LEXINGTON, Ky. — Washington coach Mike Neighbors says the possibility of a rematch with Stanford entered his mind as soon as he saw the NCAA Tournament bracket.
He may have been alone in that regard.
The fourth-seeded Cardinal and seventh-seeded Huskies pulled off major upsets on their way to setting up Sunday’s Pacific-12 showdown in the NCAA Lexington Regional women’s basketball final.
“When I looked at the bracket, the first thing I noticed was that we were in there with Stanford. … That did jump at me,” Neighbors said. “I said that would be great, if it could be us and Stanford. That would guarantee a Pac-12 team in the Final Four.”
This marks the first time two Pac-12 rivals have faced off in a regional final since Stanford beat Southern California 82-62 during its 1992 national championship season, according to STATS LLC.
Stanford (27-7) and Washington (25-10) have split two previous meetings. Stanford won 69-53 at home on Jan. 29. Washington beat the Cardinal 73-65 on March 4 in the Pac-12 Tournament at Seattle.
“I think it’s going to be kind of like a pickup game at the gym where the kids know each other,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “They’ve played against each other a lot. They know each other. I think it will be a great game.”
Few people outside the West Coast anticipated this matchup. The top seed in the Lexington Regional was Notre Dame, seeking its sixth straight Final Four appearance. No. 2 seed Maryland had been to the Final Four the last two years. No. 3 seed Kentucky had a chance to reach the Final Four without ever leaving Lexington.
Washington beat Maryland 74-65 on the Terrapins’ home floor in the second round and followed that up by defeating the third-seeded Wildcats 85-72 at Rupp Arena. Stanford beat Notre Dame 90-84 to end the Fighting Irish’s 26-game winning streak.
That set up the improbable Stanford-Washington final.
“To be honest, I don’t think anyone looked at it as a possibility, right?” Washington guard Kelsey Plum said with a laugh. “We were joking about the men’s March Madness bracket the other day, how nobody has the bracket right. And we were joking that I guarantee nobody has the women’s bracket right either.”
Stanford is seeking its 13th Final Four appearance overall and seventh in the last nine years. Washington has never reached the Final Four and is in a regional final for the first time since 2001.
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