STANFORD -- It wasn't the second seeding that surprised Stanford's women Monday.
But being sent to Ames, Iowa, to open the NCAA tournament came as a jolt as the sixth-ranked Cardinal begins its bid to reach the Women's Final Four for the sixth time in seven years.
Stanford (29-3) kicks off the tournament Saturday at Hilton Coliseum in Ames against No. 15 seed South Dakota. Barring upsets, Stanford will have to defeat seventh-seeded Iowa State on the Cyclones' court to reach the Sweet 16.
"If you've done this enough, be expected to be surprised," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We could have helped the draw at UCLA or Seattle. The people who are punished the most are our fans in the first- and second-round games.
"We just cut out 3,000 of our" fans.
The Cardinal, which had the country's third-best RPI ranking, was expected to open the tournament in a subregional at UCLA or Seattle. But a stinging defeat to USC in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals March 8 seemed to hurt its standing.
Instead, the Cardinal is being sent to the Midwest in its 27th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. Stanford failed to earn a top seed for the first time in five years.
The Final Four is scheduled for April 6 and 8 in Nashville, Tenn.
"The seeding doesn't really matter to me," VanDerveer said. But "if this is a slap in the face, let it be a chip on people's shoulders. It can all be good for us. Hey, let's show people."
Senior Chiney Ogwumike agreed.
"You want as much fuel" added "to the fire, proving we are a top team in the country," she said.
If it wins twice in Iowa, Stanford will advance to the regional semifinals at Maples Pavilion, where it is 14-0 this season.
South Carolina (27-4) earned the top seeding in the Stanford regional despite losing in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament. Penn State is seeded third in the region and North Carolina fourth.
"We have played great basketball, then we had some missteps, but so has everyone else" except UConn and Notre Dame, VanDerveer said. "If you want to take care of business, you don't lose any games."
Iowa State (20-10) enters the tournament with a two-game losing streak, including a second-round defeat to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament. But it could have a big following in a second-round matchup Monday against Stanford.
That's OK with Ogwumike, a college player of the year candidate who averages 26.8 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. She just wants another chance to play at Maples before her record-setting career ends.
"I'm just itching to play," Ogwumike said. "I don't care where we play."
Saturday at Ames, Iowa: Stanford
(29-3) vs. South Dakota (19-13), 3:30 p.m.
NOTRE DAME REGIONAL
Saturday at Waco, Texas: Cal (21-9)
vs. Fordham (25-7), 1 p.m.
TOP Regional SEEDS
STANFORD: South Carolina
NOTRE DAME: Notre Dame
For more on the tournament, go to http://www.mercurynews.com/college-sports