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Southeast will travel to Denver to play third-seeded Stanford
After more than a week of anticipation, Southeast Missouri State finally learned the particulars of its first trip to the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament.
The Redhawks will be heading west -- to Denver, Colo. -- for a first-round game Saturday (9 p.m. CST) against Stanford in the San Antonio Regional. The contest at the Pepsi Center will be televised by ESPN2.
"It's nice to finally know who we're going to play," Southeast coach B.J. Smith said Monday evening at the Show Me Center, where he and his players gathered with about 300 Southeast supporters to watch the ESPN selection show reveal the 64-team bracket.
Southeast (22-8), which earned its first NCAA Division I tournament berth by winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament on March 4, received a No. 14 seed, which didn't surprise Smith all that much.
"I was hoping we'd be a little higher, maybe a 12 or a 13, but we're just glad to be in the dance," Smith said.
Stanford (23-7), ranked 13th nationally, is a No. 3 seed. The Cardinal received an at-large NCAA bid after winning the Pac-10 regular-season title but losing in the finals of the conference tournament.
The Cardinal have a rich tradition, winning two national championships and reaching five final fours under veteran coach Tara VanDerveer, already a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Stanford will be making its 19th straight NCAA tournament appearance.
"They've got a great program and it's going to be a tough task for us," Smith said. "But we'll be ready."
Southeast players, like Smith, said they were happy to finally find out their NCAA tournament opponent.
"It was a little anxiety, but probably more excitement," senior forward Natalie Purcell said. "It was good to finally see our name up there."
Said senior forward Simone Jackson, "It's been a long week for us. We've been working hard in practice, waiting for tonight."
There was a party atmosphere at the Show Me Center to watch the selections, with the Southeast band, cheerleaders and Sundancers combining with a fired-up crowd.
Fans screamed and hollered when Southeast finally appeared on the projection screen about 30 minutes into the hour-long ESPN broadcast.
"Stanford's in trouble," yelled one fan, which drew plenty of applause.
"The crowd was phenomenal. I never expected it," Smith said. "It's great for women's basketball."
Said senior guard Tiffanne Ryan, "This is awesome. I didn't expect this many people to be here."
With an eye toward their fans, the Redhawks said they were hoping to get sent some place closer to home, where Southeast supporters could more easily make the trip.
"For the fans' sake, we had hoped we'd be close enough for them to get there," Smith said. "Denver is a tough trip."
Added Purcell, "We wanted it to be a lot closer for our fans."
Now the Redhawks, who will fly to Denver some time Thursday, can begin preparing for the Cardinal. Smith expects to have some Stanford game tapes in today, and he was preparing to pull some statistics off the Internet before conducting a Monday night practice.
"Now we can have a little more purpose when we walk into the [practice] gym," Smith said.
Purcell, asked what she knew about Stanford, laughed and said, "To be honest, I don't know anything about them. We'll probably all get on the Internet tonight and look them up."
The Redhawks acknowledged that the entire country probably expects Stanford to post an easy first-round win. They don't plan on letting that happen.
"They'll come in and underestimate us," Ryan said. "We can put our name on the map."
Said Purcell: "We know we're the underdog. But we don't want to end in the first round. I think we have a legitimate shot to do something."
Added Smith: "Denver is a long way. We don't want to just go out there. We want to do something."