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November 27th, 2002 1:07PM
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By Scott French, Senior Editor

Texas A&M (18-4-3) at North Carolina (21-1-4)

Friday, 3 p.m. EST.

Freshman keeper Kati Jo Spisak has done amazing things the past two weeks, carrying the Aggies to shootout victories over SMU and UCLA. A&M didn't get off a shot against the Bruins, whose domination meant nothing against Spisak: She stopped two PKs, and the Aggies were back in the quarters. Carolina has talent (Tarpley, Ramsey, Chalupny, Reddick, Bush, McDowell, Randolph, etc.), depth (national-teamers coming off the bench) and history (never missed a final four) on its side.

Our guess: North Carolina, 3-0.

Portland (17-4-1) at Stanford (21-1-0)

Saturday, 7 p.m. PST

The best matchup of the quarterfinals, perhaps the tournament, and it should come down to how well Stanford handles Pilot striker Christine Sinclair. The Cardinal is the best defensive team in the nation -- it has 18 shutouts in 22 matches and has surrendered only four goals -- and its back four (Alisan Pabon, Hayley Hunt, Natalie Spilger, Lindsay Hunt) with goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart are unequaled in the college game. But Stanford hasn't faced anybody like Sinclair, who has 22 goals in 18 games (in addition to another 17 in competition for Canada's full and U-19 national teams).

Our guess: Stanford, 2-1.

Penn State (18-3-1) at Connecticut (21-2-1)

Saturday, 1 p.m. EST.

Another potential classic. Heidi Drummond and Joanna Lohman are red-hot for the Nittany Lions, who have been on a mission since an ugly loss to Illinois -- late 3-0 lead turned into a 4-3 defeat -- in a Big Ten tournament opener. UConn relies on experience and defense, and it has a knack for pulling out the close ones. Midfielder Sarah Popper has been playing wonderfully, and tricky freshman Brittany Barakat has emerged as an attacking force. Home field has meant everything for the Huskies, who have outscored foes, 10-1, over their past six games, all in Storrs.

Our guess: Connecticut, 1-0.

Michigan (16-5-2) at Santa Clara (18-4-1)

Saturday, 1 p.m. PST.

The Wolverines are bigger and more physical than any team Santa Clara has faced this year, but they've played nobody with the ball skills possessed by the Broncos. Santa Clara, which allowed two goals to Nebraska in the third round on defensive lapses, needs to defend set pieces well and not allow Abby Crumpton to get loose near the net. Midfielders Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne and Devvyn Hawkins will be critical for the Broncos, who must pull the trigger more quickly than they did against the Huskers.

Our guess; Santa Clara, 3-2.



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