Coming off a crash landing in Tulsa, the Tulane women’s basketball team still believes it can fly into the NCAA tournament selection committee’s sightline this weekend.
The Green Wave likely will need at least two and possibly three wins at the American Athletic Conference tournament in Uncasville, Conn., to earn an at-large bid. In that regard, their slide all the way down to a No. 6 seed did them a favor because they ended up on the opposite side of the bracket from virtually unbeatable Connecticut.
First up for Tulane (20-9, 11-7 AAC) on Friday night is No. 11 seed Houston (6-23, 1-17), which the Wave beat by a combined 47 points in two regular-season meetings. A win there would set up a quarterfinal rematch on Saturday night with No. 3 seed Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane avenged a 73-34 wipeout in New Orleans with a 55-52 victory, that dropped Tulane from the last four in the NCAA tournament field to first four out according to an ESPN.com projection.
South Florida would be the likely semifinal opponent. The Bulls beat the Wave by double digits both times they played but are imminently more preferable than UConn.
“In this league, you want to be on the opposite side of UConn,” coach Lisa Stockton said. “That’s the silver lining. You want to be a 3 seed or you want to be a 6, and we ended up in a good situation that way.”
Whether the Wave can recover from its heartbreaking defeat to Tulsa remains to be seen. Stockton and the players labeled it a must-win for NCAA tournament hopes, but the Wave fell victim to a two 3-pointers by Kelsee Grovey in the last minute-and-a-half --one at the end of the shot clock and the other from what Stockton estimated at 30 feet.
Instead of finishing tied for third in the conference, the Wave plummeted to a tie for fifth.
“We were all pretty devastated by it, but the sun does rise and you regroup,” Stockton said. “The nice thing is we’re still in a good position, so we just have to make the best of it. Maybe a loss like that makes you a little hungrier.”
Senior Jamie Kaplan, starving for the first NCAA bid of her career, said no one talked for about three hours after the Tulsa game. Four days of practice, though, helped the players regain their equilibrium.
“Right now the focus is Houston,” she said. “That’s our first game, and you have to get the first one under your belt so you can get to the next game. We’re confident that we can get on a roll. We think we can be right back in the (NCAA) tournament.”
The Wave would love another shot at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane barely won last Saturday despite hitting 7 of 13 3-pointers to Tulane’s 2 of 15. Tulsa also won the rebounding battle 31-26 after losing it 45-33 in New Orleans.
“We wouldn’t be intimidated,” Stockton said. “We know we could do a better job.”
Playing on the opening day of the tournament could be helpful. Two years ago, Tulane had a bye in the Conference USA tournament and lost in the quarterfinals to a Tulsa team that already had won in the first round. Last year, the rested Wave lost in the quarterfinals to Florida International, which was playing its third game in three days.
“The other teams had an advantage of playing on the floor and getting up shot at the goal that we didn’t get,” Kaplan said. “I think that helps. To already have a game played in the arena is a huge advantage.”
Freshman guard Kolby Morgan, averaging a team-high 12.4 points, and senior guard Danielle Blagg, averaging 9.8 points, made the third-team All-AAC team, the league office announced Thursday. Morgan is the first Tulane freshman to earn an All-Conference selection. She also was named to the All-Freshman team. … Stockton said reserve guard Leslie Vorpahl, who re-injured a knee she originally hurt in January early in the first half against Tulsa and did not return, might play against Houston. Vorpahl averages 7.9 points