The outrage has been expressed, the numbers crunched, the letters written. Now, it's time to play basketball.
The Hampton women's team, slighted by its No. 16 seed after a school Division I-record 26 wins and its third straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conferencetournament championship, has a chance to prove the NCAA selection committee made a mistake against top seed Stanford (31-1), the No. 2 team in the nation, on Saturday at the Constant Center in Norfolk.
"We're going to focus on the game," Lady Pirates coach David Six said. "The NCAA has issued a challenge, but we're going to accept the challenge and show up on Saturday and give it our best effort. I know one thing: We're going to play hard."
The Lady Pirates (26-4) will get a boost from the return of senior forward Melanie Warner, averaging 10.7 points per game before breaking her finger in late February. Warner practiced for the second time on Friday, catching passes and shooting jumpers with tape — and no cast — on the ring and pinkie fingers of her right hand.
"She's going to give us another body," Six said. "I don't know how effective she'll be, but I'm certainly happy to see her back."
HU, which boasts the second-best defense in the nation (giving up 46.8 points per game) and an RPI of 63, earned a 15 seed in 2009-10 and a 13 seed last season, the highest ever in the MEAC. The Lady Pirates, who fell to Kentucky in overtime in last year's first round, were expecting to be rewarded for their sustained success.
Instead, HU's 16 seed generated surprise and shock, with Six saying he felt disrespected. On Tuesday, the school sent a letter to the selection committee, pointing out that several schools, including Navy (a 15 seed), McNeese State (15) and San Diego State (12) received higher seedings despite less-impressive RPIs.
"I was floored when the announcement was made on Monday," HU athletic director Keshia Campbell said. "I realize the committee doesn't consider where a team was seeded the previous season, (but) I felt our body of work for 2011-12 speaks for itself."
While maintaining that "no way are we a 16 seed," Six got down to business in Wednesday's practice as the Lady Pirates tried to formulate a plan to contain Stanford and the dominant Ogwumike sisters. Senior Nnemkadi (Nneko) averages 21.8 points and 10.5 rebounds and has 35 blocked shots, while sophomore Chiney averages 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds, shoots 58.6 percent from the floor and has 37 of the Cardinal's 72 blocks.
Six told senior point guard Jericka Jenkins she many have pull up in the lane to avoid having her shot blocked, and he yelled to sophomore guard Nicole Hamilton, as she drove into traffic: "You're not going to get that foul. Not at this level."
"We're just going to execute to what the defense allows us to do," said HU junior forward Keaira Avant, averaging eight points and eight rebounds. "We're going to attack as we can offensively, and if the shot is blocked, we'll adjust. … We're going to have to be smart and not foul, keep our man in front of us, and we'll go from there, each play at a time."
The Cardinal, averaging 77 points per game, is more than just a sister act. Stanford sophomore guard Toni Kokenis has 117 assists and just 50 turnovers for a 2.34 assist-to-turnover ratio and averages 9.5 points.
"They're No. 2 in the nation for a reason. You've just got to make them take tough shots," Six said. "It's a task, but I'd rather have this task than not have it. I'd rather be playing this game than sitting home."
HU counters at the point with Jenkins, whose 217 assists are the second-most in single-season school history. Her 7.2 assists per game are second in the nation, while her 2.41 assist-to-turnover ratio is fifth.
Jenkins is also 5-foot-4. Kokenis is 5-11. Nnemkadi Ogwumike is 6-2, and Chiney is 6-3. Junior forward Joslyn Tinkle, averaging 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds, is 6-3.
"We've played out-of-conference teams that are bigger than us — maybe not as accomplished as the Ogwumike sisters, (but) all the games have got to be played on the floor," said Six, whose team beat Pitt and Boston College this season. "… I always think I can win. I always think there's a way. I don't need to be sitting here if I don't think there's a way."
The Lady Pirates expect to have support in their quest. Campbell said HU sold out of the 500 tickets it originally requested and ordered more.
"We don't want to disappoint our fans," Six said. "We don't want to disappoint ourselves. We know we're a good team."
On Saturday, the Lady Pirates have a shot to convince the rest of the world.
WHO: No. 16 seed Hampton (26-4) vs. No. 1 Stanford (31-1).
WHEN: 1 p.m. TV: ESPN2.
WHERE: Constant Center, Norfolk.
TWITTER: For updates from the game, follow Melinda Waldrop (@mmwaldrop) on Twitter.
ONLINE: To read about HU's letter to the NCAA committee chair, go to dailypress.com/oncampusCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun