Missouri had a long wait, the longest for any at-large team in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament field.
The wait was worth it Monday for the Tigers, who made the 64-team field for the first time in 10 years.
[Here is a printable bracket for the 2016 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament]
“Everyone was very nervous and you could see the raw emotion when we saw our name up there,” freshman forward Cierra Porter said. “This is something we’ve talked about since the beginning of the year. It wasn’t the focus. We’ve tried to take one game at a time, but this was our ultimate goal. To finally have reached it, all the hard work was worth it.”
Missouri’s players, coaches and several hundred supporters who gathered for a watch party at Mizzou Arena erupted in euphoria after waiting more than hour for ESPN to reveal their name during the selection show.
“When I saw our name up there, it was an amazing feeling,” freshman guard Sophie Cunningham said. “Probably about 5 or 6 minutes later, I was like, ‘Wait, who are we playing and where are we going?’ But I don’t even care about that. I’m just excited we’re going to The Dance.”
Missouri, 21-9, drew a No. 10 seed in the Bridgeport, Conn., regional.
The Tigers open against No. 7 seed Brigham Young, 26-6, at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Erwin Center on the University of Texas campus in Austin.
The tourney’s No. 1 overall seed, Connecticut, is in the regional, but the Missouri/BYU winner advances to play the winner between No. 2 seed Texas and No. 15 seed Alabama State. The Longhorns are the host for all three games.
The Cougars won the West Coast Conference regular-season championship, but lost to San Francisco in the conference tourney title game.
Meanwhile, the Tigers ended the season on a three-game losing streak, including a home loss against a struggling Vanderbilt to cap the regular season and first-round exit in the Southeastern Conference Tournament against Auburn.
“Those were losses that we shouldn’t have had,” Porter said. “We knew that, but it all worked out.”
Just barely as coach Robin Pingeton’s squad was one of the “Last Four In,” according to the selection committee.
“I’ve been nervous all day, anxious and nervous and then getting more and more nervous as it was down to four teams left getting in,” junior guard Lindsey Cunningham said. “It’s super exciting.”
Missouri, which reached the Women’s National Invitation Tournament each of the last three seasons, hasn’t played in the NCAA tourney since 2005-06 under former coach Cindy Stein.
The Tigers, who are making their 10th national tournament appearance and are 4-9 overall, haven’t won an NCAA tourney game since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2000-01 with wins against Wisconsin and Georgia.
“There were a lot of emotions, just seeing the emotions out of our players, there were a lot of tears — tears of joy,” Pingeton said. “They’ve put in a lot of hard work and know the foundation that we’ve worked hard at building.”
Missouri finished 8-8 in conference play and was among nine SEC teams selected for the tourney, including the Bridgeport regional’s No. 5 seed Mississippi State.
SEC champion South Carolina is the No. 1 seed in the Sioux Falls, S.D., regional. That bracket also included fifth-seeded Florida and seventh-seeded Tennessee.
Georgia, Kentucky, Auburn and Texas A&M also made the field.
The Aggies, 21-9, are the No. 4 seed in the Dallas regional and open tourney play against No. 13 seed Missouri State, 24-9, at 3 p.m. Saturday at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas.
The Bears earned an automatic berth as the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champions.