PROVO — While the BYU women’s basketball team was thrilled when it learned it had received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament Monday, it’s clear that the Cougars aren't just satisfied with being part of the field of 64.
They want to advance.
As a No. 12 seed, BYU will meet No. 5 seed North Carolina State Saturday (4:30 p.m. MDT) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at historic Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, as part of the Lincoln Regional bracket.
“We’re really excited for this opportunity. It’s hard in a small conference to get an at-large bid. It takes a lot of special nights,” said coach Jeff Judkins. “You have to play a great season the whole year. You can’t have ups and downs. You have to be steady. That’s what this team’s done the whole season. I’m really proud of them for that. But as we talked about it today, we’re not here just to get in the tournament. We want to play our best basketball and represent this university and our conference the best that we can. We have a good opportunity.”
The Cougars (26-6) were one of the last four teams in the tournament, according to the selection committee.
“We’d like higher, but we’ll take it,” guard Lexi Eaton said of her team’s seed. “We’re just happy to go dancing.”
BYU players and coaches didn’t know much about the Wolfpack (25-7) as of Monday, but that will change soon as they begin scouting the team from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“Our coaches do a good job of preparing us,” Eaton said. “We have a few days to prepare. We’ll watch a lot of game film, memorize their plays and their personnel, and we’ll be ready to go.”
Two years ago, the Cougars had an agonizing wait to find out if they made the tournament. On Monday, BYU was one of the first teams to appear on the screen during the selection show.
“I was actually shocked. The last time we went to the tournament, we were second-to-last (announced),” said senior guard Kim Beeston. “I was just really excited, not having to wait. I’ve been there (to the NCAA tournament) one other time, and it’s special to say that you’re one of the top 64 teams to get in. We’re going to work hard so we can make some noise in the tournament.”
Two years ago, the Cougars were sent to Chicago to play DePaul on its home floor. So BYU likes the idea of playing closer to home this time around.
“We’re excited to play in L.A. It’s not a long trip. It will be harder on them and that will be to our advantage,” Judkins said. “Hopefully we’ll get some BYU fans to the game. These guys want to move on. They don’t want to just say they were there. (The players want to) make a big splash and do well in this tournament.”
Judkins pointed out that Beeston has played well in Los Angeles. Last month, Beeston knocked down nine 3-pointers en route to a career-high 27-point outing at Loyola Marymount.
“She likes to shoot in L.A.,” Judkins said. “She likes that air for some reason.”
The winner of the BYU-N.C. State game will meet the winner of the Nebraska-Fresno State game in the second round of the tournament.
For senior center Jennifer Hamson, getting into the tournament in her final season is important.
“It means a lot, especially being a senior this year,” said Hamson, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year. “I don’t know if I will play basketball afterwards. This is kind of our last push. This is a great team to be with and to do that push with. I’m so excited.”
This marks BYU's 10th overall trip to NCAA tournament, and the sixth under Judkins.