Despite dropping an unexpected number of games this season, North Carolina managed to get a postseason bid.
The 10th-seeded North Carolina women’s basketball team will open NCAA tournament play against No. 7-seed Gonzaga at 10:30 p.m. Saturday in the Sacramento region.
The Bulldogs enter the tournament as the West Coast Conference champions and with a 27-4 record. The winner will face either No. 2-seed Texas A&M or No. 15-seed Portland State on March 22.
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“We’re definitely excited to make the tournament,” junior point guard Cetera DeGraffenreid said in a statement released by the University. “It was pretty nerve-racking not knowing if we were in or not. I know my heart was pounding pretty hard so it was awesome to see that we made it.”
UNC received a bid despite finishing the season with a 19-11 record and an unimpressive 6-8 ACC record that led the Tar Heels to an eighth place finish in the conference.
UNC was eliminated in the first round of the ACC tournament in a 83-77 loss to Maryland.
Despite its tumultuous season, North Carolina will not end a streak of NCAA postseason appearances that dates back to the 2001-02 season.
“We are certainly very excited to be back in the NCAA Tournament and to be one of the 64 teams with a chance to play for a title,” head coach Sylvia Hatchell said in the statement.
“Obviously we have struggled at times this season, but I think our best basketball is still ahead of us and we look forward to facing a very good Gonzaga team.”
UNC has only missed a total of two NCAA bids in the last 17 seasons.
But this season was far from the lock it has been in the tournament in recent years.
The Tar Heels’ downward spiral began with in-conference play in early February, which resulted in the Tar Heels losing seven of eight games leading into the team’s 64-54 upset of Duke.
However, North Carolina’s postseason hopes were bolstered by its strength of schedule and its 10 wins against the RPI top 100.
Five of UNC’s conference foes will be making their own appearances in the NCAA field, including No. 2 seed Duke, No. 3 Florida State, No. 5 Virginia, No. 6 Georgia Tech and No. 9 N.C. State.
“We’re in a little different situation than we are used to being in, but I think our team will step up to the challenge of being an underdog,” Hatchell said.
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