TALLAHASSEE – The message on Saturday was clear. Do not overlook the Mid-American Conference.
For the first time since 1996 the conference placed two teams in the NCAA Tournament field – automatic bid winner Central Michigan and at-large bid UB.
Both were No. 11 seeds.
Both won their first-round games.
Central Michigan upset No. 6 LSU, 78-69, just a few hours before UB upset No. 6 South Florida.
The Chippewas tipped off first and UB head coach Felisha Legette-Jack was getting updates, maybe too many updates, from her husband, David.
"I tell you, my husband was driving me crazy because he's like, 'They're up by five, they're up by four.' I'm like David I have a game in like 25 minutes so just tell me the final score," Legette-Jack said.
"We are changing the trajectory of how people see the MAC conference. We're so proud. Right before I came out I texted (Central Michigan head coach) Sue Guevara and congratulated her. She said, 'It's your turn now, make us proud.' We're trying to build something. We're trying to change something. ... Change is okay. It doesn't have to be the same teams all the time. For change to occur we've got to push past our comfortability and trust that your time could be now. Why not us? Why not now?"
Central Michigan will play No. 3 and subregional host Ohio State at 6:30 p.m. Monday, the same time UB will be playing No. 3 Florida State in Tallahassee.
While Cierra Dillard was dazzling the crowd, Courtney Wilkins was just doing her thing, dropping 3-pointers like they were nothing.
Wilkins had a career-high 23 points, including hitting 5 of 8 from 3-point range, all of which came off the bench for the UB in their 102-79 upset of sixth-seeded South Florida.
In fact, Wilkins has never started a game in her three years with UB and she averages just 3.2 points per game for her career.
But on this team, everyone has a role, and anyone can take the stage as heroine.
"All 14 of them can step up," Legette-Jack said. "It was her time. She didn't want to come here just to play a game and go home. She wants to win. Whatever I've got to do. If I've got to clap on the bench, I'll clap on the bench. If I've got to show up on the court, I will show up on the court."
Wilkins was rather modest about her performance on Saturday, but her good friend from back in Melbourne, Australia, and her current point guard, Stephanie Reid, put it in perspective.
"When someone like Courtney comes off the bench, and she hasn't played a lot all year, so when someone like her comes off the bench and does well it ignites us," Reid said. "It really did. She ignited us today. She allowed Cierra to do what she wanted to do and Cierra got energy from her. We all did."
Among Saturday's fun facts was this nugget: With the men's win over Arizona on Thursday and the women's win on Saturday, UB becomes only the second school to have both it's basketball programs record their first NCAA Tournament win in the same year. The other was Georgia in 1983.
Felisha Legette-Jack wears her heart on her sleeve. She's an emotional coach, evidenced by anyone who has watched her walk the sidelines.
But Saturday afternoon, she had to hold back tears when talking about her former coach.
At the post-game press conference, she thanked her college coach, Barbara Jacobs, who was at the game.
Jacobs, currently the associate commissioner for women's basketball for the American Athletic Conference, coached Legette-Jack at Syracuse from 1984-89.
Legette-Jack remains close with her former coach, who often joins vacation reunions with those Orange players from the late 1980s. That relationship serves as the model for Legette-Jack with her current players at UB.
"I don't want to lose the opportunity to thank Barbara Jacobs who prepared me for opportunities like this," Legette-Jack said. "I was recruited by her since seventh grade in high school and she always spoke highly of all my passion, all my desire and to be here 31 years later and to have her at this moment here, it gets me emotional.
"I just want to thank her for building in us the foundation as young players and trusting in us that one day phenomenal would part of our person and there's no excuse to give half of yourself, give all of yourself. If you're too much for other people, go somewhere else. But all of you is worthy of everyone's attention."