VU WBB: NCAA Day 1 in Storrs, CT

The 2013 NCAA Women's Basketball tournament begins on Saturday. In Storrs, Connecticut, #8-seed Vanderbilt will play #9 St. Joe's in the opening game, followed by #1 UConn versus #16 Idaho. On Friday, the four teams attended press conferences and practiced on the court on which the games will be played.

Since the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship moved to pre-determined sites in 2003, the NCA has tinkered with changes to the format, including switching to eight host sites for the first two rounds then back to four.

One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the day of press conferences and practices on the day prior to the first day of competition in each of the sites. In Storrs, Connecticut, first-round games take place on Saturday, so on Friday coaches and selected players from each team met with the press.

Friday in Storrs dawned sunny and chilly with traces of leftover snow still visible. On a Friday morning around 10 a.m., the empty streets and sidewalks on campus were the sign that UConn students are on spring break. The domed building in the background on the left is Gampel Pavilion, the home court of the UConn Huskies and one of the 16 sites for the first two rounds of the tournament.

Inside Gampel Pavilion, Vanderbilt was the first team up on the press conference lineup. Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, senior forward Tiffany Clarke, and junior point guard Jasmine Lister were the Commodore representatives.

When asked about her last experience at Gampel, when her Xavier Musketeers had a second round matchup against UConn and took the Huskies to the wire in 1999, Coach Balcomb referred to the game as a "signature loss."

Asked to explain what she meant by the term "signature loss", she said, "It put my program on the map and we lost. I had taken over a program that was not successful in the year before we went to the WNIT and this was our first year (in the NCAA). We beat FIU and also we are on national TV beating UConn for most of the game and losing in the end. Everybody talked about us. We didn't become Cinderella but it put our team on the map. I don't know how else to explain it but it was a signature loss. We got attention, exposure and talked of in respectable places."

In addition to the press conference, each team has an hour-and-a-half of practice time on the court. Prior to practice, the team's locker room is open to the media. Vanderbilt's six freshmen agreed to pose for some photos to commemorate their first trip to the NCAA tournament.

From left: Heather Bowe, Kendall Shaw, Kristen Gaffney, Jasmine Jenkins, Morgan Batey, and Rayte'a Long.

There are many things that are exciting about the NCAA tournament. This year new gold shoes is one of them.

After the compulsory media opportunity, the team takes the court for a 90-minute practice. The first 15 minutes are open to the media for photos and live footage for TV coverage. After that, the practice is closed.

The media practice window gives the chance to take a good look at the inside of Gampel. From the outside it looks like a dome, so unsurprisingly, it looks like a dome on the inside, too, with a curved roof.

During the time that the media is present, very few secrets are revealed. Players stretch and warm up, shoot free throws, and run some drills.

Freshman post Kristen Gaffney, who has missed the entire season as she has rehabbed the knee injury that she suffered in the state tournament during her senior season in high school, was on the court during the open part of the practice. However, Stephanie Holzer, Clair Watkins, and Kady Schrann remained on the sidelines.

Saturday morning the Vanderbilt-St. Joe's game will be one of four games to open the tournament at 10 a.m. CT. The game will be shown in its entirety in Tennessee, but most of the country will get "whip-around" coverage of all games in progress.

Following the Vanderbilt-St. Joe's game, the #1-seeded UConn Huskies will play the #16-seed Idaho Vandals. The winners of the two games will meet on Monday at 6 p.m. CT.

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Photos copyright 2013 by Whitney D. for

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