DELAND, Fla. - When the Stetson women's basketball team watched the NCAA selection show two years ago, the Hatters were part of the first game unveiled by ESPN.
This time, however, the players and over 100 fans in attendance at Bill and Frank's Brickhouse Grill waited through 16 teams, then 32, and then 48 without ever seeing "Stetson" appear.
The anxiety soon turned to jubilation as the Hatters (24-8) learned Monday that it will be a #14 seed and will face #3 seed UCLA (25-7) on Saturday in the first round of the 2013 NCAA Championship at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in a nationally televised game on ESPN2.
"I am really, really happy," Stetson head coach Lynn Bria said. "I am a bit surprised just because I had my mind made up that we were going to be a 15 seed. I did think our body of work was good enough to be a 14 seed, but I didn't know if (the committee) would give it to us. It just shows respect for our program and how far we have come."
The Hatters knew they would appear somewhere in the bracket, but when other teams were sent to Baton Rouge, La. and Durham, N.C., most of the preliminary predictions had flown out the window.
"It was a little nerve-racking," Bria said. "You really just wonder where you are going to go, you just don't ever really know. It was kind of fun to watch and be engaged the whole time. Once you get announced you don't watch as much."
Coach Bria also said although they enjoyed the Knoxville Regional two years ago, it will be nice to go somewhere different.
"We have a lot of players who are from up there," Bria said about the Ohio area. "I am also from up there. I know we will have a lot of friends, family and fans come out and watch us. It worked out perfectly."
One of the Hatters who will have a large contingent in attendance is senior Ashley Dennis who hails from Bexley, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus.
"My emotions went all over the place," Dennis said. "I think I saw the seed first and I thought, 'Wow, we got a 14 seed. That's awesome, that's shows a lot of respect for our program and I really appreciate that. And then I saw we were playing in Columbus which just sent me over the edge. That's my hometown, I am going to get to see my family, I'm going to get to go home, and especially since it's my senior year and play in front of my family, it means so, so much to me."
HOW STETSON GOT HERE
Stetson has won a school-record 24 games overall and went 14-4 in Atlantic Sun Conference play, good for a second-place finish. In the A-Sun tournament, Stetson defeated no. 7 ETSU 66-55 in the quarterfinals, knocked off no. 3 and tournament host Mercer 67-52 in the semifinals, then rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to shock top-seeded FGCU 70-64 and capture the A-Sun crown.
Victoria McGowan, Shanasa Sanders, and Sasha Sims combined for 142 points in the three games, and McGowan and Sims were named to A-Sun all-tournament team.
STETSON NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
The Hatters will be making their third NCAA tournament appearance and looking for their first-ever NCAA postseason victory. In both of Stetson's previous appearances, the Hatters traveled to Knoxville, Tenn. as a no. 16 seed. On March 20, 2005, the Hatters fell 70-36 to no. 1 seed LSU. Senior center Kristy Brown had 17 points and eight rebounds to lead Stetson while junior guard Nefertiti Walker added 13 points. On March 19, 2011, Stetson dropped a 99-34 decision to no. 1 seed Tennessee. McGowan, Tierra Brown, and Natasha Graboski each scored seven points.
STETSON vs. UCLA
Saturday's match-up will mark the first-ever meeting between Stetson and UCLA. The Bruins earned an at-large berth out of the Pac-12 Conference.
"They will be very well coached," Bria said about UCLA. "I have a lot of respect for Cori (Close). They will be a very good team, and when you are one of 64, everyone is good. We will have our work cut out for us."