Vermont, Cleveland St. get 2nd chances at NCAA
Vermont has a starkly different outlook heading into its first-round NCAA tournament game against seventh-seeded Wisconsin than when it opened against top-ranked Connecticut a year ago.
``We're coming into this game with a completely different mindset,'' Catamounts guard May Kotsopoulos said. ``We are looking at tomorrow as a very winnable matchup for us compared to last year when it was, 'Let's have a good experience. Let's have a good time.'''
Vermont (26-6), which has not won an NCAA tournament game in five appearances, faces the Badgers (21-10) at 12:21 p.m. Sunday in the first game at South Bend. Cleveland State (19-13) plays second-seeded Notre Dame (27-5) in the second game.
Kotsopoulos said the Catamounts are looking to do for the women's program what T.J. Sorrentine did for the men five years ago, when he hit a 3-pointer in overtime to give Vermont a 60-57 overtime win over Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
``It put Vermont on the map. That's men's basketball,'' she said. ``Tomorrow, if we were to win, it would help our program in women's basketball get back on that map.''
Coach Sharon Dawley said the senior class already has done a lot. The Catamounts were coming off a 9-18 season when she signed Kotsopoulos, Courtnay Pilypaitis, Sofia Iwobi and Alissa Sheftic. As sophomores they led Vermont to a WNIT berth, then as juniors led the Catamounts to their first NCAA tournament berth since 2000. As seniors, they want an NCAA tournament win.
``It's huge being here, but at some point being here is not as satisfying as it used to be,'' Dawley said.
The Catamounts have won 10 of their last 11 games, earning an NCAA berth by winning their second straight America East title.
While the Badgers, picked to finish 10th in the league a preseason poll of Big Ten coaches, are the higher seed, they hope to take an underdog mentality into their first NCAA tournament game since 2002.
``It's really motivated us to this point,'' Wisconsin guard Teah Gant said.
Like Vermont, Cleveland State is looking to take advantage of its NCAA experience after losing 85-47 to Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., two years ago. The Vikings had won four games in each of the two seasons before the senior class arrived and now are back in the NCAA tournament.
Guard Jessica Roque said the Vikings were star struck two years ago.
``This time we have more insight into what to expect. We've grown and matured as players. So we're looking to make an impact this time and not just be there to be there,'' she said.
Just like last time, though, Cleveland State will be playing a team on its own court. Notre Dame is looking to do better than last season, when the Irish were upset at home in the first round by Minnesota.
Coach Muffet McGraw said the Irish, who start four of the team's five seniors, have shown a sense of urgency in getting ready for this year's tournament.
``I think the key word is intensity, because its efficient, intense, and it's successful. They're executing exactly what they need to do,'' she said. ``I think we are really sharp.''