SEC in NCAA women's tournament

By By CHUCK SCHOFFNER, AP Sports Writer
Watch out Southeastern Conference. Step aside Big 12. The Big East is muscling in on your territory in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
The Big East matched the mighty SEC with seven teams in the tournament bracket released Sunday. That's the most ever for the league, at times belittled as little more than Connecticut and a bunch of others.
Connecticut earned its usual No. 1 seed, this time in the East Regional. The selection committee also chose Villanova, Rutgers, Boston College, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Miami from the Big East.
There was good reason to do so, said Cheryl Marra, who chairs the committee.
Duke (Midwest), Tennessee (Mideast) and LSU (West) were the other No. 1 seeds, with LSU beating out Texas for the final spot in that group.
Tennessee and LSU head the SEC contingent in the tournament and are joined by Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Georgia. The league's coaches had felt Auburn deserved a berth, too, despite its 5-9 conference record.
The Big 12, which had seven teams in the NCAA tournament last year, has only five this time -- the same number as the more lightly regarded Conference USA.
TCU winning the league tournament was a bonus for Conference USA because the Horned Frogs would not have gotten in otherwise. The league also has Cincinnati, DePaul, Charlotte and Tulane in the NCAA field.
Miami was the biggest surprise among the Big East teams.
The Hurricane finished seventh in the league at 8-8, but the committee was impressed by Miami's upset of Rutgers in the conference tournament and wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame during the season.
The tournament has a slightly different look this year because some of the top teams will be traveling next weekend.
Previously, the top four seeds in each region hosted the first- and second-round games. For this year's tournament, those sites were assigned last summer. So while teams such as Connecticut, Tennessee, Texas Tech and Kansas State will start the tournament at home, other high seeds will be on the road, including Duke, LSU, Villanova and Texas.
LSU, which earned a No. 1 seed for the first time, will travel halfway across the country to play Southwest Texas State in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday. Duke plays Georgia State in Raleigh, N.C., on Sunday.
Both will be neutral sites because the home teams, Oregon and North Carolina State, did not make the tournament. The 14 other sites will have the home team playing, so NCAA officials will be watching the Eugene and Raleigh games closely for attendance and atmosphere.
The NCAA has been reluctant to go to neutral sites for the subregionals out of fear the games would not draw without the home team.
Connecticut hosts Boston University on Sunday, the Huskies' first time on the court since their 70-game winning streak was broken by a 52-48 loss to Villanova in the Big East tournament finals.
Villanova is the No. 2 seed in the Mideast.
Two victories would send Connecticut to the East Regional in Dayton.
Tennessee hosts Alabama State on Saturday and could play its way into the Final Four without leaving home because the Mideast Regional also is in Knoxville.
New Mexico and Stanford have the same opportunity. Both are hosting first- and second-round games and both have regionals, New Mexico the Midwest and Stanford the West.
That adds to the challenge for Duke and LSU. Duke could end up playing New Mexico in the Pit for a berth in the Final Four. LSU might have to try to beat Stanford on the Cardinal's floor.