Women's Basketball: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Some updates after Saturday’s conference tournament games:
• With the announcement that Wichita State won the tiebreaker in the Missouri Valley Conference and will be the top seed in the tournament, we will follow suit and move the Shockers back into the field as the automatic qualifier. Creighton stays in the field as the last team in.
• Wichita State's return to the field takes up another spot, and that, plus its quarterfinal loss to fellow bubble team Saint Joseph’s, cost Duquesne a spot in the field. The Dukes are now the first team out.
• UCLA’s huge and convincing win over California in the Pac-12 semifinals, coupled with Texas A&M’s victory over Tennessee in the SEC semifinals, mixed up the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds a bit. The Bruins and Aggies are both now No. 3 seeds. Nebraska (a loser in the Big Ten semifinals) and Dayton are now No. 4 seeds.
• Tennessee Martin became the first official entrant into the NCAA tournament field with an overtime win over Tennessee Tech in the OVC tournament final.
• Stetson became the second official automatic qualifier by upsetting Florida Gulf Coast in the championship game of the Atlantic Sun. The Eagles went unbeaten in regular-season conference play and won the league by four games over the Hatters, but Stetson is headed to the NCAA tournament.
• Princeton followed suit later Saturday to become automatic qualifier No. 3 by clinching the Ivy League with a win over Brown.
LAST FOUR IN
FIRST FOUR OUT
Florida Gulf Coast
NEXT FOUR OUT
Big East: 8
Big Ten: 6
Big 12: 6
Atlantic 10: 3
Penn State ran into an emotional senior night last Thursday at Minnesota and the Gophers handed the Big Ten leader just its second league loss.
Penn State was in a similar situation Sunday in the regular-season finale at Nebraska. It wasn't just the seniors that the Huskers were bidding a fond farewell to (although they still have the Big Ten and NCAA tourneys to play, of course).
Nebraska was also saying goodbye to its longtime home, the Devaney Center. That will become the women's volleyball team's home next season; the men's and women's hoops team move to the new arena.
Add in that Nebraska was on a 10-game winning streak, and it seemed like the odds were stacked against Penn State. Which is just what Maggie Lucas loves.
The junior guard's career-high eight 3-pointers anchored a 34-point, nine-rebound performance in Penn State's 82-67 victory that secured the Big Ten regular-season title outright. Next stop: Chicago.
For just the second time since the Big Ten started its annual women's hoops tournament in 1995, the event will be held outside Indianapolis. The Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill., will host the league tourney starting Thursday. (In 2001, the tournament was held in Grand Rapids, Mich.)
There was a "league tournament" at Michigan State in February 1982, which was actually the season before the Big Ten officially sponsored women's basketball. The annual event didn't begin until 1995, and Penn State won the title that year and in 1996.
But Penn State hasn't taken the Big Ten tournament since then, so Lucas and her teammates have a goal in sight that has eluded the program for a long time.
Penn State's four losses this season all have come on the road: at Miami, at UConn, at Wisconsin and then at Minnesota last week. The Lady Lions could be facing the Golden Gophers again in their Big Ten tourney opener; No. 8 seed Minnesota plays No. 9 Ohio State in the first round.
Meanwhile, Nebraska reached the Big Ten tournament title game last year in the Huskers' first season in the league. They lost to Purdue, which has won more Big Ten tournaments (eight) than any other program.
This year, the No. 2 seed Huskers will open with the winner of No. 7 Iowa versus No. 10 Northwestern. The Hawkeyes and Wildcats just played Sunday, with 19-11 Iowa getting a much-needed victory to finish 8-8 in the league and feel a little more secure about NCAA tournament inclusion.
Purdue, the No. 3 seed, had a troublesome February, going 2-5 last month. But the Boilermakers opened March with a victory over Illinois on Sunday. And even if the league tournament isn't in Indy this year, Purdue's successful history in the event means you can't count out the Boilers regardless of their recent struggles.
No. 4 seed Michigan State is the last of the first-round bye teams, and the Spartans could face rival Michigan in the quarterfinals. In her first season in Ann Arbor, coach Kim Barnes Arico guided the Wolverines to the No. 5 seed; they'll open with No. 12 Indiana.
But Penn State definitely is the favorite. Since Coquese Washington took over as Penn State coach for the 2007-08 season, she has been rebuilding the program to it previous greatest heights, which include a 2000 Women's Final Four appearance.
Penn State bounced back strong from both of its Big Ten losses this year. Now, after back-to-back regular-season titles, Penn State hopes to grab hold of a trophy that hasn't been to State College, Pa., in a long time.