Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry spent some time in the past week racking her brain and predicting where her Lady Raider basketball club would slide in during Monday night’s announcement of the NCAA Tournament field of 64.
She thought Tech (21-10, 11-7 in Big 12 Conference) might slide into a six or seven seed, and when the first region was announced Monday night on ESPN, Curry was right.
The Lady Raiders earned the No. 7 seed in the Spokane, Wash., regional, pitted against 10th-seeded South Florida.
“I’m excited where we did land, and I’m excited to be at home,” said Curry, whose team will play at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in United Spirit Arena against the Bulls. “This time of year it’s not so much about seeding sometimes. When you look across the parity, what does one or two spots give you, at that? I’m just excited.”
A victory against the Bulls (21-10, 9-7 in Big East Conference) will pit the Lady Raiders against either sixth-ranked Cal, which picked up the No. 2 seed, or No. 15 seed Fresno State.
Tech’s inclusion in the filed of 64 comes after a one-year hiatus from the big dance.
The Lady Raiders were bounced in the first round of the 2010-2011 NCAA Tournament by St. John’s.
“It’s good to get back, especially because we have all these seniors that had experience at both (making the field and missing out),” said Tech senior guard Casey Morris. “I think we used the negative as a positive and we learned from last year and we know that we needed to do good to get where we are this year, and we did it.”
If Tech defeats South Florida, it will likely face Cal in the second round, adding an additional storyline to the Lubbock sub-regional. Morris played at Cal for one season before transferring to Tech.
“It makes me want to compete more. We got to play them my first year when we transferred here, and we beat them in Las Vegas,” Morris said. “We wanted to get them again and it just makes me want to compete even more, and I’m even more excited to play a team that’s right next to my home and everyone knows that I went there my first year so I just wanted to play them more and more.”
Before Morris and the rest of the Lady Raiders can shift their focus to Cal, it must deal with a South Florida squad that was one of the final four teams included in the tournament.
Curry said she spent some time watching South Florida in its most recent game against Notre Dame, so she is familiar enough with the basics of the Bulls.
Tech’s players are less so, but eager to find out.
“I’m excited, I was ready for anybody,” Tech guard Monique Smalls said. “I don’t really know much about South Florida, but I know in the next couple of days our coaches will have something prepared for us. I’m looking forward to playing somebody new that we haven’t played before.”
Twice the Bulls played No. 1 seed Notre Dame tightly this season, taking the Irish to overtime earlier in the year.
South Florida is led by its guard play. Sisters Andrea and Andrell Smith, who average 16.5 and 13.8 points per game, respectively, lead the team in scoring. Inga Orekhova, a 6-foot-2 guard from Ukraine, averages 12.2 points per game and has made 73 3-pointers this season. South Florida is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006.
Curry said matching up against strong guards in the Big 12 should help Tech as it prepares for South Florida, especially the Smith sisters.
“They’re a unique duo. I’ve read enough and been aware enough of what goes on across the country,” Curry said. “So we’re excited about that challenge, and hopefully our league prepared us a little bit.”
Cal and Fresno State will tip at 3 p.m. Saturday in United Spirit Arena. Other teams in the Spokane regional include No. 1 seed Stanford, fifth-seeded Iowa State — one of seven Big 12 teams that made the field — and No. 3 seed Penn State, a favorite to advance to the Sweet 16 to face the winner of the Lubbock subregional.
Tech’s inclusion in the NCAA Tournament marks the 20th appearance for the Lady Raiders and second under Curry.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pride that goes into it,” Curry said. “I think it’s number nine for me, and quite a few more if you add those assistant years in there. So it’s something that you wake up and you want to be about every day. We’re just proud to have this program back. I’m happy for our seniors, our entire staff, everybody.”