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NCAA PREVIEW

First Time Worth Savoring for Loyola Marymount

With first NCAA women's berth, Lions get Baylor. UCLA goes to Minnesota; Santa Barbara is at home.

March 15, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Kate Murray has often thought about that Sunday two years ago when members of her Loyola Marymount women's basketball team were left in tears after the Lions were left out of the NCAA tournament.

Those thoughts arose for her again before and during the West Coast Conference tournament championship game against Gonzaga last week. And they surfaced Sunday when the Lions gathered in Gersten Pavilion to watch the NCAA selection show.

This time, however, the senior forward could smile and think about which team her team would face in the first round.

The Lions had already secured a place in the tournament with their 61-58 victory over Gonzaga to win the WCC tournament.

"It was kind of nice knowing that we were in," said Murray, the conference's player of the year. "[Two years ago] was one of the most disappointing days in my basketball career. To come full circle and actually see your name up there is a great feeling."

Loyola, seeded 13th in the Midwest Regional, will play fourth-seeded Baylor (24-8) Saturday at Albuquerque. The Lions (24-5) have a school-record 15-game winning streak.

When Loyola Marymount popped up on the video board, an estimated 200 supporters who gathered at Gersten yelled in unison. It will be the Lions' first appearance in the NCAA women's tournament.

"They're a very talented team that competes in one of the best conferences in the country, if not the best," Lion Coach Julie Wilhoit said of Baylor.

"We played the whole WCC season with a target on our back because of our record and our streak, so our team will be prepared for that weekend."

UCLA (17-12) received its first NCAA tournament berth in four years. The Bruins, seeded 10th in the Mideast Regional, will play in Minneapolis Sunday against seventh-seeded Minnesota (21-8). Bruin Coach Kathy Olivier acknowledged there was some doubt Sunday but said she thought the selection committee would look closely at UCLA's nonconference schedule and strong finish. UCLA, which played seven tournament teams, won eight of its last 10 games.

"We felt we had a strong case to get in," Olivier said.

"We put it in the hands in the committee, and they made the right choice."

UC Santa Barbara (25-6) will have home-court advantage in the first round when it plays sixth-seeded Colorado (22-7) Saturday at the Thunderdome. Third-seeded Houston plays 14th-seeded Wisconsin Green Bay in the other first-round matchup.

Santa Barbara, seeded 11th, won the Big West Conference tournament for the eighth consecutive time and has won 16 of its last 17 games.

"It will be interesting to see two of the best post players in the country go up against each other Saturday," Santa Barbara Coach Mark French said, referring to Colorado's Tera Bjorklund and the Gauchos' Lindsay Taylor.

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