ALL SMILES – The University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team reacts to the news that it will face off against the Duke Blue Devils for its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The UT Martin Skyhawks, a No. 1
ALL SMILES – The University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team reacts to the news that it will face off against the Duke Blue Devils for its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The UT Martin Skyhawks, a No. 15 seed, and the Ohio Valley Conference champions, will play Duke, a No. 2 seed and the Atlantic Coast Conference champs, on the Blue Devils’ home court in Durham, N.C. on Saturday. Photo by Stephanie Sturgis
No matter how voluminous their skills as basketball players, patience was the attribute Skyhawk guard Heather Butler and her teammates had to put on display Monday night.
“Oh my gosh! We were sitting on pins and needles waiting to find out who we will play,” said Butler, the Ohio Valley Conference’s Freshman of the Year. Butler was referring to the extensive wait to find out UT Martin’s opponent in the upcoming NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
It took nearly the full hour allotted, but the Ohio Valley Conference champions learned they will be a No. 15 seed and square off against No. 2 seed Duke University Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon at 12:30 CT in Durham, N.C. The Connecticut Huskies are the No. 1 seed in the Skyhawks’ quadrant of the bracket.
The Skyhawks will have to deal not only with Duke’s talent on the court, but the Blue Devils’ homecourt advantage. UT Martin (22-10) and Duke, which sports a 29-3 record and won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament crowns, will play each other on the Blue Devils’ home court — Cameron Indoor Stadium — with the renowned “Cameron Crazies” cheering on their favorite team.
“You are talking about one of the elite teams in the country. It’s going to be where you have to play your ‘A’ game. You don’t have a choice,” second-year UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan said of Duke. “Over the next four days, it’s going to be us making sure our kids aren’t going over there just happy to be there because Duke can make it ugly for us if we go with the wrong mentality.”
While the young Skyhawk squad will be making its inaugural tourney appearance, McMillan is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, having made two trips during his previous tenure with Middle Tennessee State University.
The Skyhawks and their fans gathered together to find out just which opponent UT Martin will square off against in its first-ever trip to the “Big Dance” during a viewing party Monday night in the Watkins Auditorium on campus. With each pairing revealed on the big screen at the front of the room displaying the tournament show on ESPN, anticipation in the auditorium grew. As each top program in the nation was announced with a team other than the Skyhawks as its opponent, laughter and sighs of relief were exhaled by the OVC champs. The revelations meant they had avoided facing off against the likes of the No. 1 seeds — Baylor, Stanford, Connecticut and UT Martin alum Pat Summitt’s Tennessee Lady Vols. The wait for the information to be revealed was lengthy as UT Martin was in the last pairing announced by the ESPN broadcasters.
It was well worth the wait for UT Martin Athletic Director Phil Dane.
“It’s historic. I don’t know how else to describe it. I told Kevin this was fantastic with this much excitement around it. You just can’t put a price tag on it from an exposure standpoint. The way it all unfolded with us being the very last team announced was kind of neat,” Dane noted.
Look for more coverage of the Skyhawks in Thursday’s edition of The Press.