Monday, March 19, 2018
Page 2

NCAA Tournament storylines bursting at the seams

Predictions, etc:

The AP has round-by-round predictions.

ESPN has players to watch.

Around the Rim breaks down the bracket.

College team news:

Defending champs South Carolina embraces the underdog role heading into the Dance.

The Gamecocks are ready for North Carolina A&T.

Pac-12 teams in the NCAA Tournament.

UCLA is set to take on American.

The road starts early for Maryland.

A homage to Pat Summitt is part of Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament preparation.

Louisville faces the field as a No. 1 seed for the first time.

Michigan’s basketball road goes through Waco. A guide to the Wolverine’s first tourney since 2013.

Nebraska rides the biggest turnaround into the NCAA Tournament.

Inside Drakes’s rebuild that never was.

Storylines are abundant in Virginia’s return to the tourney.

It’ll be the Gopher’s offense vs. the Green Bay defense tomorrow.

Buffalo has built itself into a destination program.

Drake and Texas A&M are approaching their game with confidence.

Oregon State is ready for Western Kentucky, and they have some familiarity with their draw.

Ohio State and USF enter the Tournament under the radar.

The Sooners and Blue Demons are preparing for their rematch.

Oregon feels no pressure hosting.

Utah is embracing the opportunity to send seniors out right in the WNIT.

Rice savors the chance to get more experience in the WNIT.

Navy is happy to be playing on spring break.

The Mountain West Conference has an identity crisis.

The state of Maine marches to the women’s beat in college hoops.

Wartburg is two wins shy of a DIII title, and perfection.

WBCA DIII All-America team.

College player news:

Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell is a reluctant star.

Makayla Waterman is worked her way into a key role for the Buckeyes.

Don’t get comfortable, because Louisville’s Asia Durr is ready to life her team in the Tournament. Her teammate Arica Carter’s floor leadership is pivotal for the Cardinals.

Iowa’s Megan Gustafson is set to cap a huge season in NCAA tournament.

Asha Thomas is in control for Cal.

It was no coincidence that LSU made a run as Ayana Mitchell caught fire.

Kiana Williams is getting her shot at Stanford.

China Dow’s transition from MTSU to FGCU has been quite a ride.

Minnesota sharp-shooter Carlie Wagner is looking for her first Tournament win. It’s her diligence and pure shot that has lifted her to “great” status.

Wagner is (finally) getting a shot at the tourney.

Big players lead the Baylor roster.

With Marina Mabrey on point, Notre Dame is a top seed.

Q&A with Bruin point guard Jordin Canada.

UCLA’s Monique Billings talks hoops, modeling and future plans.

For Princeton’s Bella Alarie, playing against Maryland means a little more.

For Quinnipiac’s Paula Strautmane, the NCAA Tournament is now a family matter.

Taya Reimer is playing loose to help the Spartans finish strong.

Kayla Overbeck and Erin Whalen are exploring transfer options from Vanderbilt.

College coach news:

WBCA names 30 under-30 great coaches.

Familiarity among coaches highlights the Cal-Virginia matchup.

Sue Semrau has taken Florida State from ACC afterthought to consistent contender.

SDSU coach Aaron Johnston faces an even more veteran coach in Villanova’s Harry Perretta.

UConn players feel prepared, but Geno Auriemma wonders if they actually are.

Kevin Borseth has the ideal job as Green Bay’s coach.

Former Oregon coach Jody Runge is complimentary of the current team.

Georgia State has fired coach Sharon Baldwin.


Today’s results include Indiana, Rice, Ball State, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Duquesne, St. John’s, Radford, Michigan State, , TCU, UAB, New Mexico, UC Davis and West Virginia advancing.

WNBA news:

Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi became parents two weeks ago.

A look at Candace Parker in high school.

High school news:

Dara Mabrey – younger sister of Michaela and Marina – is right behind them.

McDonald’s All-Americans are vocal about the progress of girl’s basketball.

Who would win the Tournament if academics ruled?

What a concept!!!!


Two days until the Tournament

Bracket and power rankings:

Fivethirtyeight Tournament game predictions.

ESPN’s new Basketball Power Index gives UConn only a 37 percent chance to win the title.

Barack Obama’s bracket.

ESPN ranks the teams from 1-64.

College team news:

Oregon feels its schedule has prepared them well for the NCAA Tournament.

UCLA is ready to play and get down to business against American.

Making the tourney is not enough for Iowa.

Nebraska will be tested defensively by first-round matchup Arizona State.

