Monday, March 08, 1999

UC women get first bid in 10 years

Enquirer contributor

        That loud roar you may have heard at about 5:40 p.m. Sunday came from the fifth floor of the University of Cincinnati's Shoemaker Center. That's where the UC women's basketball team learned it had qualified for the 64-team NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years.

        The 12th-seeded Bearcats, 22-8, will play No.5 seed University of Oregon in a first-round game in Ames, Iowa Friday at 7 p.m. UC faces an Oregon team that finished the season 24-5, including a 15-3 record in the Pacific-10 Conference and a share of the league title.

        UC coach Laurie Pirtle led the collective cheer when her team's Mideast Regional pairing was announced, immediately after crosstown rival Xavier had been installed as the region's No. 8 seed. The Muskies will face Florida International.

        “We're excited and we're ready to get to work,” said Pirtle, who takes Cincinnati to a post-season berth for the third time in her 13 years. In addition to the 1989 NCAA appearance, Pirtle guided UC to the National Invitation Tournament last season.

        Despite the No. 12 seed, the reaction was unanimously upbeat. Had the Bearcats been an eighth or ninth seed, a first-round victory would have lined UC up with the winner of the No.1-No.16 matchup, in all likelihood the University of Connecticut.

        UC will need two wins to face UConn, and that would mean a Sweet 16 date next week — at the Shoemaker Center.

        “We'd like to get back here,” Pirtle said. “When we learned two years ago that UC was going to be a host school for the 1999 tournament, that became one of our goals — to play at home.”

        Senior captain Doris Scott, a two-time member of Conference USA's second team, said the Bearcats took a more assertive approach to this season.

        “We lost some key games last year to teams we should have beaten, so we wanted to control our own destiny this year,” said Scott, a Mount Healthy grad. “And all this hard work has really paid off. It's a great feeling.”

        NOTES: Oregon has now qualified for six consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Last year, in Ames, the Ducks lost in the first round to Rutgers.

        Coach Jody Runge was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year, while point guard Shaquala Williams earned the league's Freshman of the Year honor.

        Three other Conference USA teams qualified for the tournament: No.6 seed Tulane meets No.11 St. Joseph's in the East Region; No.8 Marquette plays No.9 Kansas in the Midwest and No.10 Louisville faces No. 7 Illinois in the Mideast.

        For ticket information, call 556-2287.

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