Busting brackets is a rare occurrence in the women's NCAA Tournament. While it's true that all four No. 3 seeds are gone headed into this year's Sweet 16, the eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are still playing.
And double digit seeds rarely reach the regional semifinals … unless the school is Kansas.
For the second consecutive year, the Jayhawks were one of the last at-large teams selected. Last year as a No. 11 seed they beat a No. 6 and a No. 3 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Kansas is just the second No. 12 seed – and first since 1996 – to survive and advance to the second weekend.
"I think it's more fun," KU senior guard Monica Engelman said. "A lot of people don't have high expectations for you and to prove them wrong makes it that much more fun."
Making the fun last will require a major upset. Last season, the Jayhawks' season ended with a loss to second-seeded Tennessee. Sunday in Norfolk, Va., Kansas (20-13) takes on No. 1 seed Notre Dame (33-1). The Fighting Irish have won a school-record 28 consecutive games; their only loss came at home against Baylor on Dec. 5.
Engelman has been almost doubled her scoring average over the last 11 games and her production has given support to senior point guard Angel Goodrich and senior post Carolyn Davis. Davis was injured in mid-February last season and missed the team's Sweet 16 run.
"The three seniors and the rest of this team - we were hungry, and we wanted to do everything possible, individually and collectively, to advance," Engelman said after scoring a career-high 27 in the second-round victory over No. 4 seed South Carolina.
Notre Dame also has a player coming off a career-high. Junior Kayla McBride had 28 in the second-round victory over No. 9 Iowa. Senior All-American point guard Skylar Diggins is the team's leading scorer and one of four who average in double figures.
"Everybody can score," Diggins said. "It doesn't matter. This is the most unselfish team I've played on. … This year everybody can score 20 points in a game. It doesn't matter who is doing it. This team can recognize who has the hot hand, better than any team I've been on. … There is great balanced scoring on this team, and that's what we need. With us, it's pick your poison, and that poses trouble for the defense."
After just missing the NCAA Tournament and playing in the WNIT for several years, Kansas' break through last year was important. Making two consecutive Sweet 16s as a double-digit seed is significant.
"Coming in as freshmen, we all came here to make a difference and turn the program around," Goodrich said. "Making the Sweet 16 two years in a row, I feel like that's a big accomplishment for all of us. It's been fun and exciting, and I'm so glad I've experienced it with these girls."
No. 12 Kansas (20-13) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame (33-1)
11 a.m. Sunday, Norfolk, Va., ESPN.
Coaches: Bonnie Henrickson, Kansas; Muffett McGraw, Notre Dame.
Why they're here: Kansas was an at-large selection from the Big 12. The Jayhawks defeated No. 5 Colorado, 67-52, in the first round and No. 4 South Carolina, 75-69, in the second round. Notre Dame won the automatic bid from the Big East Conference. The Fighting Irish defeated No. 16 Tennessee-Martin, 97-64, in the first round and No. 9 Iowa, 74-57, in the second round.
Scouting the Jayhawks: Kansas likely needs to win (or at least tie) the point guard matchup as Notre Dame has an All-American in Skylar Diggins. The Jayhawks will counter with senior Angel Goodrich, the school's career leader in assists who has 16 assists and two turnovers in the two NCAA victories. … Senior guard Monica Engelman, who scored a career-high 27 in the second round victory, is averaging 15.9 per game in the last 11 contests. … Reserve guard CeCe Harper has made 11 of her last 17 3-point attempts. … Notre Dame has yet to trail in either of its NCAA Tournament victories. If Kansas can stay close and get the lead in the second half, it will be interesting to see how the Irish respond.
Scouting the Fighting Irish: Notre Dame is third nationally in scoring, averaging 81.1 points per game. … The Fighting Irish force 20.5 turnovers per game, using half-court and full-court pressure. … Notre Dame has won a school-record 28 consecutive victories. The only loss came in South Bend on Dec. 5, a 73-61 loss to Baylor. … Senior point guard Skylar Diggins averages 16.8 points, 5.9 assists and three steals per game. She is Notre Dame's only senior starter. … Four players average in double figures with Kayla McBride (16 per game), Natalie Achonwa (13.8) and Jewell Loyd (12.3) giving the Fighting Irish a balanced attack.