Life on the edge of getting in the NCAA Tournament can be an up-and-down affair that can give you an exciting feeling one moment, and a bad feeling the next.
Some of that the teams feel directly as result of wins and losses, and some of it they feel indirectly based on what others teams are doing. Some of what is happening is within view of the players and coaches, and some more consumed by fans and media.
The Nebraska women’s basketball team has experienced the ups and downs of trying to get a spot in the NCAA Tournament over the last two months, but the overriding emotion is excitement now that the Huskers have qualified for the 64-team field.
Now one of the great stories in college women's basketball this season is going to finish the season playing in the NCAA Tournament. One year after winning just seven games — the lowest win total in program history — Nebraska made a 14-game improvement and is in. Nebraska most recently made the NCAA Tournament in 2015.
Nebraska (21-10) is a No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 seed Arizona State (21-12) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Austin, Texas. The game will be on ESPN2. The Arizona State-Nebraska winner will likely play second-seeded Texas in the second round.
The Huskers surged into NCAA contention during a stretch in January when they won five straight games, and they were all good ones. That’s when the ESPN projections added the Huskers as the very last team in the NCAA Tournament.
In February, the Huskers kept winning, including a good one on the road at Michigan State. But then Purdue got a huge win against Maryland, and Nebraska lost a game it could have won at Indiana.
About the same time Rutgers, which once looked like it was in great position to make the tournament, started losing more. Was that a spot in the tournament that a team like Nebraska could now get?
In early March things started getting even more serious for those teams on the bubble. In the Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament, George Washington got a surprising win against Dayton. So George Washington got the conference’s automatic bid, but Dayton still had a good record, was going to get in, and had just taken up one more spot for a team on the edge of getting in.
Nebraska missed a chance for a really big win against Maryland, and for a few weeks the Huskers slipped out of the ESPN tournament projections.
Nebraska did a good job of helping its chances at the finish, beating a tournament-level team in Michigan in the conference tournament quarterfinals. It was after that when Nebraska coach Amy Williams started to feel like the Huskers had done what they needed to.
The pressure of fighting for spot in the tournament wasn’t so bad when Nebraska was still playing, Williams said, but got tougher when all they could do was wait.
Then anticipation — and uncertainty — picked up again on Sunday afternoon. The selection committee released the eight teams that had been considered for the last four spots in the tournament, and Nebraska was not included. So the Huskers were safely in, or weren’t a contender.
“When our name wasn’t on the list I think that gave me a little more confidence that our name was going to be called, just because we had beat the other Big Ten teams on that list, and were feeling good,” said Husker senior Emily Wood. “But of course, nothing was for sure, and we were still nervous.”
The selection show finally came on Monday evening. The team gathered at Williams’ house. Other teams kept getting the nine, 10, and 11 seeds that seemed in line with where the Huskers would be slotted. Then Nebraska’s name was finally called as the third-to-last team.
“We were sweating a bit,” Wood said. “I think all of us were like, ‘Should we open that door, it’s getting really hot in here.’ There’s a couple of videos out there and it kind of looks like we were giving up hope a little, but I think deep down we were still trusting our name would be called, and when it was called that was such a cool moment for our team.”
Wood says she cried, and as a result, Hannah Whitish did also. Same for their head coach.
“They were very, very excited,” Williams said. “Lots of screaming, lots of emotion and then lots of jumping up and down.”
It was about five minutes after the commotion when some of the players started to ask what team the Huskers were playing.
Nebraska is one of six Big Ten teams in, joining Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State.
Like Nebraska, Creighton was also chosen for the tournament as an at-large team. Creighton was one of the last four teams chosen. The others were Buffalo, Minnesota and Oklahoma. The first four teams left out were Purdue, Rutgers, USC and West Virginia.
Creighton is seeded 11th, and will play sixth-seeded Iowa on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Both the Huskers and Bluejays are in the Kansas City Regional.