Tennessee is familiar stomping grounds for the Lady Vol’s first-round opponents, Liberty.

Laughter is the best medicine for Notre Dame.

It’s been an emotional season for Kim Mulkey and Baylor heading back to the NCAA’s.

Syracuse regroups as their margin for error vanishes in the Tournament.

Michigan seeks to prove they’re NCAA-worthy.

Northern Colorado hopes to raid rare air in the tourney.

CMU will be fighting for the upset against LSU.

Creighton is grateful for an NCAA opportunity.

Missouri is headed back to the tourney, but missed their goal of hosting the early rounds.

Purdue is beginning the groundwork for future NCAA tournaments.

Updates from the DII Elite Eight.

Amherst College, with a 64-game winning streak, approaches the DIII Final Four with a new team.

College player news:

With an eye toward the future, Katelynn Flaherty is running the show for Michigan.

Sabrina Ionescu is one of the most exciting players in the Tournament.

Megan Gustafson and Jessica Lindstrom are Wisconsin’s northern stars.

Three freshman have had an immediate impact for Gonzaga.

LSU’s Raigyne Louis’ emotional journey is five years and 1,500 points in the making.

Felicia Aiyeotan’s journey from Nigeria to Virginia.

Pac-12 all-academic teams.

College coach news:

The black coaches in this year’s tourney are amazing.

WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard on playing Oregon State.

Dawn Staley says her team always gets the short end of the stick in the Dance.

So far, so good for coach Megan Duffy in Miami Ohio’s revival.

Rhode Island coach Daynia La-Force mentors her FSU basketball-playing son.

Boston U has fired coach Katy Steding.


In day one of the tournament, UCF, Alabama and St. Joseph’s won.

Michigan State’s Taryn McCutcheon is ready to make the most of her team’s WNIT opportunity.

USA Basketball news:

Women’s National Team assistant coaches are Dan Hughes, Cheryl Reeve and Jen Rizzotti.

The six player additions to the team are: Allisha Gray, Chelsea Gray, Tiffany Mitchell, Brittney Sykes, Sydney Wiese and Elizabeth Williams.

Tragic loss:

Alaina Coates’ father died yesterday after suffering a heart attack while driving.

High school news:

No. 1 prospect and UConn commit Christyn Williams has won the Morgan Wootten Player of the Year Award.

Stanford is getting two hot recruits.

Three days til tourney time

The bracket:

Helen has many many breakdowns on her site.

Ducks stay west and mid-majors get two at-large bids.

What you need to know about Mississippi State’s bracket.

College team news:

Nebraska completed their one-year turnaround with an NCAA Tournament berth.

Texas A&M won’t be Drake’s first taste of elite competition this year.

Michigan exhales after making the bracket.

Past success may help Gonzaga in their opener against Stanford. The Zags are looking forward to the rematch.

FGCU is flourishing from beyond the arc.

With their focus on Texas, UMaine prepares for the Tournament.

Oregon State is excited to get back on the court.

This may be the best UConn team ever, though other teams are closing the gap.

Thomas More is back in the DIII Final Four.

Bowdoin reaches another level of success.

College player news:

For Texas A&M senior Khaalia Hillsman, it’s not how you start but how you finish.

UCLA’s Jordin Canada and Monique Billings prepare for one more tourney run.

A’ja Wilson excels despite struggles.

Quinnipiac’s Jen Fay seeks an encore tourney appearance.

Blanca Millan stayed with UMaine while others moved on.

The creativity of Cal’s Mo Mosley extends beyond the court.

College coach news:

Jason Flowers has Cal State Northridge going places.

Washington State coach June Daugherty won’t return, and the school is looking for her replacement. ESPN says she was fired.

Pick out a tourney suit with Syracuse Coach Q.

Southern Utah has fired coach Chris Boettcher.

Presbyterian coach Todd Steelman has resigned.

Jory Collins is a new assistant coach at Kansas.

College commissioner news:

Big East commissioner Val Ackerman displays a life of sports leadership.

WNBA news:

The league’s NCAA Tournament senior watch list.

Allisha Gray has returned to South Carolina to finish her degree.

The Lynx signed formerly-retired Tanisha Wright.

NCAA Tournament bracket: a discussion with the Women’s Basketball Committee Chair

ESPNbracket_optAfter the NCAA Tournament’s field of 64 was announced Monday, Division I Women’s Basketball Committee chair Rhonda Lundin Bennett answered questions from reporters:

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We as a committee are very excited about this bracket and this tournament that’s getting ready to start on Friday.  We convened on Thursday evening and spent from Thursday night to midday today putting this bracket together, getting our seeding all done, sending teams, placing them into the bracket.

