AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – It was a thrilling first day of the women’s NCAA Tournament and there weren’t any major upsets. Long Beach State and Belmont sure came close, though.
The 49ers were looking to become the first 15-seed to win a game, but fell just short against No. 2 Oregon State, 56-55. The 15 seeds are now 0-90 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994.
Afterward, Jody Wynn consoled her team.
“I told them they deserved to win – and they felt the same way,” the coach said. “I thought our performance was there. It’s a perennial women’s basketball program that should be noted throughout the country.
Playing the role of Cinderella was new for the 49ers. Before Friday, their last appearance in the NCAAs was 1992. The school was a women’s basketball power in the 1980s, reaching the Final Four in 1987 and ’88.
A few hours before that potential upset, 13-seed Belmont fell to No. 4 Kentucky by three points as Maci Morris hit seven of eight free throws in the final 37 seconds to help the Wildcats win.
“That was fun,” said coach Cameron Newbauer, whose team shot 46 percent. “Unfortunately, not the outcome we wanted but that was incredible to watch what our team just did. Kentucky is a great team.”
Top seeds Notre Dame and South Carolina had no problems in their opening games. The Gamecocks beat UNC Asheville by 40 points – the biggest win in the school’s NCAA history. The Irish topped Robert Morris 79-49. That’s the smallest margin of victory for the Irish as a No. 1 seed.
Here are a few other interesting items from the opening day:
HOME SWEET HOME
When No. 10 seed Drake plays seventh-seeded Kansas State in its own building on Saturday, the Bulldogs won’t feel like they’re on the quite as much as you’d expect. Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk began her coaching career as an assistant under former Wildcats coach Deb Patterson. And the recruiting ties that she established in the area are a big reason why she has four players from the Kansas City area, including leading scorer Lizzy Wendell, and another from Wichita.
“It’s been fun for me to come back and see all of the pictures and murals and those were a lot of the players that were on the team at that time,” said Baranczyk, who was an assistant at Kansas State from 2002-04. “We have a lot of people from the Kansas City area, from Kansas, so we are going to have a big contingent here.
“As much as it is great for me to be able to come back,” she said, “it’s even better for our families to be able to travel and be here with us.”
CALLING FOR HELP
For the third time since 2010, Hampton was assigned a first-round game against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The 15th-seeded Pirates lost their previous postseason visits by 35 and 16 points, and the third matchup against the second-seeded Blue Devils comes Saturday night in the first round of the Bridgeport Regional.
“Our men’s coach … he speed-dialed Jesus when they played Kentucky” in the 2016 men’s tournament, Hampton coach David Six said. “And I’m going to ask him to text me the number.”
California senior Courtney Range said the Golden Bears are “very grateful” and excited to be in the NCAA Tournament, just like any other team in the field.
The Golden Bears (19-13) are a No. 9 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional after following a school-record 13-0 start by going 6-13 the rest of the season – all against Pac-12 teams.
“I think this is the best time of year, and so I think our team can have a gratefulness and an excitement to be here, and yet still a willingness to compete and to want to win the game,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.
Cal plays its first-round game Saturday night against LSU (20-11) in Waco, Texas.
“I know people want to focus on our conference record and all that kind of stuff, but I think our players are always hungry to prove that they’re good,” Gottlieb said. “I think they’re always hungry to prove that we can compete, and if there’s extra motivation to do that, sure, we’ll use that. But the excitement to be in it, why not?
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey would like to see her team take on more of her personality, especially at the start of games.
“To put it simple, I’m fiery. I’m passionate. I pump my fist, and I want them to do that coming out of the gates,” Mulkey said. “And I didn’t think we did that in the last game until the fourth quarter.”
The Lady Bears lost 77-66 to West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament championship game on March 6.
“Well, we’ve got to do it in the first quarter, so that’s what I’d like to see is them put four quarters together, and they’ve done that for the most part,” Mulkey said. “I mean, my gosh, we’re 30-3. Look who we’ve lost to. But it would be fun to watch them try to do every game these four, six, whatever we get to play, and see how good we really are.”
The other Baylor losses this season were to Texas and at Connecticut.
UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson says this year’s tournament means a bit more to her after breaking her left foot in last year’s semifinals and missing the national championship game.
“There is a little fire inside of me,” she said. “I kind of remember that bitter-sweet feeling of winning, but not being able to play. So, it’s something that definitely motivates me and I’m really excited to go kind of back and starting with (Albany) play as hard as I possibly can.
Samuelson leads the team in scoring, averaging 21-points a game and shooting 44 percent from 3-point range.
Coincidently, the Huskies, who beat Syracuse for the 2016 title, could play the Orange in the second round on Monday in Storrs, if both advance on Saturday.
“It’s kind of funny how things kind of work out like that,” Samuelson said. “We both have to take care of business, but it would be kind of interesting to see. I didn’t get to play them, so it would be interesting for me.”
AP Sports Writers Dave Skretta in Manhattan, Kansas, Pat Eaton-Robb in Storrs, Connecticut and Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas contributed to this story.
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