Players were getting anxious. Fans were holding their breath. Coaches told everyone to be ready to scream when “Minnesota” was called.
The anticipation grew Monday night at Williams Arena for the Gophers women’s basketball team as it waited several brackets into the selection show. Eventually confetti and colored powder filled the air once the U found out it was dancing for the first time since 2015.
“I think we just had a lot of anxiety,” Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said. “They made us wait there a little bit, but that’s part of the fun. We felt extremely confident we were in. We’re just excited to see a lot of emotions for our team. We’re so proud of them.”
Minnesota (23-8) received a No. 10 seed in the Spokane Regional and will face No. 7 Green Bay (29-3) at 4 p.m. Friday in Eugene, Ore., in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN2.
If the Gophers win, they will play on Sunday against the winner of the game between No. 2-seed Oregon and No. 15 Seattle. You can see the full tournament bracket here.
“I was just ready for it to come up,” junior guard Kenisha Bell said. “I couldn’t sit there that long and just be looking, looking, looking and waiting. I was just happy it came up on the screen. Coach just said, ‘Stay ready, stay ready.’ We were ready.”
Everyone assumed Minnesota already locked up an at-large bid after the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal victory against Iowa in Indianapolis last week. The semifinal loss to Ohio State was by only one basket. The Buckeyes, who received a No. 3 seed Monday, won the conference tournament title.
Stollings tweeted Sunday an invitation for fans to come out to the team’s watch party at the Barn. The Gophers band, cheerleaders and a crowd of a hundred gathered to watch the selection show on the scoreboard.
The Gophers, who finished fourth in the Big Ten, were a bit on edge Monday after the selection show displayed a graphic of them as one of eight teams fighting for the final four spots. Buffalo, Creighton, Oklahoma and Minnesota made the field of 64 from that list, while Purdue, Rutgers, Southern Cal and West Virginia were left out.
“They’ve never done that before,” Stollings said. “I think it’s part of them building excitement for the show tonight, which is OK for fans and people like that. But it makes us a little nervous as coaches. A little upset stomach going into tonight to be in that group. A felt a couple teams in that group, us being one of them, were set apart from that pack.”
Six Big Ten teams were selected to the tournament this season, including Iowa, Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska.
In Stollings’ first season, the Gophers were a No. 8 seed and fell to No. 9 seed DePaul 79-72 in the NCAA tournament first round in South Bend, Ind.
Senior guard Carlie Wagner is the only player left from that team. She knows what it’s like to watch the Gophers get their name called and suffer the disappointment of it not going their way.
Going through the range of emotions with fans joining in on the experience of Selection Monday was a first for her, though.
“It’s the greatest,” Wagner said. “The second our name popped up, everything just went black between the smoke and the excitement. It’s just a very exhilarating and exciting time right now.”