-- All things considered, the LSU women's basketball team would rather be at home. But they'll take what they got from the NCAA, which is being the No. 1 seed in the West and playing the first two rounds in Eugene, Ore.

"I was an absolutely nervous wreck," LSU Coach Sue Gunter admitted after watching and waiting for LSU's name to come up on ESPN, because the West bracket was announced last.

"The fact that we are going to Eugene, Ore., is a little far but still is a totally neutral site, so I think that's good, too. I'm pleased."

That's because Gunter, a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in her 21st year at LSU, knows all too well the politics of sports. She was the head coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that never made it to Moscow, a victim of the boycott. In 1991, her Lady Tigers were the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region but had to leave home because LSU scheduled "Sesame Street Live" in its on-campus arena. The Lady Tigers were upset at Lamar.

And this week she joked that it was just her luck to finally get a No. 1 seed and have to play away from home, because this is the first year the NCAA picked 16 predetermined regional sites.

Not that it should hurt the third-ranked Lady Tigers (27-3), the Southeastern Conference tournament champions. Their first-round opponent is Southwest Texas, which LSU beat by 51 points on Dec. 21. Next up will be the winner of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Washington.

Things turned positive in a short time for LSU, which lost two of its last three regular season games -- at home before 15,000 to Tennessee and at Vanderbilt.

But LSU was able to avenge all three of its losses in three days at the SEC tournament, beating Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.

Temeeka Johnson, a speedy 5-foot-3 junior point guard who had 24 points and nine rebounds against Tennessee, was named tournament MVP.

"Is that incredible?" Gunter asked. "Think of all those tall players on Tennessee and LSU, and this 5-3 kid has nine boards."

"It was a payback. We were all in a zone and just so focused," Johnson said. "After seeing how focused we can be, we know if we ever get to that zone, nobody will beat us."

Whoever does will defeat a team with all the right elements.

"We've got good depth, good size, good speed," Gunter said. "Everybody says our perimeter shooting is not that good, but it's been there when we needed it."

The surest of all her shooters is SEC freshman of the year Seimone Augustus, a 6-1 local product as adept at hitting a 12-foot baseline jumper as she is at breaking the press or powering inside. In her first game, Augustus scored 27 points in an overtime win at Arizona.

She joined a program with a strong past. The 1986 Lady Tigers were two points short of going to the Final Four. In 1997 and '99 LSU went to the regional semifinals and in 2000 lost in the regional final to U-Conn. The past two years, the Lady Tigers have been eliminated in the second round.

"You add a Seimone Augustus, the national high school player of the year, that's kind of the icing on the cake," Gunter said. "She adds so many different things. She posts you up, shoots, is a good passer and she really enjoys it."

Augustus leads LSU in scoring at 15.3 ppg. She's had her struggles, "but she has a lot of savvy," Gunter continued. "And she doesn't press it. She's silky smooth and makes great decisions, not just for a freshman, but good decisions for anybody."

Said Augustus, "My complete game is better. My defense, I'm smarter than I was in high school."

Gunter, 61, has the third-most wins in women's history with 678 victories. But the Final Four has eluded her.

"If we never win another basketball game, I have had a glorious career. Now, do I want to win a national championship? Of course I do. Am I going to feel a huge void in my life or is my bio going to say, 'Boy, she was okay but she never won a national championship.' That's just not on my screen. It's really not.

"I hope like heck that we go; I'm going to push for it, but if we don't, it's not going to be my epitaph, that she never got to a Final Four."

Gunter laughed.

"I don't know, maybe it's my age, maybe it's where I've been, maybe it's where I want to go. But I'm not apprehensive, I'm not overly excited. I started today's practice and told them, 'You're six wins from a national championship.' If you have to do much more to get motivated, well, I don't think we do.

"We have an opportunity to do some really good things."

Temeeka Johnson, only 5 feet 3, scored 24 points, had nine rebounds and was named most valuable player of the SEC tournament.Sue Gunter, right, celebrates the team's pick Sunday as No. 1 seed in the West Region. The 1980 U.S. Olympic coach, in her 21st year at LSU, has the third-most women's victories (678).