HAMPTON — Hampton University's festive NCAA tournament viewing party received a cold jolt of reality when the Lady Pirates' matchup flashed on the big screens in the Student Center ballroom.
Following one of the most successful seasons in program history, Hampton received a No. 15 seed and must travel to face second-seeded and No. 6-ranked Duke at 12:05 p.m. Sunday in Durham, N.C.
"I'm not happy having to go to Duke," HU coach David Six said. "I think that our body of work doesn't warrant that. But there's nothing we can do about it."
The Lady Pirates (28-5) are on a 19-game winning streak, after going unbeaten in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and sweeping through the league tournament last week.
Six and his players hoped for a higher seed, and anticipation built after they saw that LSU received a No. 6 seed and DePaul a No. 10 seed. HU defeated LSU this season in Hampton and lost to DePaul by one point on a neutral floor.
But the selection committee awarded HU with a seed just one line higher than last season, when they were a No. 16 seed and fell to No. 1 Stanford in the first round at the Constant Center.
"If LSU is a six seed, why are we a 15 seed?" Six wondered.
The Lady Pirates, making their fourth consecutive NCAA appearance, also were a 15 seed in 2010 and sent to Duke, where they lost 72-37 in the first round. That was Six's first year as head coach and the beginning of their present streak of NCAA trips.
"We're a little upset about the seeding," MEAC Player of the Year Keiara Avant said, "but at the end of the day we're going to work with what we have and do what we've got to do to get that victory."
Duke (30-2) won both the ACC regular-season and conference tournaments. Its only two losses were to Connecticut and at Miami at the end of the regular season.
The Blue Devils have four players scoring in double figures, led by Elizabeth Williams (15.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg), the 6-3 sophomore center from Virginia Beach's Princess Anne High. Duke's top seven players are underclassmen, and the Blue Devils are near the top of most major statistical categories in the ACC.
They are third in the ACC in scoring (75.6 ppg) and first in scoring defense (53.1), 3-point shooting (.422), free-throw shooting (.741) and field-goal-percentage defense (.337). They are second in field-goal shooting (.461) and third in 3-point shooting defense (.290).
Hampton leads the nation in scoring defense (47.2 ppg), is second in field-goal-percentage defense (.316) and third in 3-point defense (.238).
"We have experience and we've won some tough games," Avant said, "and those tough games will definitely help us on Sunday. I feel like we have what it takes. We have the No. 1 defense in the nation, we have the Defensive Player of the Year on the team. This team is really going to be very dangerous in the tournament."
Hampton has history working against it, in terms of seeding. No 14 or 15 seed has won a tournament game since the women's field expanded to 64 teams in 1994 — an aggregate 0-for-152 in first-round games.
That owes not only to a talent differential, but the fact that those lower-seeded teams are often playing high seeds on their home floor.
First-team all-conference guard Nicole Hamilton anticipates the matchup and downplayed the seeding.
"It's a little disrespectful," she said, "but the game is played out on the court. ... It's like, OK, we get the chance to show the world what we're about."
Six believes that this team is better equipped than some others, including his previous teams, to compete against marquee opponents in their building.
"They're got some great players, but we've got some great players, too," he said. "We're going to go down there and play solid defense, and our defense will keep us in the ball game and we'll see what happens."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun