North Carolina looks to make run in NCAA tourney

A year ago, the NCAA tournament selection committee left the

North Carolina women’s basketball team sitting home in March.

The Tar Heels were determined not the let that happen again.

Motivated by last year, North Carolina (28-6) bounced back with

a solid regular season that earned it the No. 3 seed in the

Bridgeport Regional. The Heels will open against No. 14 seed Albany

(27-3) on Sunday.

Delaware (30-3), the No. 6 seed, will take on No. 11 seed West

Virginia (17-13) in the opening game Sunday – the first NCAA

basketball tournament contest played in the state of Delaware.

North Carolina earned its invitation by increasing its victory

total by eight over last season while climbing 75 places to No. 15

in the NCAA RPI rankings this year.

”I think we were motivated throughout the whole season because

we didn’t make the tournament” last year, said senior guard Tierra

Ruffin-Pratt. ”We played hard from the first game of the season

until the last game of the season. We battled through a lot of

tough times – from last season and this season. We did learn to

work harder. And our leadership is a lot better this season than it

was last year.”

Still, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said the Tar Heels

were good enough to be in the tournament last year.

”When you look back on all the injuries we had and the fact

that we were still 20-11, I really felt like we should have made

it,” Hatchell said. ”But I don’t make that decision. Anything in

your life is not what you feel like it should be, you have to try

to use in a positive way. So that’s what we did.

”We used it to motivate and set some goals. So far, we’ve had a

good year. We want to make it even better.”

This is the Heels’ 24th NCAA tournament appearance and the fifth

time they’ve been a No. 3 seed. In 1994, North Carolina won the

national title after being seeded third in the East Region.

The Heels haven’t played since March 10, when they lost to Duke

92-73 in the finals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. It

was their third loss to the Blue Devils this season.

”It was a good break for us,” senior Krista Gross said. ”It’s

a long season. We had time to fully recover, get your muscles

back.”

America East champion Albany is making its second straight

appearance in the NCAAs. Last season, the Great Danes fell to Texas

A&M 69-47 in the program’s first trip to the tournament.

As a third seed last season, Delaware picked up the program’s

first NCAA tournament victory, 73-43, over host Arkansas-Little

Rock. The Hens then lost to Kansas, 70-64, in the second round.

Delaware’s players are excited to be making a little more

history by hosting an NCAA tournament game for the first time. The

three games at the 5,000-seat Bob Carpenter Center were declared a

sellout a few weeks ago.

”Hosting something like this is special,” Blue Hen coach Tina

Martin said. ”It doesn’t come around all the time. For the state

of Delaware, for the community of Newark, it’s just a wonderful

happening, if you will. We’re watching all the games on TV and it’s

so exciting. To have it here right in our own backyard, it’s a

treat for our fans.”

West Virginia hasn’t played since March 9 when it lost to

Oklahoma, 65-64, in the Big 12 quarterfinals after leading by 22 in

the second half. This is the Mountaineers’ ninth NCAA tournament

appearance.

”After the Oklahoma game I told them there was a good chance we

won’t be in the NCAA, so I think they realize this is a second

chance,” coach Mike Carey said. ”The practices went well. I think

they’re focused and I think they’re ready.”