Sooner women aiming for 3rd Final Four in a row

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Whitney Hand and Oklahoma now know the path they’ll have to take to reach a third straight Final Four, and the least likely one yet.

The Sooners (21-11) were chosen as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament on Monday night and will face Colonial Athletic Association champion James Madison (26-7) in the first round Sunday afternoon in Charlottesville, Va., on Sunday afternoon.

Oklahoma was a No. 1 seed when All-American Courtney Paris led a trip to the 2009 Final Four, and the Sooners unexpectedly made it back without Paris last year as a No. 3.

“My freshman year, it was we were the better team by far and last year it was just all heart. It’s just kind of encouraging you can do it more than one way,” guard Whitney Hand said. “It’s kind of who catches fire.”

The road to the Final Four starts with a game against high-scoring point guard Dawn Evans and the Dukes, who’ll be playing a little over 100 miles from their campus in Harrisonburg, Va. Evans ranks second in the nation with 23.2 points per game, and she’ll be the highest-scoring player in the 64-team field.

With a win, the Sooners would face either third-seeded Miami (Fla.) or Gardner-Webb — which lost 84-75 to the Sooners in Norman in November — in the second round. Other potential obstacles to a Final Four run in the Dayton Region are top-seeded Tennessee, and No. 2 seed Notre Dame, among others.

“Those kids who have been there, they understand what it’s like to not just play one more week but to play three more weekends,” coach Sherri Coale said. “There is absolutely no substitute for being in that position and understanding all that goes with advancing in the NCAA tournament.”

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NEW HEIGHTS: The No. 3 seed given DePaul in the Philadelphia regional is the highest one in school history.

The Blue Demons were fourth in 2006 when they made the round of 16 before losing in the regional semifinals to LSU.

DePaul (27-6), which finished 10th in the AP poll, will be making its ninth straight NCAA tournament appearance under coach Doug Bruno.

The Blue Demons tied for second in the Big East regular season and then lost to Notre Dame 71-67 in the conference tournament semifinals.

If DePaul beats Navy (20-11), it would play the winner of Penn State-Dayton in the next round, on the Nittany Lions’ home floor in State College, Pa.

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MAKE IT 20: Northern Iowa (27-5) enters the NCAA tournament with 19 wins in a row, after taking the Missouri Valley tournament title.

The 13-seed Panthers will face fourth-seeded Michigan State in Wichita, Kan. on Sunday night.

The Panthers will be making their second consecutive NCAA appearance. They were beaten by top-seeded Nebraska a year ago.

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EVERYTHING’S BIGGER IN ... : Among the six teams from the state of Texas playing in the NCAA tournament could be a big ol’ rematch.

Baylor and Texas A&M could end up playing for a fourth time this season. The top two teams in the Big 12 are the top two seeds in the Dallas Regional.

Also in the Dallas Regional is No. 9 seed Houston (26-5), which plays in Waco against West Virginia on Sunday before the host Lady Bears (31-2) host Prairie View (21-11).

Texas A&M (27-5) plays McNeese State in Shreveport, La.

Texas Tech (22-10), which beat Baylor this season, plays St. John’s in Stanford, Calif., while Texas (19-13) plays Marquette in its first-round game at Knoxville, Tenn.

The winners of those games will probably face No. 1 seeds playing at home.

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