UCLA's Nirra Fields (21) puts up a shot against Utah's Danielle… (Ted S. Warren / Associated…)
It couldn't be better.
That's how UCLA women's basketball Coach Cori Close described what happened Monday after the NCAA women's college basketball tournament draw was revealed.
The Bruins (25-7) received a No. 3 seeding, which is the best they have ever received. They will play their first game, against 14th-seeded Stetson (24-8), and, if they win, their second game against either sixth-seeded Oklahoma or 11th-seeded Central Michigan, at what is a neutral site, in Columbus, Ohio.
UCLA last played in the tournament two years ago at Gonzaga even though the Bruins had the better seeding (No. 3) to the Bulldogs' No. 11), and host Gonzaga pulled a second-round upset, 89-75.
Atonye Nyingifa, a redshirt junior forward, said she still hears the Gonzaga crowd noise ringing in her ears. "It's difficult," Nyingifa said. "This is a much better situation."
Defending national champion Baylor (32-1) is the top-seeded team in UCLA's region, Oklahoma City.
Also receiving No. 1 seedings were Connecticut (29-4) which was placed in the Bridgeport (Conn.) Regional; Notre Dame (31-1) in the Norfolk (Va.) Regional and Stanford (31-2) in the Spokane (Wash.) Regional.
Carolayne Henry, chairman of the Division I women's basketball committee, took some heat over the seedings that might have Stanford playing Pac-12 Conference rival California in the regional final and the placement of Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish will play first at Iowa City and, if they win two games, move on to Norfolk.
Notre Dame, with its better overall record than Connecticut and with a 3-0 record against the Huskies, thought it should have been sent to Columbus for its first two rounds.
All the other No. 1-seeded teams will probably play two games at home. Notre Dame, trying to reach its third straight national championship game, has a potential second-round matchup against Iowa at Iowa's home court.
When Notre Dame's placement was announced on television, there was little cheering from the team.
The Bruins, however, were thrilled when it was official — that they were seeded third and heading to Columbus.
Thea Lemberger, a junior guard from Santa Monica, who had been starting until injuring her elbow against Arizona State on March 1, is back at practice and thrilled about the trip.
"I'm super excited about this," Lemberger said. "It's awesome to be at a neutral site, a three seed. Pretty cool and a good draw for us."
If UCLA beats Stetson, it could play Oklahoma in the second round, and last November the Bruins beat the Sooners, 86-80, on the road. Lemberger scored a team-high 18 points in that victory.
Close said she had prepared her team to be seeded anywhere from No. 3 to No. 5. Her only disappointment in watching the draw, she said, was to see that Stanford and California might play for a spot in the Final Four. "I hate for that matchup, potentially, to end the other's season," she said. "It's a little disappointing. I hated to see that come up."
Otherwise, Close said, she couldn't be happier. Close spent seven years at Florida State before coming to UCLA in April 2011. She said she is familiar with Stetson's fast pace under Coach Lynn Bria.
Bria was also satisfied with how things turned out.
"I'm really, really happy," Bria said. "I'm a bit surprised just because I had my mind made up that we were going to be a 15 seed. I did think our body of work was good enough to be a 14 seed, but I didn't know if the committee would give it to us. It shows respect for our program and how far we have come."