North Carolina enters the NCAA women's basketball tournament hoping that misfortune has run its course. Stanford's problems, on the other hand, might just be starting.

For all the good that has happened at North Carolina this season - Tracy Reid becoming an All-American, winning the ACC tournament, and a No. 7 national ranking - the Tar Heels have endured some tough times as well.Their top assistant coach, Andrew Calder, has been hospitalized most of the last two months and had open heart surgery on March 2, the day after North Carolina beat Clemson in the ACC finals.

In early February, a fire at the team's arena, Carmichael Auditorium, forced the Tar Heels to find another place to practice for a couple of weeks.

Then the NCAA tournament pairings came out, and North Carolina found itself in the same Mideast Regional as top-ranked and unbeaten Tennessee.

"It's sort of been that kind of year for us," said coach Sylvia Hatchell, whose No. 2-seeded team begins NCAA play Friday at home against Howard. "But this team seems to rise to the occasion whenever these things happen. It brings out the best in this team."

It's starting out to be that kind of tournament for Stanford, the No. 1 seed in the West. The Cardinals suffered a major blow when Kristin Folkl, a second-team All-America, went down in practice with a knee injury. That came shortly after forward Vanessa Nygaard announced she would try to play in the tournament with a fully torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.

North Carolina, at least, has its key players. But there would be more challenges ahead if the Tar Heels advance through the tournament, starting with a potential second-round game against Florida International, only a No. 7 seed but a dangerous team that's ranked 12th nationally.

After that, would come the possibility of a game with Vanderbilt on the Commodores' floor in the Midwest semifinals, followed by Tennessee in the regional finals.

Hatchell felt that after winning the ACC tournament, the Tar Heels (24-6) deserved a more favorable spot in the brackets.

"I would like to know why the situation came about, why it was done the way it was," she said. "I'm sure Florida International probably would like to know more than I would. But we just have to go play and do the best we can."

Florida International would, indeed, like an explanation. The Golden Panthers thought they would get a No. 4 seed, which would have put them at home for the first two rounds.

That thinking evolved because of their 28-1 record and early-season victories over Michigan, Purdue, Georgia, Miami and Louisville. All of them made the NCAA field.

Instead, Florida International is going to Chapel Hill for a game Friday against Marquette.

"It just doesn't make any sense," Florida International coach Cindy Russo said. "The sad thing about is, I'm getting used to it."

Florida International has two marquee players in Dalma Ivanyi, who leads the nation in assists, and 6-foot-4 center Gergana Branzova, who averages 17.4 points and 7.3 rebounds. Russo doesn't think the disappointment over the seeding has affected them or her other players.

"I'm not sure they have a real true understanding of what's going on," she said. "They're kids. And frankly, we don't really want to tell them. Their reaction was, `Oh, wow, we get to travel.' For me, it was like, `Yeah, great.' "

Folkl, who has averaged 18.9 points in 18 games after leading Stanford to the NCAA volleyball title in December, got hurt during a 3-on-2 drill in practice Tuesday and left on crutches.

"The next thing I heard was a scream and I saw her crumple in a heap," coach Tara VanDerveer said. "She really let out a holler."

Tennessee (33-0), seeking a third straight NCAA title, begins that quest Saturday in Knoxville against Liberty (28-0), the nation's only other unbeaten team.

Two No. 1 seeds will play Friday. Old Dominion (27-2), top seed in the East, will play host to St. Francis (22-7). The Midwest's No. 1 seed, Texas Tech (25-4), will be at home against Grambling (23-6).