As expected, the sixth-ranked Puget Sound Loggers received one of the 21 at-large berths to the NCAA Division III women’s basketball tournament Monday.
What was a bit surprising after the 64-team bracket was revealed shortly before noon is that the Loggers will be hosting two other Northwest Conference schools — George Fox (21-5) and conference tournament winner Whitman (23-4) — in their four-school pod.
UPS (25-2) will meet NCAA Division III independent UC Santa Cruz (14-10) in the first round Friday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Fieldhouse in Tacoma.
The winner will play the Whitman-George Fox winner Saturday to reach the round of 16.
“We are very excited to be hosting,” UPS coach Loree Payne said. “To not be matched up with a conference opponent in the first round is how it should be.”
Yet the strongest reaction from players watching the closed-circuit telecast was when George Fox — which was upset in the conference tournament semifinals by Whitman on Thursday — also received an at-large bid.
“Our conference is incredibly strong,” Payne said. “It is disappointing to know one of our conference teams will be out after the first round … because all three of us could have a lot of success in the (NCAA) tournament.”
UC Santa Cruz is one of the more interesting stories in the field: The Banana Slugs received the lone ‘B pool’ berth for a second consecutive season as the highest-finishing independent program in the country.
When asked what she knew about her next opponent, Payne shrugged her shoulders, only repeating what their record was.
“I couldn’t tell you who their best player is,” Payne said.
It appears to be 6-foot forward Michelle Poole, a senior who averages nearly a double-double (11.0 points, 8.9 rebounds per game) for UC Santa Cruz.
Other than that, it appears the Banana Slugs rebound well (42.0 rpg) but have difficulty taking care of the basketball (16.4 turnovers per game).
UC Santa Cruz played three schools from the Northwest early in the season, losing to NAIA school Oregon Tech, then dropping a pair of games against NWC schools Whitman and Whitworth.