We feel great about this.  We feel like there’s a lot of parity in our game right now.  We had a significant challenge coming to the decision of which teams should be in and which teams should be out.  I think we were considering quite a few teams when we got to that point.

There are a lot of really good teams out there.  I think that’s going to lead to an excellent tournament.

We also felt very prepared for the seeding process after doing our three top 16 reveals throughout the year.  I think it helped us tremendously.  We put together a great top 16 and gave the opportunity for those 16 teams to host.

I just wanted to thank all of you for your coverage of women’s basketball both throughout the year and throughout the tournament.  It means a lot.

When it came to evaluating Rutgers as a bubble team, what worked against them as opposed to maybe a Creighton or Minnesota, whom they beat?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  Some of the things we thought were their 3‑7 record in the last 10 games, as well as their ninth‑place finish in the Big Ten standings.  Those bad losses that they had as well were some of the things that differentiated them.  Those losses were Northwestern and Washington State at a 175.

Considering Rutgers beat Minnesota, I know Minnesota was five spots ahead of them in Big Ten standings, answering my own question, but considering Rutgers‑Minnesota head‑to‑head, was that a factor?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  Head‑to‑head is just one of our considerations.  You’re going to look at that whole body of work and make that decision looking at that, as well as I said before.  Rutgers’ finish in their conference was another thing, too.

How did you feel the reveal of the final eight went last night for what you were hoping out of it?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  I think it was wonderful.  I mean, I think we as a committee have worked really hard to come up with ways to drive interest in our bracket and in our championship.  That’s why we do the top 16 reveals.  That’s why we did that last top 16 reveal with the 16 in order and put those first four lines in a bracket.

I think we’re always just looking for ways to drive excitement about the women’s game.

Any thought of next year actually revealing the top 16 the same way you did the final eight last night so those teams that are going to be potentially hosting the first two rounds have an extra day to prepare for it?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  We’ll get together this summer and have a big discussion about some of the things we might want to do next year.

We feel really good about the top 16.  It drives a lot of interest, gets a lot of people talking about our championship.  We try to be very creative and think outside the box, and we’ll continue to do that.

What were your thoughts on the outcome of the last eight teams to be considered?  Were you pleased?  Was there any consideration of how it might affect those teams in the last 24 hours with that decision?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  We were very pleased with it.  I think having the opportunity to have our great partner here with ESPN and have them put that on SportsCenter, there were people talking about our tournament last night and talking about it all day today with those eight teams.

I don’t think it was any surprise to those teams that we were talking about as that final eight.  I think we believe they probably already knew they were on that bubble, and we put them out there in alphabetical order.

Was there any consideration of the timing, since there were two tournaments still going on when the reveal happened?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  That’s one hard thing with those tournaments still going.  When you have tournaments that start at 7 p.m. on the Sunday before we announce the bracket, that’s going to be something.

We were considering all those teams based on their body of work.  If someone happened to be in that top eight who was still playing, we would have certainly considered them and made our decision based on that.  Our bracket is not finalized until Monday.  If something happened in the conference tournament, we certainly could have considered that.

With regards to Rutgers and the final eight, obviously Rutgers was one of the four of those eight that didn’t get in.  Can I ask you what the final pecking order was in terms of the four that didn’t get in?  How close was Rutgers to getting in?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  We announced those in alphabetical order, and that’s where we’d like to leave it.  Rutgers was one of those four teams.

We spent almost seven hours yesterday going over those last eight teams, really talking about everything.  I think every one of those teams was right on the cusp of getting in.  We took a look at them and feel really good about the decision that we came to.

What were the factors that left Purdue out of the tournament?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  Well, we felt for Purdue, they were 2‑4 in that RPI, 26 to 50, as well as they had some losses in the 101 plus.  We looked at things like conference finish, conference record.  Those were some of the factors.

The men released the 1 through 68 seed list.  How close is the women’s committee to doing that?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  That’s something that we’ll continue to talk about.  We’ve been interested in being transparent by doing those top 16 reveals, revealing things like our last eight teams.

We’ll continue to talk about that.

USF was really hoping for a four seed and the right to host.  Coach Fernandez, after he learned they were a six seed, said, It looks like the tournament for one reason or another is becoming regionalized.  Was geography any kind of consideration in putting USF, Tallahassee, as a six seed?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  Geography is one of our principles when it comes to placing teams in the bracket.  We seed the teams, then we place them in the bracket using that S‑curve.

