After a year on sideline, UNC back in NCAA field
One year after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001, there was no doubt North Carolina would be back in the field this year.
Still, that didn’t make it any less exciting for the Tar Heels (28-6), who received a No. 3 seed Monday and will face America East champion Albany in the first round Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the University of Delaware.
“First, it’s just great seeing our name up there because last year we watched it and our name didn’t show up, so it’s important that we got into the tournament,” senior Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said in a statement. “Having a three seed is a great set-up for us to have a great NCAA Tournament.”
The UNC-Albany winner will face either host Delaware, the No. 6 seed, or No. 11 West Virginia in the second round. The Tar Heels were placed in the Bridgeport Region along with No. 1 Connecticut, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 4 Maryland and No. 5 Michigan State.
The team watched the selection show from the Tobacco Road Sports Café.
“Our kids are excited, they’re playing well and they are excited to be in the tournament and have the chance to compete again,” said UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell, who won her 900th career game in February. “I was excited. I really wanted a three seed because that’s the seed we had when we won the national championship (in 1994).”
Last season, the Tar Heels went 20-11, 9-7 ACC but were 1-9 against ranked opponents and had an RPI of 90. UNC came into this season unranked but finished the year 13th in the AP poll and 15th in the RPI.
The team is led by first-team All-ACC point guard Tierra Ruffin Pratt (14.9 points) and ACC Rookie of the Year Xylina McDaniel (12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds). Senior small forward Krista Gross was fifth in the conference in rebounds (8.5), and senior center Waltiea Rolle was second in blocked shots (2.1).
This will be UNC’s league-record 24th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels have advanced to the Sweet 16 Round 15 times and have advanced to the Final Four three times.
“We’ve had a great year thus far, but we’re not finished,” Hatchell said.
Albany (27-3) made its first NCAA Tournament appearance a year ago and lost as the No. 14 seed to host Texas A&M 69-47. This year, the Great Danes became the first team in 17 years to go undefeated in the America East and win the tournament title.
Potential second-round opponent Delaware (30-3) has won 25 straight games and features All-American Elena Della Donne, who is the nation’s second leading scorer at 25.3 points a game.