WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: UND looks to defy tournament history
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The UND women’s basketball program will be on the national stage tonight, making its first appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament in an opening-round game against tested and powerful Texas A&M.
It will be a historic game for UND, a relatively new Division I program that comes in as a wide-eyed, first-time participant with a No. 14 seed.
A&M, making its ninth straight tournament appearance, is a No. 3 seed, a ranking achieved by the Aggies’ 24-8 record and third-place finish in the Southeastern Conference.
UND can’t rely on history for help against A&M, which will be playing on its home court. History certainly is not on the side of lower-seeded teams in the NCAA women’s tournament.
No team seeded No. 14 or No. 15 has won a tournament game.
And Saturday’s first-round games delivered some more lopsided games between high- and low-seeded teams. Kentucky, a No. 3 seed, downed No. 14 Wright State 106-60; No. 2 Duke beat No. 15 Winthrop 87-45; and No. 1 Notre Dame cruised past No. 16 Robert Morris 93-42.
None of that matters to North Dakota.
UND is appreciative of the chance to play on the national stage and see how it compares to the country’s best.
“It’s going to be a tough game; that’s just the way it is,” said UND coach Travis Brewster. “We talk about that in our program from Day 1. If you’re going to play at the University of North Dakota, you’re going to be prepared to play basketball and you’re going to be prepared for life, which isn’t always fair.
“I think we’re in a great situation to be here; we just have to attack people and see what happens.”
Texas A&M has it all, quickness, athleticism and height. But that’s what it takes to succeed in the SEC. And the Aggies have been a tough out in the tournament. In 2011, A&M won the national title.
UND players view the tournament as a chance to continue to defy the odds. North Dakota came from nowhere this season after being picked to finish eighth and ninth in preseason Big Sky Conference polls.
“Looking across the roster, yes, they’re a very large team,” said 6-foot-4 UND senior Allyssa Wall. “But that’s not our main concern. It’s going to be playing our style of game; keeping up with them in transition. It’s going to be a go out, have fun, and do what we can game.”
And UND will face a roaring crowd. The Aggies are expected to draw between 5,000 and 6,000 fans tonight.
“I know that A&M has a really solid fan base,” said UND’s Madi Buck. “We are used to that, especially playing against Iowa State. Our attitude is the same. We just have to approach it like any other game.
“We have to make sure we do the little things that got us here, stay together and play like a team.”
Texas A&M is led by 5-foot-8 guard Courtney Walker, a first-team all-SEC selection who averages 15.2 points.
The Aggies are strong and deep up front. Karla Gilbert, a 6-5 senior, is one of their top players, but they’ll also rotate 6-7 Rachel Mitchell and 6-3 Jada Terry in and out of the lineup.
“We are a quick and athletic team and we have the bigs that we can constantly rotate,” said sophomore A&M guard Jordan Jones. “That will be our advantage; they’re a little undersized so we will have to work our posts.”
A&M has all the advantages on paper. But Hall of Fame coach Gary Blair reminds his team of what has happened this weekend on the men’s side of March Madness. Low seeds have taken down top seeds.
“You talk about those instances where a low seed upsets a high seed; you want to keep in mind that it could be you that gets upset,” said Blair. “You want to talk about your team more than your opponent in the first round. You want your team clicking on all cylinders. You do what you do best.”
UND’s demeanor this weekend in College Station has been relaxed. North Dakota faces no pressure and its players are clearly enjoying their time on the national stage. But Brewster hopes that changes tonight.
“It all boils down to playing the game,” said Brewster. “Young people play with such emotion. What you have to realize is you’re playing for 40 minutes; here’s your chance. I’d like for that to happen here, but we’ll have to see what happens.”