Daytona Beach, FL – Despite a depleted roster and an ESPN mistake which led to the bracket getting publicly leaked earlier than expected, Bethune-Cookman University will get the chance to dance against the national champions.
In its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Lady Wildcats (21-10) travel to South Bend, Indiana to face Notre Dame (30-3) tomorrow morning (March 23rd) at 11 o’clock in a game which will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Unlike the men’s tourney, the first two rounds of the women’s tournament are played at the campus sites of the top seed before heading to neutral ground.
The Lady Irish – who are going for their third national title after tournament wins last year and 2001 – are the top seed in the Chicago Regional after clinching the Atlantic Coast Conference crown, while BCU is the lowest-seeded team in the regional at 16 after clinching the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title with a 57-45 road win over top seed Norfolk State on March 16th.
Making the job even more difficult for the Lady Cats is that much of the roster – including three projected starters to begin the year – are out with knee injuries, many of which required surgery.
Only eight players will likely be available for head coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis when the game tips off, but she sounded upbeat soon after the bracket was formally announced Monday night (March 18th).
“This whole season was a daunting task, so this is nothing new for these girls,” Blair-Lewis added. “To play an entire season with, really, seven and a half healthy players… I don’t know if there’s anything that could disappoint these young ladies. They’ve overcome so many odds and obstacles. We’re looking forward to it.”
Should BCU pull off the upset, they’ll face the winner of the 8-9 matchup between Central Michigan and Michigan State, also in South Bend.
Abilene Christian and Towson join BCU this year as first-timers to the Big Dance.
BCU notched 20 wins or more for the fourth consecutive year but did lose 88-39 to the University of South Florida in its only game this year versus a ranked opponent.