Geography is one of things we do consider and is one of our principles

Is there anything on USF’s résumé that may have hurt them or impeded their chances of becoming a four or five seed?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  I would say their worst loss was a 151, Wichita State.  When you start looking at those teams and seeding, those are some of the things that are going to differentiate teams and determine which seed line they’re on.

(Question regarding Sherri Coale’s statement about awarding strong strength of schedule.)

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  We as a committee definitely value strength of schedule.  I think you’ve seen that in the last couple years, as well as this year.  We do want to reward teams that schedule up.  You also have to win some of those games, and we’re going to compare your body of work to other teams.

Strength of schedule is something that has been important to us.

Concerning Oklahoma, when you’re evaluating them, the schedule obviously helped the Sooners.  What do you view as Oklahoma’s marquee victories?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  Their win over South Florida was a top 25 win for them.  It’s very important to have top 25 wins when you’re comparing them to other teams that might have those significant wins.

Aside from South Florida, was there anything else that you were impressed about specifically the games they won?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  They did beat Belmont.  Belmont is an excellent team and is in our field.  I think within their conference, as well, their conference record of 11‑8.  They had some significant wins within their conference, as well.

Could you address the one and two seeds, how close Baylor was to getting a one seed, how close you viewed the ones and twos this year in terms of the overall group?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  We felt there was a razor thin margin between Baylor and Notre Dame.  Notre Dame did have the best strength of schedule in the country, and they had nine more top 50 wins than Baylor.  Those were the reasons that the committee put Notre Dame on that one line and Baylor on the two line.

In terms of how close the twos were to the ones overall this year?

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  I think that’s where we were looking, is we had the one seeds, then we looked at teams like Baylor and Oregon and Texas and South Carolina.  We felt really comfortable with the ones we settled on, as well as the order of the two line.

I was wondering about the reasons or considerations for USC not making the cut out of the last eight that you considered.

RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT:  For USC, it came down to their top 25 wins.  They didn’t have any top 25 wins.  They also had only two top 50 wins.  Those were some of the factors that we looked at with USC.

WNIT field announced

The field:

Automatic Qualifiers

Alabama (17-13) – SEC
Albany (24-7) – America East
Ball State (24-6) – MAC
Bethune-Cookman (24-6) – MEAC
Bucknell (22-9) – Patriot
Drexel (26-7) – Colonial
Duquesne (23-7) – Atlantic 10
ETSU (20-12) – Southern
Idaho (19-13) – Big Sky
Indiana (17-14) – Big Ten
IUPUI (22-9) – Horizon
Jacksonville (24-8) – Atlantic Sun
Lamar (22-7) – Southland
Marist (20-13) – Metro Atlantic
Missouri State (20-11) – MVC
New Mexico State (18-12) – WAC
Penn (21-8) – Ivy
Radford (23-8) – Big South
Robert Morris (25-7) – NEC
St. John’s (16-14) – Big East
Saint Mary’s (20-10) – West Coast
South Dakota (26-6) – Summit
Southern (17-13) – SWAC
TCU (19-12) – Big 12
Texas State (23-9) – Sun Belt
UAB (26-6) – Conference USA
UC Davis (25-6) – Big West
UCF (21-10) – American
UNLV (19-11) – Mountain West
UT Martin (19-14) – Ohio Valley
Virginia Tech (18-13) – ACC

At-Large Selections

Chattanooga (17-12) – Southern
Cincinnati (19-12) – American
Colorado State (20-11) – Mountain West
Delaware (19-12) – Colonial
Fordham (22-9) – Atlantic 10
George Mason (23-9) – Atlantic 10
Georgetown (15-15) – Big East
Georgia Tech (18-13) – ACC
Harvard (18-10) – Ivy
Houston (20-11) – American
James Madison (21-10) – Colonial
Kansas State (16-15) – Big 12
Louisiana Tech (19-11) – CUSA
Miami (OH) (21-10) – MAC
Michigan State (17-13) – Big Ten
MTSU (18-12) – CUSA
Milwaukee (20-11) – Horizon
Navy (25-7) – Patriot
New Mexico (23-10) – Mountain West
Northern Iowa (19-13) – MVC
Penn State (16-15) – Big Ten
Purdue (18-13) – Big Ten
Toledo (17-14) – MAC
Rice (22-9) – CUSA
Rutgers (20-12) – Big Ten
St. Joseph’s (18-14) – Atlantic 10
Saint Louis (17-15) – Atlantic 10
Seton Hall (16-15) – Big East
Utah (17-13) – Pac-12
Western Illinois (22-9) – Summit
West Virginia (21-11) – Big 12
Wright State (23-10) – Horizon
Wyoming (21-10) – Mountain West

Both Rutgers and USC turned down WNIT invitations. That sucks.

