. UTA has never played in the NCAA postseason tournament before. But this year they won the Southland Conference Tournament, 60-54, over Louisiana-Monroe. That Saturday victory propelled UT-Arlington into The Big Dance, with a 21-9 season record.
Lady Mavericks Coach Donna Capps said, "It's fun to set a goal and have them accomplish it. It is a thrill to be the first team to go."
In the win that brought UTA its NCAA berth, Terra Wallace, a sophomore guard, earned Southland Conference Tournament MVP honors. Her 14 points came with a career-high 10 rebounds; UTA's best scorer in the game was Rola Ogunoye, who scored 22 points in spite of having to sit out 14 minutes of the first half with foul trouble. Junior Ashley Bobb -- and if that name sounds familiar to Tech fans, it's because as a freshman she was a Lady Raider – added a dozen points for UTA. She's not the only familiar face Tech will find on the court Saturday, though.
"They've done a great job of reviving that program," Tech head coach Marsha Sharp noted. "Donna Capps has been a friend of our coaching staff for a long time. We actually recruited one of her players from Mesquite High School. Her name was Teresa McMillan, who was a big part of our program. That's a long ways back, and she's done a great job of taking (UTA) to a whole different level."
"We'll have our work cut out for us," Sharp said Sunday. "They won the Southland Conference Tournament this past weekend. They have some good athletes, and they play good pressure man defense. They'll really attack you coming to the basket.
"To match their athleticism and their enthusiasm for playing in the tournament," she said, "we'll have our work cut out for us in the very first round."
If the Lady Raiders win their first-round game potential opponents could include Ohio State, Louisiana Tech, or Maryland.
Tech's No. 4 seed pits them against No. 13 in the Philadelphia Regional, where the University of Tennessee is the No. 1 seed in the division; they face Western Carolina; No. 2. Ohio State meets 15th-ranked Holy Cross; No. 3 Rutgers clashes with No. 14 Hartford. Fifth-seeded North Carolina State meets No. 12 Middle Tennessee State; No. 6 Temple drew No. 11 Louisiana Tech, No. 7 Maryland faces Wisconsin-Green Bay as the first round matches begin Saturday.
Tech players favored a trip to Dallas for this year's opening rounds of tourney play to last year's voyage to Missoula, Montana. That Tech drew a No. 4 seed might surprise some fans, but the players took the announcement with equanimity.
"I think we're perfect where we are," sophomore starter Alesha Robertson, Tech's six-foot small forward, said. "(Dallas) is close to where a lot of the girls' homes are. It'll be great to play there. We'll have a lot of fans, and Texas will have a lot of fans, so we'll have great support."
Senior Cisti Greenwalt said, "This is the best part of the season, to get to be in March Madness and to get to watch that on TV and see where you're going to get to play, and to go somewhere so close to home.
"We're just going to have to take it a day at a time," Greenwalt said, "and focus on one thing, and each team … I think these first two games are going to be awesome, getting to go to Dallas and go down there with Texas and bring everybody's fans."
Other Big 12 teams in the Big Dance include Texas, seeded No. 3 in the Chattanooga Regional and facing Oral Roberts in opening-round action this Saturday in Dallas; Oklahoma is in that quadrant too. The Sooners pulled a No. 8 seed going up against Arizona, No. 9 of that 16. No. 1 there is LSU, who faces Stetson; DePaul, at No. 5, meets Virginia Tech; No. 4 Penn State plays No. 13 Liberty, No. 6 Georgia faces No. 11 Rice, No. 7 Boston College faces No. 10 Houston, and No. 2 Duke plays No. 15 Canisius.
Iowa State is seeded No. 7 in the Kansas City Regional, facing No. 10 Utah; Kansas State also drew the KC quadrant. The Wildcats are the No. 4 seed and open tournament play against Bowling Green. Those two Big 12 teams have stiff competition: Michigan State is No. 1 in their quadrant, facing Alcorn State. USC is No. 8, meeting Louisville; No. 5 Vanderbilt faces Montana. Florida State, at No. 6, meets Richmond; No. 3 UCONN faces Dartmouth; and No. 2 Stanford must travel halfway across the continent for a match against neighboring Santa Clara.
The last No. 1 seed of the day went to the University of North Carolina, who faces Coppin State in the opening round of the Tempe Regional; Baylor, the Big 12 Conference champs, own that No. 2 in that division and open tournament play against Illinois State. No. 8 Mississippi faces George Washington, No. 5 Arizona State meets No. 12 Eastern Kentucky, No. 4 Notre Dame meets UCSB, third-seed Minnesota plays St. Francis, and No. 7 TCU meets Oregon to complete the opening-day action.
UT-Arlington has beaten Arkansas-Little Rock, 76-59; Kansas, in Lawrence, 53-49; Southern Utah, New Mexico State, North Texas in Denton, Nicholls State twice, Southeast Louisiana, Northwestern State, McNeese State twice, Sam Houston, Louisiana Monroe, Stephen F. Austin twice, Texas State, UT-San Antonio, and Lamar, during the regular season. In the conference tournament, they won against Stephen F. Austin, Northwestern State, and Louisiana Monroe.
Their losses have come against UNLV's Lady Rebels and in their next match against then- No.24th Villanova, both in the Duel in the Desert tournament, as well as SMU, Florida State, and Texas (UT-Austin), who beat them 69-24. They also lost to TCU.
This is Tech's 16th straight opportunity to play in the NCAA post-season tournament. The Lady Raiders are 22-7 so far this year, having one one game and lost one game in the Big 12 Conference Tournament. The Lady Raiders have had 20 wins in 20 of coach Sharp's 23 seasons at the helm, and have won 20 or more games 23 times in the program's history. Tech has 16 consecutive seasons with at least 20 wins.