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UF women forced to settle for NIT

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since 1993, the Florida women's basketball team is not among the 64 that will vie for a national championship over the next three weeks.

In the final analysis, a 17-12 record wasn't good enough. At least, not as far as the NCAA women's basketball committee was concerned.

Florida played one of the toughest schedules in the nation, fifth in some rankings, but the Gators didn't win enough of those to warrant selection to the NCAA Tournament despite an RPI ranking of No. 22, highest of any team not to get a bid.

"Seventeen wins just didn't do it this year when getting teams into the tournament on an at-large basis," said Bernadette McGlade, chair of the selection committee. "Last year we put a grouping of teams with 16, 17 and 18 wins in from some very strong conferences. This year, there was so much parity we didn't have the number of at-large spaces and the flexibility."

McGlade said another crucial strike against Florida was that itbeat just one Top 25 team, Mississippi State. Its only losses outside the SEC came against Top 25 teams: Penn State, Boston College and defending national champion Purdue.

The Gators were 4-6 in their final 10, which is one of the criteria considered by the committee.

Minutes after the live tournament selection show had ended, Florida was forced to face its only consolation: an expected trip to the Women's NIT.

"Obviously we are disappointed that we're not in the NCAA Tournament, there's no question about that," Florida coach Carol Ross said as she sat among stunned team members at her Gainesville home. "But at the same time when it's evident that the committee thinks we're not one of the best 64 teams in the country, then we have a mission and a charge to prove that we are a championship team. This team will get back up off the mat. They should be disappointed, but I also know they will be inspired and motivated to prove a point. And what a great opportunity we have in front of us now with the NIT."

Florida appeared on ESPN during the selection show, and the players and guests at Ross' home seemed confident until four teams remained to be named.

Afterward the players were obviously shaken, most sitting in stunned silence as ESPN flashed celebrations of various schools that did make the cut.

"More than anything, I feel like I let my seniors down and my heart goes out to them," junior guard Tombi Bell said. "I don't understand the whole process. I just don't understand. Obviously we just didn't take care of some things we needed to do."

Senior forward Kelly Freeman, who had been to the NCAA Tournament three times, said the Gators have something to prove.

"We have a chance to go to the NIT and show people that we are a good team and we deserved to be in (the NCAA Tournament)," she said.

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