Inside Texas’ selection show watch party

The Texas Longhorns react to being selected for the NCAA Tournament Monday. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.
The Texas Longhorns react to being selected for the NCAA Tournament Monday. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.
The Texas Longhorns react to being selected for the NCAA Tournament Monday. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.

March 12, 2018

5:27 p.m.

A security guard in a bright yellow jacket opens the double doors of the Lone Star Room of the Frank Erwin Center. He’s three minutes early.

One hundred or so fans decked out in burnt orange shirts, shoes, hats and jackets file in from the Red River Street entrance.

“Our fans, they’re an ecstatic crowd,” senior guard Ariel Atkins says. “They’re always there for us, no matter what goes down during the season.”

A line immediately forms to the right of the room where the crowd picks up ham and turkey finger sandwiches, pineapple, baby carrots and ranch, a poster featuring the team’s three seniors, Atkins, Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau and Brooke McCarty — and a blank bracket.

Everyone else scrambles to find a seat. They all want the best view of the projector screen at the front of the room.

ESPN personalities Rece Davis and Jalen Rose fill the screen at the moment, analyzing the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. In a half hour, they’ll be replaced by Andy Landers, Rebecca Lobo and Maria Taylor to reveal the women’s tourney.

5:36 p.m.

The Longhorns arrive, along with Hook’Em. The fans clap as they walk in.

The players and coaches disperse throughout the room, greeting their supporters. Sophomores Alecia ‘Sug’ Sutton and Joyner Holmes get in line for the refreshments, and dance to “Pray for Me” by The Weeknd featuring Kendrick Lamar while they wait. The older players know better.

Associate head coach Tina Thompson breaks out a bag of nuts she brought with her. Caron-Goudreau and juniors Lashann Higgs and Jatarie White gravitate toward her, waiting to be fed like baby birds. Higgs puts her nose to the bag, inhales, then takes one out and tosses it in her mouth. She nods her head in satisfaction.

5:55 p.m.

The team plops down in front of the screen. Hook’Em sits on the floor with his legs crossed. Atkins, Caron-Goudreau, Higgs, senior Brooke McCarty and head coach Karen Aston share a couch behind him with barely enough room to breathe between them. The rest of the players and assistant coaches each reside in cushioned armchairs in the next row. The sport information directors, managers, trainers and support staff sit in the next row in the same cushioned, stackable chairs as the fans behind them.

Every eye is glued to the screen. They’re ready.

“Every year has been an exciting experience,” McCarty says. “Like, you think you’re done after the tournament, but no, you’ve got more to play.”

6:00 p.m.

The selection show starts right on schedule. Taylor welcomes the viewers and introduces her co-hosts.

UConn is the first team revealed. The crowd holds its breath. The Huskies are an undefeated No. 1, the top seed overall. With six losses, there’s a chance the Longhorns could be the lowest ranked No. 2 seed.

They aren’t. The room releases a collective sigh of relief as South Carolina is named the No. 2 seed of the Albany Regional. The fans cheer as Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee drive past a herd of Longhorns in a commercial for Capital One.

One region down, three to go.

6:13 p.m.

The show returns from commercial and jumps straight into highlight videos of Notre Dame. The fans lick their chops. The Fighting Irish might be the easiest No. 1 seed. Four of their players are sideline with torn ACLs.

They clap for No. 12 seed Oklahoma, a fellow Big 12 school who was squarely on the tournament bubble. They boo at No. 4 seed Texas A&M who was not.

Oregon is the No. 2 seed of the Spokane Regional. Hook’Em grows restless. He uncrosses his legs and sprawls out on the ground. He’s tired of waiting.

6:25 p.m.

Few people care that Louisville is the top seed of the Lexington regional. They just want to know who Texas’ first opponent will be.

A mix of cheers and boos fill the room when Baylor comes off the board as the No. 2 seed. The Longhorns lost to the Bears three times this season. McCarty throws her head back cackling as the ESPN plays clips of Baylor freshman guard Alexis Morris scoring all over her.

Texas, Mississippi State and UCLA are the top three remaining teams. Aston feels confident heading into the final regional.

“I think I had it figured out,” Aston says. “At that point I knew that we were sort of in that last pod.”

6:32 p.m.

Hook’Em sits back up as Taylor dives into the Kansas City Regional. The Bulldogs are the top seed. The crowd holds its breath again.

UCLA only has seven losses and was the only team who beat Baylor this season, something the Longhorns couldn’t do in three tries. There’s a chance the Bruins could sneak their way up to the No. 2 seed.

The No. 3 seed is revealed. UCLA will play No. 14 American. The room muffles its excitement.

6:36 p.m.

Texas finally hears its name. The No. 2 seed will host the first two rounds of the tournament and play No. 15 Maine on Saturday at 5 p.m.

The fans let out a roar. Hook’Em raises his horns. The team acts like it’s been there before — mostly.

Freshman Rellah Boothe is the first player on her feet, followed by fellow freshmen Destiny Littleton and Chasity Patterson, who record the moment on their Snapchat stories. None of the other players stand.

Assistant coach George Washington rises halfway up, turns his head to his left, sees no one else standing and quickly sits back down.

6:40 p.m.

The Longhorns wait until ESPN shows their highlights and reaction video before turning the sound off. Aston stands up and takes a microphone. She thanks the fans for their support, at the party and throughout the season. Higgs does the same.

“OK, we have a little, um — can we do The Eyes of Texas?” Aston asks. “The freshmen love to lead this song on Selection Monday. Y’all come on up. Rellah, you want the mic?”

Boothe and the rest of the team join her.

“Yes ma’am,” Boothe responded.

Boothe was off key and a beat off rhythm, but made it through the song just as she made it through the regular season.

“I’m not sure (the freshmen) know all year long what we’re really doing,” Aston says. “This might be the defining moment for the freshmen to somewhat understand ‘What are we here for?’ and ‘What is the purpose of all of this?’ It’s exciting to see them go through this for the first time.”

It’s just as exciting for the older players.

“Words can’t explain how excited I am about this.” Atkins says. “Fourth year in the NCAA Tournament. As a kid, you dream about these moments. Been watching it ever since I can remember. So, just being in the tournament every year, it’s just a blessing.”

Everyone filters out of the room. They have to prepare for Saturday.

Oregon grabs a No. 2 seed, readies to host the NCAA tournament

Oregon players react to hearing they are a No. 2 seed. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics.
Oregon players react to hearing they are a No. 2 seed. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics.
Oregon players react to hearing they are a No. 2 seed. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics.

Eugene – It was late October inside the Matthew Knight Arena practice courts with the Oregon women’s basketball team preparing for practice.

Lexi Bando, one of the team’s two seniors, addressed the media before practice.

She was asked these two questions:

How is this year different from last year? and What are some team goals for this season?

“I mean it was amazing what we did last year, but you can’t look back on that. It’s a new year,” Bando said. “Obviously our goal is to win and to make it even farther than (last season), and it’s going to take some hard work,” she said. “We’ll see where we can go.”

The expectations were high coming into this season for the team advancing to the school’s first Elite Eight the year before, and returning all five starters.

Flash forward to the present, and No. 8 Oregon won their first regular-season Pac-12 championship since 1999-2000 with a 16-2 record. They also took the conference tournament championship for the first time in program history.

And they’re not done yet.

The NCAA Selection Committee tabbed the Ducks with a No. 2 seed in the Spokane region, which is the highest seed in school history. They play Seattle University Friday at 4:30 p.m. on their home court.

The ecstatic reaction from players and fans at their Selection Party was a few steps above their elation last year, when they were a tenth-seed.

And Oregon knows they can take no team for granted in the postseason.

“We have the luxury of knowing we better come ready to play because we were in the same situation last year,” coach Kelly Graves said. “It is a testament to a group that has worked really, really hard this season and a two-seed is validation of that.”

Focus, staying in the moment and having fun will be key for Oregon, as they haven’t played a game since March 4, but have practiced a few times in between.

“We’ve been playing loose, it’s not going to change,” Graves said. “Every time we’re together it’s fun, that’s part of this team’s DNA.”

Players said they are shaking off rust.

“It’s a little difficult, but I think the last few practices have been great,” sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard said of the long layoff. “I can tell everyone’s focused, ready to come out. Our defense is still looking great and we’re really excited for this tournament.”

Will they make it past the round of eight this season? We will see.

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