The Badgers are going dancing.
For just the seventh time in program history and the first since 2002, the Wisconsin women's basketball team received an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. Following a 21-10 season and a third place finish in the Big Ten Conference, the Badgers were awarded a No. 7 seed in the tournament. Wisconsin will face the 26-6 Vermont Catamounts, 2010 America East Conference champions, in South Bend, Ind. Sunday.
""To see your name up there and see where you're going and it's close to home so we can get our fans there, your mind is just spinning,"" head coach Lisa Stone said. ""I'm so happy for our team. I can't say enough about our players and my staff.""
The Badgers, projected by many analysts for weeks to be awarded an eighth or ninth seed in the tournament, were rewarded for their strong performances in the Big Ten Tournament. Wisconsin dominated perennial powerhouse Purdue in that tournament, ending the Boilermaker's 16-year run in the NCAA tournament and narrowly fell to conference champions Ohio State in the semifinals.
Wisconsin will play their first round contest at the Joyce Center on the Notre Dame campus this Sunday at 11:20 a.m. The winner of Wisconsin and Vermont will take on the winner of second seed Notre Dame (27-5) and fifteenth seed Cleveland State (19-13) March 23 at 6 p.m.
""We're thrilled, I think it's a great seed for us, and going into the tournament I think we expect a lot from this seed,"" junior guard Alyssa Karel said.
Although Karel admitted that she had been hoping for a chance to play the first round in her home town Minneapolis, the Badgers' leading scorer is thrilled to be able to play so close to home.
""It'll be great to hopefully get some more fans come in. A lot of our families will [also] be able to make the trip now.""
Vermont will make their sixth NCAA tournament appearance overall and is looking to grab its first program victory in the big dance. This is the second season in a row that the Catamounts have qualified for the tournament—last year Vermont lost to the eventual NCAA national champion Connecticut Huskies in the first round, 104-65.
When asked what she knew about the Catamounts, Karel admitted, ""Absolutely nothing. I know nothing about Vermont.""
Coach Stone similarly admitted that she knew very little about the Badger's opponents but assured that they would be a tough team to match up against.
""I don't know a lot about them yet, but they are a team that is going to be excited to be there just like we are,"" Stone said. ""I know that they will play hard and they'll be excited.""
Vermont has won 10 of their last 11 games and defeated Hartford 55-50 in the America East Conference championship game to advance to the NCAA tournament. Leading the Catamounts this season are two outstanding senior guards. Mary Kotsopoulos is averaging 17.3 points per game while Courtnay Pilypaitis averages 14.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest. Vermont has also proven to be a threat from beyond the arc this year, converting on over 35 percent of their 3-point attempts on the season
Along with the rest of her teammates, senior guard Teah Gant is especially excited to finally be able to compete in the NCAA tournament in her final season.
""It's a great feeling. I know a lot of people don't get this opportunity and the last three years we got to go to the WNIT but the NCAA, going to the big dance, [I] can't really explain it,"" Gant said.
Sunday afternoon's contest will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and tickets to cheer on the Badgers in person go on sale this morning at 8:30 a.m.
-Ben Breiner contributed to this report.
Big Ten sends four teams to Tournament
Three Big Ten Conference foes will follow Wisconsin to the NCAA tournament this year.
No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes grabbed the second seed in the Dayton Regional. After finishing the season with a 30-4 record, the Big Ten regular season and tournament champions will face off against St. Francis (Pa.) (17-14) Sunday in Pittsburg.
Michigan State, a team that is currently No. 25 nationally, was awarded the fifth seed in the Kansas City regional. Wisconsin is the seventh seed in the same region. The Spartans, who finished runners up in the Big Ten, and will a 22-9 record overall, with play No. 12 Bowling Green Saturday in Louisville, Ky.
Rounding out the Big Ten and receiving the league's fourth bid is eighth seed Iowa. The Hawkeyes finished tied with Wisconsin for third place in the Big Ten and were runners up in the conference tournament. Iowa (19-13) will take on ninth seeded Rutgers Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif.
This is the 17th time in the past 18 seasons that the Big Ten has placed at least four teams in the NCAA tournament.