UCD women get a familiar opponent — Stanford — in NCAA tourney

By March 14, 2011

UCD senior Heidi Heintz, center, celebrates with guard Hana Asano, left, after a win during the Big West Conference tournament in Anaheim. The Aggies found out Monday that they will be a No. 16 seed and face top-seeded Stanford on Saturday at Maples Pavilion. AP photo

When 16th-seeded UC Davis meets No. 1 seed Stanford on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, introductions won’t be necessary.

The Aggies will play the Cardinal for the fourth time in four seasons — most recently a 76-51 loss on Nov. 22, 2009, at The Pavilion.

Despite Stanford’s three big victories in those contests, all concerned at UCD see this as an opportunity.

“It’s a dream come true,” Aggie senior post standout Paige Mintun explained after watching the tournament selection show on ESPN at The Graduate on Monday afternoon. “Ever since I started playing, watching March Madness with my dad when I was a little girl, I’ve thought of this.

“It’s always been my favorite time of year, and to be a part of it … and to be a PART of it, it’s REALLY a dream come true.”

UCD, which earned its first-ever invitation to The Big Dance, has been a Division I school for only four seasons. Aggie Athletic Director Greg Warzecka was confident this day was coming …

“This accentuates the fact that we’ve (pointed) for this for the last four years,” Warzecka explained. “It stated earlier in our four-year transition, that once we got to Division I competition, it was going to take another four years to see some programs blossom – and that’s right on track as far as women’s basketball is concerned.”

Fresh off their Big West Conference tournament win, the Aggies navigated head coach Sandy Simpson’s last regular season with a 24-8 record.

Simpson, after 14 years at the helm, is stepping down to teach in the school’s athletic department.

“This is storybook,” Simpson said of the season and his team’s game “right down the road” Saturday. “To be able to finish like this … it’s not even so much the results. To be honest, for me, if it had ended (Tuesday) against Irvine, I would have been disappointed, but would still have felt blessed to be through it all with THIS team.

“To me, it’s who I’m going through this with, not the end result of it.”

Going into Monday’s pairings, there was hope among the Aggie ranks that UCD would get a 15 or even a 14 seed. Either would have sent the locals to Spokane to play No. 2-seed Xavier or to a rematch with UCLA. UCD’s 24 wins and top-60 RPI netted them a game against the team that snapped Connecticut’s hisoric 90-game win streak this year.

Stanford comes in having won 23 straight contests. The Pac-10 champions feature four marquee starters and have Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveere.

A tall order for anyone Mintun understands, but embraces her team’s opportunity come Saturday.

“We’re been to Stanford before. It’s not like the awe factor because they’re such a well-respected school and they’re SO good. There’s a little more calmness (this time).”

“Is there a feeling of confidence?” Mintun repeats a question. “Yeah. A little bit. We’re going to see what the coaches have for us (at Tuesday’s practice). They ALWAYS have something … maybe something fun against Stanford.”

Mintun credits the accomplishments of the Cardinal: “They’re so good inside and have great outside shooting. It’s a tough matchup, but I’m going to enjoy it – every single minute of it.”

Mintun, who averages 14 ppg game, has scored a total of 25 points in her three games against Stanford. One of those outings, in her redshirt freshman season in 2007-08, saw Mintun score 14 against then-Player of the Year Jane Appel.

Notes: ESPN will announce Tuesday which of its network stations will carry the Aggie-Cardinal game. Coverage starts at 3:30 p.m. with tip-off slated for 3:50 p.m. …Stanford features Pac-10 Player of the Year Jeanette Pholen (15.2 ppg), the conference’s top freshman Chiney Ogwumike (11.6 ppg), All-Pac-10 selection Kayla Pedersen (13 ppg) and Pac-10 Tournament MVP Nnemkadi Ogwumike (16 ppg).

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or (530) 747-8047. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

Bruce Gallaudet

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