Tuesday, May 24, 2022
HomeSportsAfter Hiatuses, These Teams Are Back in the NCAA Women’s Tournament

After Hiatuses, These Teams Are Back in the NCAA Women’s Tournament

The N.C.A.A. basketball tournaments always represent the chance to make history.

Some teams have already done that before taking the floor.

Massachusetts, a No. 12 seed in the women’s bracket, set a program record with 26 wins en route to making its first tournament in 24 years.

UMass, the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament champion, will face No. 5 Notre Dame in Oklahoma. Coach Tory Verdi took over in 2016, when the Minutewomen weren’t exactly a high-profile program.

But make no mistake; the Minutewomen aren’t just happy to be in the tournament. They want to shake up the field.

“I feel like all of us really step up to that challenge, like the bigger the stage, the better we play,” Sam Breen, a graduate forward and the A-10 player of the year, said this week.

Breen leads a group that has witnessed the program’s rebuilding, and one which includes Sydney Taylor and Destiney Philoxy, who were both second-team all-conference.

Here are four more teams looking to create a new tournament narrative after years away from the biggest stage.

On Wednesday, Howard made history twice in the same game: By defeating No. 16 seed Incarnate Word, 55-51, in South Carolina, the Bison won the first women’s First Four game.

It was also Howard’s first tournament victory — ever.

The Bison (21-9) made the field by winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament final, avenging their loss to North Carolina A&T in the championship game last season. Top-seeded Howard handled No. 2 Norfolk State, 61-44.

So, for the first time in 21 years, the Bison are part of the N.C.A.A. tournament, and they already have a win under their belt thanks to a 15-point double-double from Brooklyn Fort-Davis.

Their reward? A date on Friday with No. 1 seed South Carolina, one of the favorites in the field.

Fairfield Coach Joe Frager knew this season would be his last.

In October, ahead of his 15th season with the Stags, he said he would step away at the end of the year, citing his health.

Frager has led postseason runs before: His Southern Connecticut State squad won the 2007 N.C.A.A. Division II championship in 2007, his last year there before he went to Fairfield.

Under his predecessor, Dianne Nolan, the Stags earned an at-large bid to the 2001 N.C.A.A. tournament.

They hadn’t been back since.

“This has been a special season due to the efforts of our coaching staff and players,” Frager said. “This group has been focused and goal-oriented from beginning to end, and that speaks volumes about the leadership provided by our seniors. Right now, I am very much in the moment. I’m sure after some time passes, I’ll be able to savor the memories of this great season.”

Fairfield (25-6) defeated Manhattan to take the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship and earn an automatic qualifier. The Stags are led by the senior forward Lou Lopez-Senechal, who scored 24 points in the conference title game. They’ll play Texas, a No. 2 seed and the Big 12 Conference tournament champion, on Friday.

U.N.L.V. (26-6) hasn’t been to the tournament since 2002. A win over Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game put it back there 20 years later.

As a No. 13 seed, U.N.L.V. has an immediate challenge on Saturday night in the form of No. 4 seed Arizona, which lost to Stanford in last year’s title game.

Coach Lindy La Rocque took over the program in 2021, and a year later has it back on college basketball’s biggest stage.

U.N.L.V. averages 75.6 points per game, its most since 2009-10. The team is led by Essence Booker, who was named the Mountain West tournament’s most valuable player after dropping 25 points in the championship game.

Starr Jacobs, the Sun Belt Conference player of the year, has played only a single Division I season.

After transferring from Temple College, a junior college in Texas, she became the first U.T.A. player to average more than 20 points per game. She also led U.T.A. (20-7) to its first tournament appearance in 15 years.

As a No. 14 seed, the team will face third-seeded Iowa State on Friday night. It will be the program’s last time representing the Sun Belt, as the university will join the Western Athletic Conference next season.

Before then, though, U.T.A. wants to show its star power — or rather, Starr power.

The Redbirds, the Missouri Valley Conference tournament champions, have won a single N.C.A.A. tournament game, in 1989. They haven’t even had the chance since 2008.

No. 15 seeded Illinois State (19-13) will play on Friday against No. 2 seed Iowa, the Big Ten tournament champion and one of the most dynamic and high-profile teams of the N.C.A.A. tournament.

The Redbirds are 1-5 in the N.C.A.A. tournament, and it won’t be easy to beat the Caitlin Clark-led Hawkeyes.

Juliunn Redmond leads the Redbirds in scoring with 17.6 points per game, while the all-conference forward DeAnna Wilson has tallied eight double-doubles this season.

When Longwood takes the court Thursday night in Raleigh, N.C., it will have been more than a decade in the making.

The No. 16-seeded Lancers, who completed their transition to Division I in the 2007-8 season, struggled through years of losing seasons before making the tournament. Just three seasons ago, they finished 3-27.

Now, behind the Big South Conference player of the year Akila Smith, who is tied for third in Division I in blocks with Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee, the Lancers (21-11) will get a chance in a play-in game against Mount St. Mary’s. A win on Thursday would earn them a date with No. 1 North Carolina State.

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