13-seed Fresno State (22-10, 14-5 MWC) vs. 4-seed Nebraska (25-6, 12-4 Big Ten)
WHEN: Saturday, March 22, 1:00 PST
WHERE: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
RADIO: The Fresno broadcast can be heard on the local ESPN affiliate, 940 AM.
Selection Sunday is the day when fanbases across the college basketball landscape work themselves into a lather over who is in and who is out of the NCAA tournament, and that's all well and good. However, recent history in the Central Valley dictates that the next day, the day in which the process is run back and the field for the women's basketball tournament is locked in, is the one worthy of attention. Fresno State has quietly built a mini-dynasty out west, with two straight Mountain West tournament titles preceded by two WAC titles and seven straight appearances in the women's dance.
What's missing from the picture, however, is a signature win. Whether it's running into Britney Griner (2010), heartbreaking close calls (2012) or simply being outclassed by Cal (2009 and 2013), the program is still looking for its first tournament victory. The latest opponent is another juggernaut, as the Cornhuskers wrapped up the Big Ten title a week ago, but perhaps its just as well. A big moment deserves a big opportunity.
What to Watch - Fresno State: As in years past, the Bulldogs' fortunes will depend on the production of its dynamic backcourt. Senior guard Taylor Thompson was a first-team All-MWC selection, but she was also one of the conference's defensive players of the year, as well. She anchors a defense that allowed just 62.6 points per game in Mountain West play. The team was also a top-40 unit nationally with regards to three-point defense, while Nebraska was in the top 30 in three-point percentage, so whichever squad gets the better of the other while they're downtown could have a decisive edge.
Meanwhile, Bree Farley has proven to be a valuable second option in the offensive attack by averaging 15.2 points in conference play. It will be interesting to see who they stick on Rachel Theriot, one of the nation's leaders in assists, because of the height advantage Theriot owns. Thompson is listed at 5'5", Farley is 5'10", and both average nearly two steals per game.
What to Watch - Nebraska: Senior forward Jordan Hooper was anointed the Big Ten Player of the Year by the conference's coaches, and why not? She averaged 20 points and nine rebounds per contest, and was especially potent in the Big Ten tournament, tallying 22 points in the Huskers' three games. However, that production was a product of some erratic shooting; for instance, she was just 3-of-16 in the title game against Iowa, and it was teammate Theriot who was deemed the best player of the tournament. If she gets going, though, she will present a tough test to a team that prefers to play small.
Another statistic to keep an eye on is the frequency in which the Huskers get to the free throw line. The team is third in the nation with a 79.3% conversion rate, so while Fresno is no slouch in this area (the 'Dogs 73.9% is good for 47th), Nebraska may choose to get aggressive to take advantage of their proficiency if it's a close game late.