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RADNOR — Maddy Siegrist admitted to being a little nervous Sunday, even though she knew Villanova was a stone-cold lock to be one of the 68 teams in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Her hope was that the Wildcats would be one of the 16 teams selected to host the first and second rounds of the tournament, which would give Siegrist and her teammates one more chance to play on their home floor.
It didn’t take long for Siegrist and the Wildcats to see that wish come true.
Less than 15 minutes into the selection show, Villanova’s named popped up on the four huge video boards in the Pavilion, where the team gathered to watch the show with several hundred fans. A loud roar immediately went out and the fans yelled even louder when Siegrist’s picture popped up on the big screens.
“I wish I could play every game at home,” Siegrist said with a smile. “It’s such a nice advantage and cool the way the NCAA does it. You don’t have to go anywhere, sense of comfort, playing in front of your own fans. I’m just happy this team has done the work this year to get that.”
The Wildcats (28-6) are the No. 4 seed in what is known as the Greenville Region. It’s the team’s second highest seed in women’s program history. The Wildcats were the No. 2 seed in the Mideast Regional in 2003 and lost to Tennessee in the regional final. It’s also the third time Villanova will host an NCAA Tournament game. They also hosted in 1987 and 1988, when Shelly Pennefather was setting scoring records that Siegrist has since broken.
Villanova will play No. 13 Cleveland State (30-4), the champions of the Horizon League, in Saturday’s opening round. The Vikings enter the tournament on a four-game winning streak. Fifth-seeded Washington State (23-10) and No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast (32-3) are the other two teams in Villanova’s pod. They play each other Saturday, all times to be determined. The winners of those two games will meet next Monday.
If Villanova wins its first two games it’s off to the regional in Greenville, S.C., where a potential date with top-seeded Indiana (27-3) awaits.
The Wildcats, though, will worry about when that happens. Right now they’re relishing the chance to get to play at least one more game, and possibly two, on their home floor.
“It’s such a huge difference playing in front of your home fans and having those people behind you,” fellow senior Brooke Mullin said. “I’m just so excited.”
The thrill is understandable. The Wildcats (28-6) are 11-2 at home this season and 22-4 over the last four seasons, with the only losses coming to Connecticut, Creighton, Princeton and Temple. The Wildcats earned the right to host by finishing second to Connecticut during the Big East regular-season and in the conference tournament.
Siegrist has been a big part of that. She leads the country in scoring (28.9 ppg.), is the all-time leading scorer in Villanova basketball history, male or female, and the two-time Big East Player of the Year.
“We are here at home but we are going to treat it like a road game, keep us connected, locked in and keep the focus on playing on Saturday,” head coach Denise Dillon said.
That means the Wildcats will stay in a hotel instead of the comfort of their dorm rooms, but that’s OK, considering they get to play on their home court.
“We’re extremely excited about it,” Dillon said. “We talked about it after our last game of the regular season. We were confident, or determined, one or the other, to make sure that wasn’t our last game on our court. Here we are, in great position and counting on the entire team, but especially the ones on my left (Siegrist) and right (Mullin) to lead the way.
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NOTES >> The Villanova men received a bid to the NIT. The Wildcats (17-16) will be on the road in Tuesday’s opening round against No. 2 seed Liberty in Lynchburg, Va. Tip-off for that game is 9 p.m. It’s the first time the Wildcats are in the NIT since 2004.
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