Saint Joseph's-Vanderbilt Preview
Vanderbilt's players tried to take the placards from their NCAA tournament news conference Friday as souvenirs.
St. Joseph's asked if they could get a photo with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma.
The Commodores and Hawks are enjoying the experience of being part of the field of 64 because they know it could be short-lived with a potential matchup against the host Huskies looming.
Should Connecticut get past Idaho, the Huskies will face the winner of Saturday's matchup between No. 8 seed Vanderbilt and No. 9 seed St. Joseph's in the second round.
Vanderbilt (20-11) comes into its 14th straight NCAA tournament on the mend after an injury-plagued season that forced coach Melanie Balcomb to use seven different starting lineups.
The Commodores lost center Stephanie Holzer for the season to a knee injury in an exhibition game. Starting guard Kady Schrann has played only sparingly after an ankle injury suffered in January. And the team's biggest outside threat, Christina Foggie, has been coming off the bench after suffering a late-season knee injury that kept her out four games.
"I think the injuries really helped us come together more as a team, and play good basketball and play well when we needed to," said forward Tiffany Clarke, who has led the team in scoring this season, averaging almost 17 points. "A lot of people wrote us off due to our injuries, but we didn't write ourselves off and I think that's the most important thing."
Balcomb said other players have stepped up, including three freshmen, making a healthier team more dangerous.
"We haven't played our best game yet," guard Jasmine Lister said. "I think our mission is to get to that best game and actually, like, peak."
St. Joseph's (23-8) comes into its first tournament since 2000 after beating top-seed Dayton in the Atlantic 10 semifinals and winning the championship game by a point over Fordham.
"Our team has a great fight in us," forward Chatilla van Grinsven said. "Being here in the NCAA tournament for the first time in so many years means so much for us."
The Hawks are led by Maryland transfer Natasha Cloud and senior guard Ashley Prim, who is from nearby Ansonia, Conn. She was able to get tickets for more than 30 friends and family to watch Saturday as she ties the school record for games played.
"It's a great cap to my senior year," she said. "We're refusing to lose. We made it here and we're going to go as far as we possibly can without any regrets."