Huskies are headed back to the "Dance"

The 64-piece jig saw puzzle known as the NCAA Tournament is now set and for the fourth time in June Daugherty's seven years at Washington, the Huskies have a date to the Big Dance. The team gathered in the Don James Center to anxiously await their fate while watching ESPN's Selection Sunday Show and the end result has Washington (13-5, 22-7) set as the No. 9 seed in the West bracket against No. 8 seed University of Wisconsin – Green Bay (15-1, 27-3) on Saturday in Eugene, Oregon.

"Wow, this is great," said Daugherty. " Honestly, I never thought in my seven years at Washington that I'd be this excited about going down to Eugene."

"I'm really excited about the draw and thinking about it, I know we're going as the No. 9 seed so I guess we're going as the underdog, and that's OK. We've been in that role before and we look forward to it."

For 42 minutes, the team kept a close eye on the monitor as selection show hosts Rece Davis, Nancy Lieberman-Cline, and Stacy Dale-Schuman read off the names of the participants in each of the four brackets. The Midwest Bracket came first and went without the Huskies name being called. In the Mideast Bracket, the selection George Washington University brought about a sudden stir but alas, that too came and passed. With many sources projecting the Huskies to land in the East Bracket, all eyes were focused and with the surprising selection of Arizona to play Notre Dame in Manhattan, Kansas, the thought of playing close to home became more and more of a reality.

Then at approximately 2:42 pm, Washington's tournament destiny was revealed as they were announced as the No. 9 seed to play in Eugene, where it was the closest to home the Huskies could get. Should they advance, they will meet the winner of No. 1 seed LSU and No. 16 seed SW Texas.

"We're excited to be close to home," said senior captain Loree Payne. "We get to rest more and be able to finish up school and get prepared to go to Oregon."

"Eugene is going to be a great place for us. We've played down there a lot so it is a home court advantage. We know the floor, we know the arena, and we're going to have awesome fans there so we are excited."

For the seniors, this will be their last chance to put an exclamation point on their four-year careers that saw everything from a horrific 8-22 season in 2000, an Elite Eight run in 2001, and an NIT appearance in 2002.

Eight members of this year's team were a part of the Elite Eight run and have the tournament experience. Will the experience be of any advantage?

"I think the experience definitely helps us," said Gioconda Mendiola, who was a freshmen on the 2000-2001 team. "That core group that went that far to the Elite Eight during my freshmen year, we all know what it's like and what it's going to take to get that far."

Reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year Giuliana Mendiola's sprained ankle seems to be recovered after a one-week rest, and if it still is not truly completely healed, the Huskies can take comfort in knowing she still has five more days to fully recover. But Mendiola says that her ankle is improving and there will be no concern on Saturday.

"It's getting better," said the younger Mendiola. "It'll definitely be 100 percent come game time. I'll definitely be ready."

The Huskies will not only need a healthy Mendiola, but will need Loree Payne to recapture the magical shooting touch that has been her signature in her four years of reign in the Pac-10. Payne had a Pac-10 Tournament to forget last week as she shot only 6-for-26 from the field and 2-of-16 from behind the arc in the Huskies' two games in San Jose.

Washington's performance in San Jose once again brought up questions as to whether or not the Huskies are a complete team, or a team that has too much dependence on the home court advantage. The Huskies are undefeated at home (14-0), and just barely above .500 away from Seattle (8-7).

But all the records do not mean anything anymore because it is sudden death now. One loss and the season is over.

"This yeas has just been an unbelievable season up to this point," said Daugherty. "We just appreciate what these kids have been through and how hard they come back everyday, how focused they are, how hard they work, how much they get after to improve and represent the University of Washington in a first class manner."

UW-Green Bay currently boasts a 27-3 record and is riding an 11-game winning streak. and is ranked No. 19 in the nation. They are the Horizon League conference champions and have impressive wins against Oregon, Miami, Wisconsin, TCU, and Ohio State to their credit. They even came close to knocking off No. 7 Kansas State

The Phoenix run a high-powered offense that averages over 78 points per game. They are led by senior guards Kristy Loiselle and Sara Boyer, and senior center Chandra Jackson. Loiselle leads the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists at 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game and shoots a remarkable .521 from three-point range. (49-of-94)

"They are the No. 19 team in the country," said Mendiola. "They are the No. 8 seed and we are the No. 9 seed so obviously we are the underdogs so they must be a great team. I just know it's going to be tough in the NCAA Tournament no matter who we play. I'm just anxious and excited to prepare for them already."

Washington Tournament History:

Overall Record: 14-13
First Round: 7-3
Second Round: 5-5
Sweet Sixteen: 2-3
Elite Eight: 0-2

Game Information:
Saturday, March 22
Time: TBA
@ MacArthur Court in Eugene, OR Top Stories