COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland women’s basketball team is usually gathered with family, friends and fans when its NCAA tournament seed is revealed.
This year was a little different, as the bracket was released in its entirety more than two hours before originally scheduled because of a production error, which means the Terps were scattered throughout Xfinity Center when news broke that Maryland (28-4) is the No. 3 seed in the Albany Regional and will play No. 14 seed Radford (26-6) at 11 a.m. Saturday in College Park (ESPN2).
Coach Brenda Frese found out when she was walking off the court after practice after the team’s media relations director chased her down. Kaila Charles found out sitting in the post-practice hot tub when Shakira Austin told her after seeing the news on Twitter. Blair Watson was hustling to get ready for the team’s watch party in the locker room.
“We had to take ice baths and stuff and they were like, 'It's starting in 18 minutes! It leaked, it leaked!' ” Watson said. “We were all like, what? Nobody's showered, nobody's dressed, OK!”
“We were going crazy,” Charles said. “We were recovering in the hot tub and they came in screaming, ‘The selection show’s at five, it’s at five!’ We were like, ‘No it’s not, it’s at seven.’ No one told us anything, and it’s like 4:30, 4:40, mind you. We were going crazy. It’s different, it’s not what we expected, but it happens, people make mistakes. We're happy because it's us playing in the tournament, one, and hosting, two. Just having the opportunity to extend our season — we’re excited.”
Maryland will make its ninth-straight NCAA tournament appearance and 27th overall for the program beginning in College Park on Saturday, where the Terps host the first and second rounds since they are one of the top 16 overall seeds. Only once since 2007 has Maryland not opened the NCAA tournament at home — last year, when the Terps opened in Raleigh, N.C., as the fifth seed.
Maryland beat Radford, 83-44, in the teams’ lone meeting, in 1996.
The other two teams joining the Terps and the Highlanders in College Park this weekend are basketball greats — should Maryland advance, it will play the winner of No. 6 seed UCLA and No. 11 seed Tennessee. The Bruins and Lady Vols, who were a bubble team this season but is now the only program to have played in every NCAA tournament since it began in 1982, play their first-round matchup at 1 p.m. at Xfinity Center on Saturday.
“Three great opponents, you would have it no different when you talk about NCAAs,” Frese said.
Beyond the first two rounds, the Albany region is rife with storylines. No. 1 seed Louisville’s coach Jeff Walz was an assistant under Frese during Maryland’s national title and will not coach the Cardinals’ opening game against Robert Morris because he will be serving a one-game suspension for using profane language toward NCAA officials during the Final Four last year.
No. 2 seed Connecticut, looking to advance to a 12th consecutive Final Four, missed out on a top seed for the first time since 2006. And No. 4 seed Oregon State is led by Maryland transfer Destiny Slocum at point guard.
The other No. 1 seeds are Mississippi State in the Portland regional, Baylor in Greensboro and defending national champions Notre Dame in Chicago. Big Ten champions Iowa are the No. 2 seed in Greensboro. Oregon and Stanford are the other No. 2 seeds.
For now, the Terps are focused on the fact that they get to return home for the NCAA tournament after missing out last year.
“I noticed that last year when we were at N.C. State, I didn't realize how big of a difference that it is to have those two games somewhere you're used to, where you can sleep in your own bed, you're able to be in your routine,” said Charles, who will play on her 21st birthday Saturday. “It really helps a lot, so I'm excited that we get the opportunity to play two more games at home.”
Frese was excited when she found out the team’s bracket as well, though her initial reaction upon learning about the leaked field was disappointment for teams such as No. 15 seed Towson, which is making its first NCAA tournament appearance and is the only other team in the region in the field of 64. The Tigers play Connecticut in the first round.
Another notable No. 12 seed is Rice, led by former Maryland assistant Tina Langley. The Owls are making their first trip since 2005 after becoming the first team in Conference USA history to go undefeated in league play.
“When I think of that evening — it's kind of like Christmas morning, that surprise and being able to share that moment with your fans,” Frese said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed for teams that this may be one of their few opportunities to see their name. They kind of have that taken away from them. But then your brain goes to preparing for your next opponent, thinking about one more home game. It’s exciting.”