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UConn Earns Top-Spot In West

After Stanford fell flat in its final regular-season game, there was no doubt a team would come from far away as the No. 1 seed in the West. That team is Big East champion Connecticut.

The NCAA Selection Committee had to send either Auburn or Connecticut out West, and UConn got the nod. That means two of last year's Final Four - Connecticut and Stanford - will play in the same region.

Connecticut will make the long journey to Denver for a first-round matchup Thursday against Texas-San Antonio.

Stanford, which lost any fleeting chance for a No. 1 seed Saturday night with a loss at Oregon State, is seeded second, and will play Alcorn State Thursday at Seattle's Key Arena.

With Western Athletic Conference champion Utah sent to the Midwest as the No. 2 seed, there aren't a lot of Western teams in the West Region. Connecticut was just one of several that will cross a few time zones.

North Carolina, long accustomed to staying close to home in the first round, will go to Seattle for its record 25th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. The Tar Heels (24-9), as the No. 3 seed, play Big Sky champion Weber State (24-7) in the first round.

Arkansas and Florida, two SEC teams that played one of the best games in the conference tournament, are both headed to the West.

Florida (20-8), which lost to Arkansas 75-74 in the SEC quarterfinals, travels about as far as a team can go and stay in the continental United States, playing Ivy League champ Pennsylvania (21-5) in Seattle on Thursday.

Arkansas (22-10), which lost to Kentucky in the SEC tournament championship game Sunday, got the West's No. 4 seed and goes to Denver to play Siena (25-5) of the Metro Athletic Conference.

Minnesota (17-10), the No. 7 seed, has a tough first-round matchup in Seattle against Big West champion Gonzaga (25-6), one of the best outside shooting teams in the country. Iowa (18-9), in Tom Davis' last hurrah as coach, plays Alabama-Birmingham (20-11), a Conference USA team whose at-large berth was a surprise.

UAB lost to Louisville in the semifinals of the conference tournament, never beat a ranked team and lost to some mediocre opponents at home.

"It was an anxious day, to say the least," UAB coach Murry Bartow said. "We looked at it objectively all day and knew it would be close, but with the strength of our league and the 20 wins, we thought we earned it."

In the other first-round game in Denver, Missouri (20-8), one of five Big 12 teams in the tournament, plays New Mexico (24-8), a team that might not have its star Kenny Thomas, who missed the last two WAC tournament games with a groin pull.

Davis, who has taken Iowa to the NCAA tournament nine times in his 13 seasons as coach, won't be back next year because his contract wasn't extended. Davis has never lost a first-round game, and he was satisfied with the Hawkeyes' matchup.

"The fifth seed is excellent for us,"said. "I told our team, `Don't expect an easy game.' When you get the draw, you see there are no easy games all the way up and down."

Well, maybe. Texas-San Antonio (18-10), the Southland Conference champion, will be making its second trip to the NCAA tournament, and since its first-round matchup is against Connecticut (28-2), the journey shouldn't last long.

Alcorn State (23-6) won its first Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship since 1984 and earned the right to play Stanford (25-6), the Pac-10 champion with all of its starters back from last year's Final Four team.

Stanford coach Mike Montgomery didn't think Saturday night's loss to Oregon State cost his team a No. 1 seed.

"We were a long shot for a No. 1 seed all along," he said. "I think we got exactly what we deserve."

And he insisted the Cardinal won't take Alcorn State lightly. He remembered a decade ago, when Stanford was in the NCAA tournament for the first time in a long time.

"We lost to a team named Siena," Montgomery said.

Siena's trip to the West Regional is its first NCAA appearance since then.

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