NCAA Tournament: UMass women’s basketball will face Notre Dame in Norman, Okla.

  • The UMass women's basketball team celebrates its placement in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed Sunday night. The Minutewomen will face No. 5 Notre Dame in Norman, Okla. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • The UMass women's basketball team celebrates its placement in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed. The Minutewomen will face fifth-seeded Notre Dame in Norman, Okla. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI—

Staff Writer 
Published: 3/13/2022 8:52:37 PM

AMHERST – After twiddling their thumbs (metaphorically, that is) for a week, the UMass women’s basketball team huddled around a television at the Champions Center, waiting to hear their fate on Selection Sunday. 

The Minutewomen are a No.12 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will travel to Norman, Oklahoma to play against No. 5 Notre Dame. The opening-round game will be Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and will be carried on ESPN2.

When they saw their name flash up on the screen, UMass players jumped to their feet, cheering and celebrating the opportunity to play on basketball’s biggest stage. 

“It felt great, honestly. A lot of emotion was going through my body at the moment. I was just screaming of excitement. Seeing our name on the board, it brings pure joy to me and my teammates,” UMass guard Destiney Philoxy said. “We're trying to accomplish something that never been done before so just seeing our name there, it's a great start.”

After playing on ESPN2 in the Atlantic 10 Conference championship game last weekend, the Minutewomen are ready to step up and play on an even bigger stage. UMass played some of its best basketball of the season in the semifinals and championship game of the A-10 tourney, and the squad expects to keep playing at that high level at the NCAA tournament.

“I feel like all of us really step up to that challenge. The bigger the stage the better we play – I know this one right here does, every time we're on national TV,” Sam Breen said, gesturing to Philoxy next to her. “That's gonna be super exciting for all of us. I think we’re definitely ready for it. That won't change our mentality at all, but we're all ready for the big stage.”

In preparation for the big stage, the basketball staff made sure that Selection Sunday would be a night to remember for their team. They held a private viewing party with a full buffet, a highlight video, and speeches from head coach Tory Verdi and co-captains Breen and Philoxy. It was important for Verdi to make sure that the pomp and circumstance matched the occasion.

“I've been nervous all day and stressed out, and I have no idea why I'm stressed out. It’s a day that I just wanted it to be perfect,” Verdi said. “I just want the night to go a certain way, because I want our players to remember this night for the rest of their lives. 

This is the Minutewomen’s third NCAA tournament appearance, the first in this millennium. Previously, UMass earned at-large bids in the 1996 and 1998 tournament, where they were seeded No. 8 and No. 13, respectively. In both tournaments, they were ousted in the first round; the ‘96 team lost 60-57 to No. 9 Michigan State, and the ‘98 squad fell 77-59 to No. 4 Iowa. This time, the Minutewomen have their eyes fixed on making it out of the opening round of play. 

“I feel like we're already having a historic season, so why not keep it going?” Breen said. “Obviously, our mindset is to win anyway, but continuing to make history on top of that would be super, super exciting.”

The winner of UMass-Notre Dame will play either No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 13 IUPUI in the Round of 32 on Monday. The Sooners are hosting the four-team pod.

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