BELTON- All signs seemed to be pointing towards an at-large bid for the UMHB women’s basketball entering Selection Monday.
But nothing was set in stone, which is why those in the program watched in close anticipation as the bracket was revealed early in the afternoon.
“I think sometimes part of the moment,” UMHB head coach Mark Morefield said, “is the anticipation.”
The Crusaders, 18-1 in ASC play, and No. 16 in the nation, were fighting for one of the 20 Pool C bids after being eliminated in the conference tournament semifinals, in an overtime loss to UT-Dallas on Friday.
As it turned out, UMHB did claim one of the at-large bids, as did conference rival ETBU, and both teams will head to Memphis, Tennessee, this weekend for a pod at Rhodes.
“All the indications looked good, but once you know for sure, it’s a weight off your shoulders,” Morefield said.
UMHB is set to face Webster, 25-0 on the year, in the first round on Friday. The Gorloks of Webster won the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title on Saturday, defeating Westminster (Mo.), 81-72 in the conference championship game. A strong offensive team, Webster averages 87.9 points per game.
The winner of that game will face the winner of Friday’s matchup between Rhodes and ETBU, both teams UMHB defeated once during the regular season. The Crusaders defeated Rhodes, 73-72, in the season opener on Nov. 6, and also took down ETBU, 72-70, on the road on Nov. 13. Rhodes and ETBU played in the first weekend of November in Belton, with Rhodes pulling out an 88-82 victory. The Lynx are 21-2 on the year, and the winners of the Southern Athletic Association. ETBU finished the regular season at 20-5, with a 15-3 ASC record.
The Crusaders will travel 588 miles midway through this week from Belton to Memphis, not an easy trip by bus. But senior guard Alexia Martin, entering her third NCAA Tournament appearance, had no qualms about the long-distance travel. Plus, UMHB does not mind wearing the purple uniforms that saw them take down UT-Dallas, Hardin-Simmons and ETBU so far this season.
“We’re not foreign to the road life,” Martin added. “I think everybody has gotten used to it. And preferably, we like wearing our purple uniform on the road anyway.”
After going through two months of conference play that included preparing for the same opponents twice, and facing familiar teams, getting acquainted with Webster is a challenge senior guard Bethany McLeod is looking forward to.
“All season, we play the same teams over and over, so getting to watch a new team, new players, and see how different people play from different areas of the country is always a great experience and something to learn from,” McLeod said.
Having received the at-large bid, UMHB entered Monday afternoon’s practice with newfound momentum, playing with the kind of intensity necessary for a tournament run.
“I think we went into today trying to renew that hunger to win,” McLeod said. “We have to remember that we are one of 64 teams in. So we need to make sure we’re enjoying it, but also staying focused on the details.”
UMHB has reached the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, and reached the Round of 16 in 2020, before the tournament was canceled due to Covid-19.
“The loss [in the ASC semifinal on Friday] was tough because I really wanted that conference title,” Martin said. “But with that being said, not too many teams get that second chance. To see our name pop up on the board today was a big relief.”
This article will be updated as more information becomes available.