NORMAN, Okla. — Kevin Borseth didn't know what to say. His team gathered at his house two years in a row to watch the NCAA women's tournament selection show, eagerly waiting for Michigan's name to pop up on the bracket.
It never happened.
When it came time for the 64-team field to be announced this year, he chose a different location — not only to take advantage of a new player development center but to avoid any bad luck from the usual arrangement.
Finally, the Wolverines (20-11) broke an 11-year NCAA drought by squeaking in as one of the last three teams picked. Michigan holds the lowest seed for an at-large team, along with fellow No. 11 seeds Kansas and Gonzaga.
"It makes it even sweeter just that we were so close the past couple seasons and we weren't able to get in," senior Courtney Boylan said. "We're just extremely excited to play."
Beyond putting them in the bracket, the tournament committee didn't do the Wolverines any favors with their draw. They'll face a road game against tournament regular Oklahoma (20-12) in Sunday night's opening round.
The subregional also features third-seeded St. John's (22-9) against Missouri Valley champion Creighton (20-12).
"It's an extremely, extremely tough challenge that we're faced with. They're constantly in the Final Four," Boylan said. "I've seen Oklahoma on TV a lot. Obviously, we're in a different situation. We haven't been here in 11 years. ... To be able to be a part of the NCAA tournament, I think that's something that we've been yearning for for a while now."
For Borseth, starting out on the road is nothing new. While leading Green Bay to the NCAA tournament seven times, he had to play on an opponent's home court for five games — at Connecticut, Texas, UCLA, Old Dominion and Maryland — and lost all five.
The Sooners are 7-1 all-time on their home court in the NCAA tournament and 9-1 in the state of Oklahoma. All of the wins have come as the team with the better seed; the loss was as a No. 10 seed in 2003.
"You are more comfortable where you've been and played a lot. The NCAAs are kind of an eye-opening experience for those who haven't experienced it yet, so it's nice to be able to come home," said Whitney Hand, Oklahoma's top rebounder and second-leading scorer.
"With that being said, we lost our last regular-season game at home. We're capable of losing at home. I don't feel like it's a guaranteed win at all."
The Sooners lost to Kansas in their previous home game.
When Michigan last appeared in the tournament in 2001, Oklahoma was making its second of 13 consecutive NCAA appearances.
"I love the fact that there's not a kid on our team that has to know what it feels like to not make it. I remember," said Sherri Coale, in her 16th season as the Sooners' coach. "Once you go and experience it ... you won't settle for anything less.
"I love the fact that this is all they know and yet at the same time our goal has never been to get here. Our goal has been to win here."
Oklahoma made it to the Final Four in 2009 and 2010, then needed a second-round upset a year ago to reach the round of 16 as a No. 6 seed.
Awaiting the winner of the Sooners' game against Michigan will be either St. John's, which snapped Connecticut's 99-game home winning streak earlier this season, or surprising Creighton.
The Bluejays finished fourth in the Missouri Valley but swept through the conference tournament by holding three straight opponents to 47 points or fewer.
"I really like the toughness that our team has. We're not pretty at all on offense, but I think we've found that we can grind things out and we've kind of bought into that mentality," said coach Jim Flanery, whose team trailed 30-3 at home against Notre Dame in its only other game against Big East competition this season.
Creighton also broke a decade-long NCAA tournament drought.
"It's a measuring stick, I think, for every recruit out there that's looking at your program," Michigan's Borseth said. "How well do you do when you compete nationally? Do you get into the national tournament? Because if you get in, you've got a chance to play for all the marbles. If you don't, you're an also-ran and it's really not maybe what a lot of people are looking for."Comment on this story
Borseth had a successful run at Green Bay but said there were two schools he would have left anywhere to coach at — Michigan and Notre Dame, because he follows their football programs.
"At the time they weren't doing well and I felt confident I could come in there with a click of my fingers and make things turn around in a heartbeat," he said. "It's a little more difficult than I thought it was going to be, obviously."
The Wolverines went to the WNIT three times in his first five years, making it all the way to the semifinals after the NCAA snub two years ago. Just because they haven't been there, Borseth doesn't want his players to be intimidated by the Sooners.
"I don't look at where Oklahoma's been; I don't care where Oklahoma's been," Borseth said. "I only care where Michigan's going. Really, that's what our primary concern is at this point. Our whole thing has been zeroed in on that."