Although Villanova coach Harry Perretta, now in his 40th season, has always called landing an eighth or ninth seed fatal, he and his Wildcats were excited to return to the NCAA women's basketball tournament field for the first time in five years.
The Wildcats (22-8) were tabbed as a ninth seed in the Spokane, Wash., Regional when the NCAA selections were revealed Monday night. Villanova will open against eighth-seeded South Dakota State (26-6) in the first round Friday at 7:30 p.m. in South Bend, Ind.
Top-seeded Notre Dame (29-3) will host No. 16 Cal State Northridge (19-15) at 5 p.m. The winners meet Sunday.
Back in the days of old Big East, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, a St. Joseph's grad, would have fits matching strategy against Perretta before the Irish moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"That would be a lot of fun, but we have a lot of work to do first [game] before that can happen," Perretta said of a potential reunion.
A year ago, the Wildcats struggled until down the stretch, a run that earned them a slot in the WNIT, where they won four games on the road to reach the semifinals.
"I've been in the NIT the past three years and this [NCAA tournament] has always been a huge goal for us, so to have it happen my last year here is really incredible and we're going to make the most of it," said senior Alex Louin.
The four No. 1 seeds in the tournament were as predicted: top-ranked Connecticut (32-0) followed by Mississippi State (32-1), Louisville (32-2), and Notre Dame. The Women's Final Four will be at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on March 30 and April 1.
Princeton (24-5), which won the Ivy League tournament title over Penn, is a 12th seed in the Kansas City Regional and will face No. 5 Maryland (25-7) Friday in Raleigh, N.C., before No. 4 N.C. State (24-8) meets No. 13 Elon (25-7).
Elon won the Colonial Athletic Association title Saturday at Drexel.
Not selected was Rutgers (20-12), which rolled to an early 11-game winning streak and in mid-January was a lock to make the NCAA field. But the Scarlet Knights slid, going 3-9. On Sunday night, the committee named eight bubble teams, including Rutgers, of which four made the field.
The Scarlet Knights were bypassed in favor of Buffalo, Creighton, Oklahoma, and Minnesota.
If Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer is to reach her 1,000th win - she's three short - her squad will have to take the first two games in the Women's NIT. That would likely earn a home game in Round 3 to set up the historic moment in Rutgers' arena.
Meanwhile, Dawn Staley and her defending NCAA champion South Carolina squad (26-6) were seeded second, as expected. But the Gamecocks are in the Albany (N.Y.) Regional with UConn in a potential Elite Eight meeting. The fourth regional is in Lexington, Ky.
Besides Rutgers in the WNIT, Drexel and Penn were automatic qualifiers. St. Joseph's, which surged to the Atlantic Ten title game, earned an at-large bid, as did Delaware and Penn State.
The pairings were to be announced late Monday night.