Duke and North Carolina got their expected bids to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament on Monday night, and in a treat for Triangle fans they’ll both be starting out at home.
The Blue Devils (21-10), ranked No. 16 by the Associated Press and making their 21st straight appearance, received the No. 4 seed in the Spokane Region and will take on No. 13 seed Albany (24-8) on Friday at noon at Cameron Indoor Stadium (ESPN2).
The Tar Heels (24-8), ranked No. 15, received the No. 4 seed in the Greensboro Region and will host No. 13 seed Liberty (26-6) on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Carmichael Arena (ESPN2).
The Final Four will be in Tampa, Fla., on April 5 and 7. Connecticut is the reigning champion.
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Eight ACC teams, led by conference champion and last season’s NCAA runner-up Notre Dame (31-2) made the field. Florida State, Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Miami are also in the 64-team bracket.
N.C. State (16-14) accepted a bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, but its place in the bracket had not been announced at press time. Wes Moore’s team will have all of its WNIT appearances on the road this season, as Reynolds Coliseum is undergoing a renovation.
Duke held its watch party at a dinner at the University Club in Durham. The other two teams at Cameron will be No. 5 seed Mississippi State (26-6) and No. 12 seed Tulane (22-10), who will square off in Friday’s second game.
Albany is coached by Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who was an assistant to Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie at Michigan State.
“We really have to plan for the entire weekend, be efficient and smart,” said McCallie, who had the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight four straight years before falling to visiting DePaul in the second round last season.
“I don’t know if the selection committee has a sense of humor or not – when I have all these former players and former assistants in the business themselves, I guess it just means I’m getting old.
“We were off for four days after the (ACC) tournament, so we’ve just been working on getting in shape. Details and conditioning are important right now.”
Elizabeth Williams, a 6-foot-3 senior center, leads Duke with 14.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, followed by 6-5 freshman wing Azura Stevens (14.1, 8.3) and 6-1 freshman guard Rebecca Greenwell (14.0, 5.6).
“I’m excited,” Williams said. “Tournament time is always a fun time. It’s nice to be playing the first couple of rounds at home. We’ve got a nice regional and some real good competition. We’ll remember that we didn’t get to the Sweet 16 last season and that we need to take things one game at a time.”
Greenwell, who was an injury redshirt last season, and Cary High alum Stevens are just looking forward to their first NCAA experience.
“I’m extremely fired up to play,” Greenwell said. “Last year I couldn’t get too excited because I couldn’t be out there. We just have to have a sense of urgency. Everyone is a lot more focused at tournament time.”
Added Stevens, “I’m just ready for Friday to get here. We’re happy all our family and friends can be there and the seniors can play in Cameron.”
The Tar Heels watched the show in a private gathering in a suite at Kenan Stadium. UNC made the Sweet 16 last season, won the NCAA title in 1994 and played in other Final Fours in 2006 and ’07.
The other two teams at Carmichael will be No. 5 seed Ohio State (23-10) and No. 12 seed James Madison (29-3), who will square off in Saturday’s second game.
“One of our goals at the beginning of the season was to be a top-16 seed and we accomplished that goal,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “This is the bracket I’ve been hoping for all season long – play two games at home in Chapel Hill and then go on to Greensboro.”
Allisha Gray, a 6-0 sophomore guard, leads UNC with 15.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, followed by 6-3 sophomore forward Stephanie Mavunga (14.2, 9.4).
“Playing at home is always a boost for us,” sophomore guard Jessica Washington said. “But we have work to do first before thinking about the Sweet 16.”
Added junior forward N’Dea Bryant, “We’ll take it game by game and try to replicate what we did last year and hopefully make it one step further to the Final Four.”
The Wolfpack had held NCAA at-large hopes until the final few games of the regular season, but suffered a 57-56 loss to last-place Virginia Tech in the first round of the ACC tournament.
“We have a young team,” Moore said. “So we felt like the extra practice time and extra game time would be great. And (5-5 senior guard Len’Nique Brown-Hoskin) has been important to us and wanted to play some more games.”
Dominique Wilson, a 5-8 redshirt sophomore guard, leads the Wolfpack in scoring at 13.9 points, and averages 3.7 rebounds, followed by 5-8 sophomore guard Miah Spencer (13.6, 4.5) and Brown-Hoskin (10.3, 4.6).