DURHAM, N.C. — For a couple of teams that are only a few hours apart and know each other pretty well, Tulane and Mississippi State have traveled a long way to play each other.
The No. 12 seed Green Wave (22-10) and No. 5 seed Bulldogs (26-6) — each in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament for the first time since 2010 — will square off in a first-round game at about 1:30 p.m. Friday at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. The game will air on ESPN2 after the No. 4 seed Blue Devils (21-10) face No. 13 Albany (24-8) at 11 a.m.
Friday’s winners will play at 11 a.m. Sunday in the second round of the Spokane regional.
The last time Tulane and Mississippi State met also was in a postseason game, although one not as important as this one. The Bulldogs beat the visiting Green Wave 77-68 in the first round of the WNIT last season in Starkville; that was Tulane’s fourth straight appearance in that tournament.
That win was revenge of sorts for Mississippi State, which “lost” to the Green Wave in closed scrimmages in 2012 and 2013.
“I think there are a lot of layers to it,” said Tulane coach Lisa Stockton, who has her team in the tournament for the 11th time but has yet to advance to the Sweet 16. “The players don’t remember the scrimmages very well, but of course the coaches do. We were probably further ahead in the season than they were in those early scrimmages. I hope our seniors know (Mississippi State) ended our season last year and think that’s something they don’t want to happen again.”
Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer said playing a somewhat familiar foe at this point can be a positive or a negative.
“I think it’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “I think Lisa and I would both prefer playing someone who doesn’t know us. We probably could have saved a lot of money and a lot of gas and just met halfway and played this game.
“The first (scrimmage) was absolutely one of the most embarrassing days of my life in coaching. I felt so bad I apologized to (Stockton) after the scrimmage. Thank goodness the doors were closed, because I don’t think we made them any better. They just physically whooped us.”
A couple of the key players in Friday’s game will have to take their coaches’ and teammates’ word for all of that: The only two double-figure scorers are freshmen.
Kolby Morgan, a 5-foot-8 guard, leads Tulane at 12.0 points per game and adds 4.5 rebounds, while 6-1 forward Victoria Vivians (15.1, 5.0) paces MSU.
“This is a very exciting place for me to be,” Morgan said about making her NCAA debut in one of basketball’s most famous buildings. “I didn’t know what to expect coming in. The history behind this place makes it really exciting to be here.”
Vivians said she’s aware of the magnitude of the opportunity.
“I don’t think there is any room for butterflies, because we have to come out here and play a game and win a game and play our hardest,” she said. “I need to be worrying about my teammates and trying to win a Final Four or everything we can possibly win.”
Tulane senior guard Jamie Kaplan said she remembers the Bulldogs well.
“We remember that they’re obviously a great team,” said Kaplan, who averaged 4.7 assists per game to rank second in the American Athletic Conference. “We’ve had some good scrimmages. (Friday) is a whole new game, but we’re ready for them.”
Green Wave senior guard Danielle Blagg said she’s excited just to play her final college games in the NCAA tournament — instead of in the WNIT again.
“We’ve had this goal set since we were freshmen,” said Blagg, who averages 9.4 points. “We worked from the summer until now to get in the position we’re in right now. I think as a team we’ve really found a balance within ourselves and we’re in a good place.”
The all-time series is tied at 5.