Women's basketball: UMaine draws Texas in NCAA first round

0

ORONO — They sat comfortably on couches, in front of the big-screen TV, curious to where the NCAA tournament committee would send them.

They had to wait for nearly an hour into the ESPN show, but when the name MAINE finally appeared they whooped, filling the tight confines of the Alfond Family Lounge with cheers.

The Black Bears are headed to Austin, Texas.

The University of Maine women’s basketball team, making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 14 years, will play the University of Texas in the first round at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The Black Bears (23-9) are seeded 15th in their region. The Longhorns (26-6) are No. 2.

The Maine-Texas game was the last one announced for the 64-team field.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking but a good nerve-wracking,” forward Tanesha Sutton said.

Maine figured to be a 14th or 15th seed. Several projections had the Black Bears as a No. 14, at Florida State or Tennessee.

There was also a concern that the NCAA would go all geographic on the Black Bears and send them to Connecticut, ranked No. 1 in the final AP poll.

When the UConn vs. St. Francis pairing was announced first, there was a cheer.

“Yeah, we really didn’t want to go to UConn,” said UMaine Coach Amy Vachon said with a laugh. “It’s hard (to know). You have projections but … We figured (a 14th or 15th seed).”

The Black Bears will be heavy underdogs to the eighth-ranked Longhorns, but that didn’t diminish the buzz Monday night. After losing in the America East final the last two years, Maine won the 2018 title Friday, beating Hartford 74-65 to earn the NCAA berth.

“I still can’t believe we won. This is the first time I’ve watched (the selection show),” said Fanny Wadling, from Sweden. “I kept waiting for our name to come up.”

Wadling also said “nerve-wracking,” but Parise Rossignol of Van Buren was calm.

“This is cool,” she said. “We were guaranteed to be on there, so it’s not like we were wondering if they were going to say our name or not.”

Maine has won six straight and 14 of 15.

“We’re not done yet. We’re hoping to pull an upset,” Rossignol said. “That’s what’s cool about having the tough nonconference schedule. We played teams like Mississippi State and Duke … Playing against Texas, we’re going to be ready.”

Texas played a monstrous schedule. Five of its losses came to nationally ranked teams — UConn, No. 2 Baylor (three times) and No. 12 Tennessee.

The Longhorns have four players averaging double figures, and a frontcourt featuring 6-foot-4 Jatarie White and 6-3 Joyner Holmes.

In their last NCAA appearance in 2004, the Black Bears were seeded 13th and lost to No. 4 Texas Tech in the first round, 60-50. Maine’s one NCAA win came in 1999, when the 10th-seeded Black Bears defeated No. 7 Stanford 60-58. Maine lost to No. 2 Old Dominion 72-62 in the second round.

No America East team has been seeded higher than No. 10. The conference’s last NCAA victory was in 2016, when No. 12 Albany beat No. 5 Florida, 61-59.

Advertisement