Wolverines claim first-ever bid to NCAA Tournament

Utah Valley will represent the WAC in the NCAA Tournament when they face No. 1 Stanford on Sunday, March 21, 2021. (Photo by Hunter Hall)

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Utah Valley women’s basketball team secured their first-ever bid to play in the NCAA Tournament, where they will face the No. 1 overall seed Stanford on Sunday night at 8 p.m. MT.

The Wolverines earned the WAC’s automatic qualifying bid by finishing in second place behind California Baptist in the regular season. CBU finished 25-0 and won the WAC Tournament, but the Lancers are ineligible for the tournament as they are still in the process of transitioning to Division I. Before the season started, the WAC Council and league presidents voted to award the WAC’s bid to the team that finished second in the regular season should CBU win the conference title.

“First of all, I think it’d be silly if we didn’t give credit to Cal Baptist, who earned the spot to be here and had an amazing season,” head coach Dan Nielson said after the seeding was officially announced. “Number one, I’m just thrilled for our team and for our girls getting to experience this. From the minute we took this job we talked about getting to this point, and to be here any way we can is amazing.”

UVU lost to Grand Canyon in the semifinal round of the WAC Tournament and had to count on CBU winning in the finals to keep their season alive.

“It’s been kind of a rollercoaster of emotion,” said junior center and All-WAC selection Josie Williams. “I think we’re all just grateful for the opportunity that we get to experience and we’re just excited to play.”

Being the No. 16 seed is never an easy cross to bear, and the Wolverines will have their hands full. The Cardinal boast a 25-2 record on the season with six wins over Top 25 opponents. Nielson knows the team’s odds of an upset are slim, but he hopes they can channel some of the stubbornness of the character Dwight Schrute from NBC’s “The Office.”

“I don’t know if any of you guys are ‘Office’ fans… when Dwight went up against the computer in sales,” he said, referencing an episode where the character tried to outsell the company’s new website. “That might be what it is. You’re going up against Stanford ‘the computer,’ but hey, you just compete.”

Stanford is led by Kiana Williams and Haley Jones, who have averaged 14.3 and 13 points per game, respectively, and earned AP All-America honors. The pair combined for 36 points in the team’s 75-55 victory against No. 9 UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament finals. 

As a team, the Cardinal rank fourth nationally with a scoring margin of 25.7 and they hold opponents to a 32.6 field goal percentage — second only to Baylor. The program has a long history of success in the Big Dance, having won two national championships and appearing in 13 Final Fours. In 2019, Stanford was awarded the No. 2 seed and lost to No. 1 Notre Dame in the Elite Eight.

That history of dominance doesn’t worry the Wolverine players or coaches, though. They’re simply excited to be part of history and know they can only control how well they perform.

The Wolverines and Cardinal will tip off at 8 p.m. MT this Sunday in the Alamodome in San Antonio. ESPN will broadcast the game nationally on their mothership station.

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