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No suspense, but UB women excited to face Rutgers in NCAA first round

There was far less suspense than at this time a year ago, when the University at Buffalo women’s basketball team had to hope for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament before making its run to the Sweet 16.

“Last year was a total surprise,” UB senior Cierra Dillard said. “We were waiting. We didn’t know. And we had a lot of feeling that we were going to be an at-large bid, but being a mid-major school, you never know. So just waiting and seeing, that was totally shocking, and seeing our team – Buffalo – come across on ESPN, that was crazy in itself. It was unbelievable.”

This time, the Bulls assured themselves a spot in the field by winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship, the automatic berth sending UB to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons. But a handful of questions remained. Where were the Bulls seeded? And when, where and who were they playing?

The plan was for UB players and fans to gather to watch the NCAA selection show at 7 p.m. Monday night on televisions at Santora’s Pizza Pub & Grill on Transit Road in Williamsville. But the biggest surprise was how the team found out – through a group text message earlier that afternoon, after ESPN mistakenly broadcast the women’s bracket during a show dedicated to analyzing the men’s tournament.

“We ended up finding out who we were playing through our group text,” junior forward Summer Hemphill said. “It wasn’t the way we thought we would find out. It’s pretty different. But we’re blessed to be able to have this opportunity as a team.”

No. 10-seeded UB (23-9) will play No. 7 Rutgers (22-9) at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn. The winner will likely face perennial powerhouse and second-seeded UConn in the second round on Sunday. The Huskies take on No. 15 Towson in the first round.

“Rutgers is a very great defensive team,” UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “They are led by one of the best coaches in the entire country. She’s a Hall of Famer, has an incredible staff, they’re in the Big Ten, a conference that’s unbelievable. They’re going to be tough.”

Rutgers' Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer, 71, has been on a health-related leave of absence since Feb. 14, and will remain away from the team for the rest of the season.

Tim Eatman is serving as acting head coach of the Scarlet Knights, who advanced to the Big Ten tournament semifinals. They received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, their first appearance since 2015.

After the info leaked, ESPN moved the selection show up to 5 p.m.

UB players were instructed to hurry to Alumni Arena, where they gathered in the locker room to watch the show together, even though the suspense was nonexistent.

Afterward, they continued to Santora’s, where they watched the selection show again and spoke to a room full of cheering fans.

“It was a little weird, a little bit surprising, but nothing we’re not used to,” sophomore point guard Hanna Hall said. “We’ve had some crazy times this season with having the team that we have, the underclassmen, we’ve had a lot of bus trips that haven’t gone right and broken down buses and canceled flights, so it’s just another thing to add to the story. But it was exciting. It was really fun in the end.”

UB athletics director on men, women playing NCAAs at same time

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