NORFOLK, Va. — Stanford might have the most interesting situation for a top seed in the women's NCAA tournament.
The Cardinal had to travel across country to face a Hampton team that felt disrespected when it was made a No. 16 seed, and will be playing about 11 miles from its campus.
The Cardinal (31-1) and Pirates (26-4) meet Saturday at the Constant Center, after eighth-seeded West Virginia (23-9) and ninth-seeded Texas (18-13) meet in the opener.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said the hardest part about the game will be containing the Pirates' speed and quickness.
Once the ball goes up, seeding doesn't matter, forward Chiney Ogwumike said.
"Being a 1 seed is great, and the validation of hard work throughout the season, but basketball is a game of matchups," she said. "Either way, you win, you go on. You lose, you go home. It doesn't matter the number that goes in front of your school."
Unless, perhaps, that number is as high as they go on the seeding chart.
The Pirates, of the lightly regarded Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, set a school record for victories, are second only to Connecticut in scoring defense (46.8) and are in the tournament for the third year in a row. Last year, as a No. 13 seed, they fell 66-62 in overtime against Kentucky, proving to point guard Jericka Jenkins "that we can play with the big dogs."
That feeling carries over to this year, senior forward Keiara Avant said.
"I feel like, of course, we have a chip on our shoulder, making it last year with Kentucky into overtime," she said. "We knew that we could have sealed the deal but, this time, we're ready and we're going to be focused."
The Cardinal will be, too.
The game marks the start of the final tournament for Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Chiney's older sister, and the team wants to make it special for her.
Nnemkadi averages 21.8 points and 10.5 rebounds. Chiney averaged 15.8 and 10.3.
"She's a sister to us all, really," forward Joslyn Tinkle said of Nnemdaki, one of two seniors on the roster. "We play every game for her and the rest of the seniors that we have."
The Pirates will be bolstered by the return of Melanie Warner, their third-leading scorer with a 10.7 ppg average. Warner has been out since Feb. 19 with a broken finger.
And by the crowd, Hampton coach David Six hopes.
"I know one thing," he said with a broad smile. "There's going to be a lot of people from Hampton Roads there tomorrow. That's definitely a plus."
They will also see Texas and West Virginia trying to put their last games behind them.
The Mountaineers (23-9) were blown out 73-45 by No. 3 Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, and the Longhorns (18-13) got drilled 81-58 by Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
West Virginia is moving to the Big 12 next season, and would like to make a statement.
"We know we didn't end our season in the Big East the way we wanted to, so we want to start off going into the Big 12 with a bang," center Ayana Dunning said. The team is in the field for the fifth time in six years, and will lose only one lightly used senior after this season.
The game is a homecoming for West Virginia freshmen Linda Stepney and Crystal Leary, both Norfolk natives, and a return to the East for Texas coach Gail Goestenkors, formerly at Duke.
West Virginia has used a twin towers approach for the last 12 games, with coach Mike Carey starting 6-foot-4 Asya Bussie and Dunning, who is 6-3, together. The pair complement each other offensively, and have helped the Mountaineers outrebound opponents by nearly nine per game.
"I think they work harder in that low post — ducking in, moving without the ball — than any two post players I've seen," Goestenkors said.
Bussie averages 12.2 points, Christal Caldwell 11.1 and Dunning 8.2.
The Longhorns are led by 5-10 sophomore guard Chassidy Fussell, who averages 16.5 points, and senior guards Ashleigh Fontenette and Yvonne Anderson, who both average 11.9 points.
Slowing Texas' fast break will be challenging, West Virginia coach Mike Carey said.
"Our girls are going to have be aggressive and we're going to have to get weak-side help, stop the ball in transition," he said. "That's going to be big for us, but that's been big for us all year. We've had the same problem all year, taking care of that."
Anderson, in danger of being in the first class at Texas not to win a game in the tournament since the Longhorns went from 1998-2001 without winning, hopes to fix that on Saturday.
"What's going in our memory is those games before (the Texas Tech game) when we knew exactly what we were doing and trusted each other," she said. "We've been working hard, and I think that's what we're going to bring when we play West Virginia."