MOSCOW, Idaho – Part of the University of Idaho band filled the back of the room. Fans and family were seated behind Vandals players and coaches.
Even UI’s new president, Chuck Staben, said a few words to the crowd before the NCAA tournament selection show began.
Idaho faithful came to a team room inside the Kibbie Dome on Monday afternoon to find out the women’s basketball team’s seed and opponent – and just as importantly, where it would play.
But once Idaho’s name flashed on a huge projector screen, the reaction was muted. It took a second or two for most in attendance to notice the school’s name along with seven other schools in the Louisville region. And when everyone finally caught on, there were more groans than whoops.
No trip to Seattle for the first two rounds. No game with Nebraska or a team in the mid tier of the upper echelon.
A year after the tournament committee paired the Vandals with top-seeded and eventual national champion Connecticut, 14th-seeded Idaho drew the team that the Huskies beat for the title – No. 3 seed Louisville.
The 25-8 Vandals, making back-to-back NCAA trips for the first time in program history, will face the Cardinals on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. PDT in Iowa City, Iowa.
“Another huge challenge for the Vandals, man,” coach Jon Newlee said. “We really thought we would be in that Seattle bracket over there and everyone was saying Nebraska. (Louisville is a) top-five program. We’ll have our hands full.”
Louisville is 30-4 and ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press poll. Three of its four losses have come to unbeaten UConn, and its only other loss came to No. 7 Kentucky.
The Cardinals almost certainly deserved a better seed. And if Idaho hadn’t dropped early season games to Montana and Eastern Washington (a team “we should have beat,” Newlee said) the Vandals’ seed likely would have been more to their liking.
“I’m disappointed in our seeding,” he said. “I thought our seeding would be better. But you know, we gave away a couple games to teams that we shouldn’t have lost to. And those always come back to bite ya at this time of year once you get into the NCAA tournament and get into that seeding stuff.”
The biggest disappointment for Idaho, though, was getting sent to Iowa instead of staying in the Northwest. Athletic director Rob Spear tweeted before the selection show that WAC officials had told him the tournament committee would pay closer attention to geography for the opening-round games.
“If true,” Spear tweeted, “see you in Seattle.”
Newlee had heard similar things, he said.
“I’m disappointed for our fans, who aren’t going to be able to get out to Iowa,” Newlee said. “That’s for sure.”
It wasn’t all gloomy news for the Vandals. The WAC regular season and conference champions get a neutral-court opener after playing UConn on its homecourt in Storrs, Conn., last year, while senior Alyssa Charleston was able to find another positive angle.
“A little disappointed,” she said. “But at the same time, the charter flight is so fun you might as well use it to your full advantage and go halfway across the country.”