Members of the Towson women’s basketball team hit a rare trifecta Monday.
First, they enjoyed the second of an eight-day spring break. Second, they were excused from practice.
Finally, and most importantly, the Tigers learned their postseason fate. The Colonial Athletic Association tournament champions (20-12, 11-7 CAA) earned the No. 15 seed in the Albany Regional of the NCAA tournament and will face No. 2 seed Connecticut (31-2) at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
“I’m going to say this is the best Monday of 2019,” redshirt sophomore guard Kionna Jeter said with a smile. “Not ever, but 2019.”
UConn, which is seeking its 12th straight Final Four appearance and is ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press media poll, isn't a No. 1 seed in the women's tournament for the first time since 2006.
How Towson found out about its first-round matchup was a display in frantic recovery. The 64-team field was scheduled to be revealed live on ESPN at 7 p.m., but the bracket was leaked during daytime programming on ESPNU earlier in the afternoon. The NCAA then announced that the field would be unveiled on ESPN2 at 5 p.m.
Tigers coach Diane Richardson was in the middle of her weekly radio show when she was informed of the schedule change. She finished the show, and she, coaches, and players hustled to the team’s locker room underneath SECU Arena. But at least one player, redshirt junior guard and Milford Mill graduate Qierra Murray, could not make it in time.
“That was a little crazy to get it leaked and then move up everything,” Richardson said. “It kind of changed our plans, but we’re still happy. That hasn’t changed.”
Towson will make its first appearance in the NCAA tournament after capturing its first CAA tournament crown last weekend. Voted in the league’s preseason poll to finish eighth, the team finished the regular season tied for third and, as the No. 4 seed, defeated No. 5 seed Delaware, No. 9 seed Hofstra and No. 2 seed Drexel to claim the title.
The Tigers became only the second squad in program history to reach the 20-win plateau, joining the 2007-08 team that went 22-10 under Joe Mathews before falling to Old Dominion in the CAA tournament semifinal round.
“We’re coming in on a three-game winning streak,” said junior forward Nukiya Mayo, who leads the team with 7.6 rebounds per game and ranks second in scoring at 14.5 points per game. “I think it can help a lot. Our confidence is pretty high.”
The Tigers will face the 11-time national champion Huskies, who are riding a 13-game winning streak and recently captured their sixth consecutive American Athletic Conference tournament championship.
Mayo seemed slightly taken aback that Towson was awarded such a low seed.
“We have a better record than some of the teams that got higher seeds,” she said. “But we’re the underdogs. So it’s fine.”
Gampel Pavilion in Storrs practically amounts to a home game for Connecticut, which will likely draw a heavy partisan crowd on a Friday night when many fans are off from work. Richardson said she plans to pump in some loud music and crowd noise during practices to help the players brace for the reception they will get from Huskies fans, and Jeter,who leads the team in scoring at 17.3 points per game and steals with 82 total, said she and her teammates welcome the challenge.
“We just want to do our best and play how we know we can play,” she said. “It’s just another team in front of us, another barrier to try to break down. So we’ve just got to play our game of basketball.”
Richardson was encouraged by her players’ reactions to seeing their pairing against the Huskies.
“I was in there when it was announced, and they were like, ‘They put on their shorts just like us. We’re ready to play,’ ” she said. “So I like that mindset, and I’m glad that they’re not afraid. So what we’ve done this past week, we want to keep on doing that.”
If the Tigers upset Connecticut, they would face the winner of No. 7 seed Rutgers (22-9) and No. 10 seed Buffalo (23-9) for a spot in the Sweet 16. That might be heady stuff for a program making its debut in the NCAA postseason.
“It’s the top 64 teams in the country,” Richardson said. “So the competition from top to bottom is going to be intense. But I think it’s a great opportunity for our girls to be able to experience that. I’ve been with some teams that have been to the Elite Eight [Maryland in 2007-08]. So it’s awesome for them to be able to experience that they’re one of the top teams in the country, especially when nobody thought they could be.”