Dancin', baybee! Men get No. 6 seed, women No. 2

It's official... the Vanderbilt men's basketball team is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years, while the women's team will be making its fifth straight NCAA appearance. Both teams learned their seedings and final destinations Sunday afternoon as the brackets were announced to the world, and both were pleasantly surprised.


The Vanderbilt men's team received a No. 6 seed, and will play No. 11 Western Michigan in Orlando on Friday (game time to be announced). Should the Commodores advance, they would play again on Sunday against the North Carolina State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette winner.

The winner from among those four teams would advance to play in the West Regional in Phoenix, Ariz., March 25 and 27.

"This means the whole world to me," said top scorer Matt Freije. "This is the reason why I play basketball, to get to this point. Just to make it is the greatest feeling in the world. It's a better feeling than I can ever imagine. It makes everything that we've gone through in past years worth it."

The men's team gathered at Coach Kevin Stallings' home and watched the CBS Selection Show together as a team.

"We were jumping up and down for a while," Freije said. "Coach started talking about how proud he was of us, that we'd earned this."

The Commodores (21-9) eliminated all doubts about their NCAA worthiness last week by winning two games in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, including a shocking upset of fourth-ranked Mississippi State, the SEC regular season champion.

Thursday's game will be the first meeting between Vanderbilt and Western Michigan in men's basketball. The Broncos (26-4), under first-year coach Steve Hawkins, earned an automatic bid by winning the Mid-American Conference tournament championship Saturday with a 77-66 win over Kent State.

The SEC received six invitations to the tournament-- Kentucky, Mississippi State, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina were invited in addition to Vanderbilt.


Melanie Balcomb's Vanderbilt women's team received the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, largely on the basis of an impressive four-game run through the SEC Women's Tournament.

The Commodores will face 15th-seeded Lipscomb Saturday in the first round in Chattanooga; game time will not be announced until Monday. The two Nashville schools have met ten times in women's basketball, but have not met since the 1990-91 season. Vanderbilt is 10-0 in the series.

If the Commodores advance past the first round-- and they should be heavily favored to do so-- they would face the Rutgers vs. Chattanooga winner on Monday.

The 15th-ranked Commodores (24-7) locked up an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning eight straight games, including four in the SEC Tournament in Nashville March 4-7.

The No. 1 seed in the Midwest bracket is the University of Tennessee Lady Vols, who will play this weekend in a subregional in Tallahassee, Fla. The regional finals will be played in Norman, Okla., the following weekend.

The Commodores, who watched the Selection Show with fans and media in Memorial Gym, were excited to learn about their high seed.

"Before we found out, I was thinking 4 seed, but I was hoping for a 3 seed," said senior co-captain Hillary Hager. "I hadn't thought about what region we'd be in, but when we were a 2 seed, I was extremely surprised."

Jenni Benningfield, the other co-captain, echoed the sentiment.

"We were all trying to guess where we were going to be. I was interested to see whether they were going to respect us or not. But when they gave us a number 2 seed, I was floored. That never even crossed my mind."

The Lipscomb Lady Bisons qualified for the tournament by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference championship on Saturday afternoon in their first year in the conference.

The matchup with a team just a few miles away from the Vanderbilt campus offers some additional excitement, since many of the Lipscomb players are frequent participants in pickup games in Memorial Gym during the summer.

"We know them, they know us," said Benningfield. "It's going to be fun to play against people you know."


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