MOSCOW, Idaho – Most thought it would be Stanford in the first round, possibly in Stanford, Calif., a close enough destination from the Northwest that friends and family of Idaho women’s basketball players would be able to watch them play in the NCAA tournament.
But the Vandals weren’t quite that lucky.
Instead of facing No. 1 seed Stanford, the 16th-seeded Vandals will travel to Storrs, Conn., for a 10:30 a.m. game Saturday against powerhouse Connecticut (29-4), a name synonymous for years with greatness in women’s basketball.
But then, Idaho (17-15) knew it would be in for a challenge regardless of which top team the selection committee placed it against.
“It’s definitely an awesome opportunity to have made it this far; to play a team so good,” freshman forward Ali Forde said. “That makes me really excited to see where I stand, to see where our team stands against such a good seed.”
Hey, look at it this way. The No. 1-seeded Huskies are having a relative down year. They’ve lost a whole four games.
Of course, three of those losses were to fellow No. 1 seed and Big East champion Notre Dame, and the other was to No. 1- ranked Baylor, another No. 1 seed.
So, yes. Idaho has its hands full. But the Vandals say regardless of the stature of their first-round opponent, they’ll cherish the opportunity to be a part of the NCAA field.
“Exposure is really important to us,” junior forward Alyssa Charlston said.
“Haven’t really been to the East Coast to play, so it’ll be interesting back there, I’m sure,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “Huge challenge for us, of course, being placed a 16 seed against a No. 1 seed, but you know what? We’ve been up for challenges all year long.
“We’ll go back and watch some film on UConn. There’s plenty of it. They get plenty of coverage. So there won’t be any surprise to us. We may be somewhat of a surprise to them from that standpoint.”
Idaho earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the WAC tournament championship in Las Vegas last week. The Vandals won three games there by a combined seven points, edging Seattle University 67-64 in the championship game.
The Vandals haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1985.