After hosting the first two rounds of last year's tournament and playing against a higher-seeded team, beating North Carolina in the second round, the Buffs must play on the Gauchos' home court. But, unlike UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell who outspoken and critical last March about having to play at a lower-seeded team's court, CU coach Ceal Barry wasn't complaining.
"That's the way the tournament is set up," Barry said. "We knew we were going someplace. It's a direct flight. It's as good a place as any."
Colorado will bring a 22-7 record to Santa Barbara, who own a 25-6 record and won the Big West Conference tourney. The last time the two teams met was during the second round of the NCAAs in 1993, when the Buffs beat UCSB to advance to the regional semifinal.
The Gauchos feature an up-tempo style of play, but also have some height on their squad. One of the matchups to watch will be between CU 6-5 center Tera Bjorklund and UCSB's 6-8 center Lindsay Taylor. Both players are their school's all-time leading scorers.
The Buffs also are familiar with some of the UCSB players. Six-foot-6 junior forward Kate Bauman was an AAU teammate of CU senior Randie Wirt. And CU junior Veronica Johns-Richardson is close friends with UCSB 6-2 junior forward Kristen Mann.
"We're excited to be in the tournament again," Barry said, adding, "that will be a difficult first-round matchup for us — particularly on their home floor."
But the Buffs, coming of a loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament, expect to leave Santa Barbara with two wins and reservations for the regionals in Hartford, Conn. Barry said her veteran team, which includes four seniors, three of whom are making their fourth-straight tourney appearance, will not be intimidated.
"We play in the toughest arenas in the nation," Barry said. "I don't think (the players) fear anybody. They've gone out against the some of the best players, the best coaches and the best fans in the nation. There's nobody who's going to be more prepared than Colorado. We're going to be ready."
MEN'S TEAM LOOKS FOR NIT BID
While the Colorado women's team gathered in the Dal Ward Center to watch the selection show Sunday, head coach Ricardo Patton was the only representative from the men's squad at the gathering. And the coach, in his ninth year at CU, was disappointed his Buffs weren't picked for a trip to the Big Dance.
"But I still believe that finishing fourth in the Big 12 was quite an accomplishment for our group this year," Patton said. "We'll work hard and try to improve next year."
CU finished 18-10 overall, 10-6 in conference, but lost in their first game in the Big 12 tourney, a quarterfinal matchup with Texas Tech. Tech, who finished behind Colorado in fifth place in the Big 12, earned a bid as the eighth seed in the East Rutherford bracket. In all, four teams from the conference — Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas and the Red Raiders — will play in the NCAAs.
With the snub, Colorado becomes just the second team in Big 12 history to finish with at least 10 wins in the conference and not get into the NCAAs, after Nebraska finished 10-6 in 1999 but didn't make the cut.
And while just once previously, in 1998, the conference sent only four teams to the Dance, this marked the first time the committee jumped over the fourth-place team and picked the fifth-place conference finisher to play in the tourney.
Tech's overall record of 22-10 was better than CU's, and their RPI was at 30 heading into this past weekend, much better than Colorado's 53. CU beat the Raiders in Boulder in February, but played poorly in the teams' game in Dallas Friday.
Asked if CU's lack of history and name recognition as far as the tournament goes played into the committee's decision, Patton said, "I think it probably had some weight. And that's unfortunate."
Patton pointed to the fact that CU won five of its final six conference games, while Louisville (10 seed in Atlanta bracket, and 20-9 record) was just 4-8 in its last 12 games, including the C-USA tourney.
"That doesn't seem very fair to me," Patton said.
Another eye opener was Michigan State's seven seed in the St. Louis bracket. The Spartans were 18-11 on the year and have no wins over anyone in the NCAA Tournament field. While they won eight of their last 10 games, the wins came over Big Ten teams in a decidedly down year for the conference.
When asked why his team was overlooked, Patton's first reaction was to point a finger at the media.
"I think part of it was all the talk of us being on the bubble," he said, referring to recent speculation in print, online and on TV about CU's prospects. "I think that may have fed into the minds of those people selecting."
Later, Patton added, "in watching the show it seemed like a lot of teams were rewarded for finishing high in their conference, and maybe not winning their conference tournament. The committee may have felt they had to reward some of those schools."
Indeed, the major conferences received just 22 at-large bids, down from 27 last year.
While the CU players were not in attendance, Patton said he told them earlier that he is "very proud of what we accomplished. We finished 18-10 in fourth place behind Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas. I don't know that Colorado's in a position to finish better than fourth place in the Big 12."
But the Buffs are in a position to earn an NIT bid. While published reports stated Saturday that the CU players had voted against taking an NIT bid, Patton assured reporters Sunday that CU would gladly play in the tournament.
"I don't think we are to the point where we would snub any opportunity that came along," he said. "We have a lot of returning guys who would benefit from getting more games under their belt, and to have a chance to play in the postseason."
NIT invitations are expected to be handed out later Sunday evening.