(AP) – There is another women’s basketball power emerging in Connecticut.
Quinnipiac University, located about 55 miles south of Storrs in Hamden, is making its second trip to the NCAA Tournament in three years. The 12th-seeded Bobcats will bring a 21-game winning streak into Palo Alto, California, against No. 5 seed Oklahoma in the Oklahoma City Regional on Saturday.
Quinnipiac has quietly put together a 31-3 season, joining UConn and Notre Dame as the only teams in the tournament with more than 30 wins. They swept through an undefeated Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season in just their second year in the league and then dethroned nine-time conference champion Marist 72-61 in the conference title game.
The Bobcats are 104-29 since the 2011-12 season, with the second-highest winning percentage (.782) of all New England Division I schools during that span. They trail only UConn (.933).
”Everybody loves a winner,” coach Tricia Fabbri said. ”So, we’re starting to really cultivate a fan base here. Now, you’re adding the high visibility of the NCAA Tournament and people are really starting to take notice.”
The Bobcats start four seniors and a graduate student and go more than 10 deep on the bench. That has allowed Fabbri to use an unusual strategy she calls ”The Gold Rush.” That involves subbing in and out five players at a time, much like a line change on a hockey team.
She used the system with great success two years ago during the Bobcats’ run to the program’s first NCAA Tournament in 2013. The starters play about 24 minutes a game and senior guard Jasmine Martin said because they the rest throughout the game they are usually much fresher than the opposition at crunch time.
”It’s been really beneficial on our bodies,” said Martin, averaging just under 12.0 points. ”We get that quick two- or three-minute break and we’re ready to go. Other girls play 34 or 35 minutes a game and they are tired and worn down.”
This will be Quinnipiac’s fourth straight national postseason appearance. The Bobcats lost in the opening round of the NIT last year to Villanova. They reached the NCAA Tournament in 2013 as the champions of the Northeast Conference, losing as a No. 13 seed to No. 4 Maryland 72-52.
That game was played on Maryland’s home court. By earning a No. 12 seed this year, the Bobcats will play their first game on a neutral court. Martin said that gives Quinnipiac even more confidence that they can pull off an upset and make an even bigger name for itself.
”Already to be mentioned in sentences with UConn and Notre Dame, that’s incredible,” she said. ”People are definitely noticing. But it could always be more.”
Knocking off Oklahoma would certainly increase the school’s notoriety. The Sooners are a tournament regular with 16 straight appearances and three Final Four trips. The senior-laden Bobcats, though, have the much more experienced roster, as the Sooners are the youngest team in the tournament. Oklahoma has 12 players in their first or second year of eligibility with the team.
”This is a really new experience for a lot of them,” said senior center Kaylon Williams, who averages 11.9 points and 6.7 rebounds. ”As veterans, we shared our experiences in the past and things we learned when we came to our first NCAA.”
Oklahoma junior guard Peyton Little averages 13.2 points, though she’s shot 32.8 percent in her last five games – well below her season average of 42.2.
The Sooners lost to DePaul in the first round last year.