-- Villanova Coach Harry Perretta remembers when the Big East didn't send a single team to the NCAA women's tournament.
Now the conference, which sent a record seven schools to the tournament this season, has the most teams remaining. Four play in this weekend's regional semifinals, which are being held in Dayton, Ohio; Stanford, Calif.; Albuquerque; and Knoxville, Tenn. The powerful Southeastern Conference, which also began the tournament with seven teams, has three remaining.
"I think our conference has really developed over the years," said Perretta, in his 25th season with the Wildcats. "Our recruiting has been a lot better. . . . It's like the rich get richer. As you do better, the league does better."
Here's a look around the regions entering the round of 16, which begins Saturday.
This is a mini-Big East tournament, with three of the four teams hailing from the conference. Top-seeded and defending national champion Connecticut, which was upset by Villanova in the Big East tournament final March 11, remains the favorite to come out of this region despite its less-than-impressive performances recently.
In addition to losing to Villanova, Connecticut struggled to pull away from Texas Christian in the second round until Diana Taurasi took over in the second half. Taurasi, the Naismith player of the year, has been Herculean for the Huskies.
For Boston College -- which won its first two NCAA games by a total of two points and is making its first appearance in the round of 16 -- to have a shot against Connecticut in the regional semifinal, the Eagles have to put their eight straight losses in the series behind them, including an 83-75 defeat at home on Feb. 8.
On the other side of the bracket is No. 11 seed Notre Dame, which has made the most of an NCAA tournament bid it didn't seem it would get on Selection Sunday. The Irish made it this far with their defense. They held their first two tournament opponents to fewer than 55 points.
Purdue can't let Notre Dame take it out of its offense. Boilermakers point guard Erika Valek, who played exceptionally well against Virginia Tech in the second round, could be the key in this matchup. The Boilermakers, who have won two in a row against Notre Dame since their meeting in the national championship in 2001, beat the Irish, 71-54, on Jan. 4 in South Bend, Ind.
This should be the most competitive regional. The best game is between in-state rivals, top-seeded Louisiana State and fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech.
These teams, which traveled nearly 3,000 miles to play each other, are two of the most athletic in the tournament. LSU is the more experienced team, giving it a slight edge. The Lady Techsters are on a roll, however, having won 29 straight.
Junior point guard Temeka Johnson, who broke two facial bones in LSU's win over Wisconsin-Green Bay in the second round, is expected to play. The Lady Tigers rely heavily on Johnson, a 5-foot-3 spark plug, to make them go. LSU can't afford to have her struggle against Louisiana Tech's pressure defense.
If LSU gets by Louisiana Tech, the Lady Tigers likely will face second-seeded Texas -- one of the most complete teams in the tournament. The Longhorns have great post players in Stacy Stephens and Heather Schreiber and a great playmaker in point guard Jamie Carey.
Sixth-seeded Minnesota, another newcomer to the round of 16, has been impressive in its two NCAA victories. Guard Lindsay Whalen is a talented scorer. Center Janel McCarville is a force inside. The Golden Gophers, however, haven't been tested like Texas has this season.
Sixth-seeded New Mexico, which had never won an NCAA tournament game until this year, took advantage of playing at home to advance to its first regional semifinal. The Lobos, who also host the Midwest regional, should not have as big of a home-court advantage as they had in the first and second rounds because the Texas Tech fans can easily make the drive to Albuquerque from Lubbock.
The Red Raiders likely will not be flustered by New Mexico's rowdy fans, having grown accustomed to playing in front of large Big 12 crowds. Now that Plenette Pierson and Jia Perkins are playing some of their best basketball, Texas Tech will be hard to beat.
Top-seeded Duke should not have any trouble getting past fifth-seeded Georgia. The injury-depleted Lady Bulldogs had another player go down in the second round. Freshman guard Sherrill Baker separated her shoulder. It is not known if she will play.
Fourth-seeded Penn State has its work cut out for it against top-seeded Tennessee in the regional semifinal. The Lady Vols are 42-0 in NCAA tournament games on their home court.
Second-seeded Villanova makes its first appearance in the round of 16.
The Wildcats have loads of confidence, having knocked off Connecticut and beaten their first two NCAA opponents handily.
This is a rematch of a game played Nov. 30 in Colorado, which Villanova won, 59-54. The keys for the sixth-seeded Buffaloes are poise and patience against the Wildcats' deliberate pace and establishing an inside game.