The screaming lasted for more than a minute.
They had to wait and wait and wait, but the Tulane women found out Monday night they were in the NCAA basketball tournament for the first time in five years. The news came at 6:40 p.m. midway through the final bracket and 40 minutes into ESPN’s selection show, with the Green Wave (22-10) popping up as a No. 12 seed to face No. 5 seed Mississippi State (26-6) on Friday in Durham, North Carolina.
Suddenly, the Glazer Club inside Yulman Stadium, where many of the players had gathered to watch along with coach Lisa Stockton, became a very loud place.
“This is one of the best feelings I’ve felt in a really long time,” said Danielle Blagg, one of four seniors in the playing rotation. “It’s overwhelming almost. We’ve had our eyes set on this since the beginning of the season. It’s incredible. To wait until the very last bracket was awful, but I’m just so glad that we made it.”
The Wave watched as LSU, a team it beat in Baton Rouge, and Miami, which it beat at Devlin Fieldhouse, landed No. 11 seeds. The Albany, Greensboro and Oklahoma City regions filled up, leaving only Spokane.
“Today was probably the longest day of my life,” senior Jamie Kaplan said. “When we saw our name called in that fourth region, it was crazy. This was our goal all along, so to end our careers going into the NCAA tournament, I can’t think of a better way to put the icing on the cake.”
NCAA tournament appearances were routine for Tulane in the heyday of Conference USA, with the Wave dancing in coach Lisa Stockton’s first nine seasons from 1995 to 2003. Since then, though, Tulane had gotten that far only once, when it won the Conference USA tournament in 2010.
Tulane was the last team in the field, getting the lowest seed of any at-large selection.
“I was sitting with the seniors up front, and I felt they were going to have a heart attack,” Stockton said. “When that name came up, none of us knew who we were playing and we didn’t know where we were going, but everybody was cheering. It was a great moment.”
Stockton credited the AAC, Tulane’s new league, for boosting it into the field. The only route to a bid from depleted Conference USA was winning the league tournament, but the Wave earned this invitation while finishing tied for fifth in the AAC.
Playing two-time defending national champion Connecticut twice and sixth-seed South Florida three times helped the schedule strength.
“If we were sitting in Conference USA right now, we would be in the NIT again,” Stockton said. “We felt like the league would really help us. It’s helped us in recruiting, and it’s helped us get into the NCAA (tournament).”
The other aid was conference tournaments going to form. Green Bay, which won the Horizon League final in overtime against Wright State, earned a No. 9 seed. If the Phoenix had lost, it likely would have received an at-large bid and Tulane probably would have been relegated to the NIT.
“The thing that makes me the happiest is this group of seniors has been very successful in their career, and they get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament,” Stockton said. “We were very fortunate things fell our way, but this team really deserves this opportunity.”
Friday’s winner will face the winner of the game between No. 4 seed Duke and No. 13 Albany, but Mississippi State (26-6) will present a formidable challenge. The Bulldogs won their first 18 games and finished third in the SEC with an 11-5 record. Two of their defeats –to LSU and Albany Region No. 2 seed Kentucky --came in double overtime.
Tulane lost to Mississippi State 77-68 in the first round of the WNIT last season. The rematch at 1:30 p.m. Friday will have much higher stakes.
“They are a very physical team, so we need to be ready for that.” Kaplan said. “Getting a box-out and making them one-and-done on the defensive end is going to be huge.”