Monday, March 13, 2017

Hampton to face Duke (again) in NCAA Tourney

The slammin' DJ. The giant video screen streaming ESPN's broadcast. And the ballroom full of blue and white-clad well-wishers, with the glistening MEAC championship trophy parked center stage.

Yep, it seemed like ol' times again at Hampton, where after a two-year absence the Lady Pirates women's basketball team celebrated its return to the NCAA Tournament - and learned what happens next - on Selection Monday at the HU student center ballroom.

The Lady Pirates (20-12) are seeded 15th and travel to No. 2 Duke for a first round game Saturday. It's the third time since 2010 the Lady Pirates have visited Duke for a first-round NCAA game. The Blue Devils won both prior meeting.

Obviously, the task is daunting again. But so was the road Hampton traveled to make it this far.

Shindigs like Mondays had become an annual tradition at Hampton, which ripped off five straight MEAC titles from 2010-14. But the Lady Pirates were picked off in the MEAC Tournament the past two seasons, and their bid for a return to glory took a major hit in January when two-time MEAC Player of the Year Malia Tate-DeFreitas went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Two other starters would join Tate-DeFreitas on the sideline. And in Saturday's final, forward Kaylah Lupoe, the Lady Pirates' only All-MEAC performer, rolled her ankle early in the second quarter and couldn't continue. Somehow, Hampton still prevailed, holding off top-seeded Bethune-Cookman 52-49 to secure the program's ninth NCAA Division I bid and sixth under head coach David Six.

"These ladies on the platform were the only ones who believed we could do it," said an emotional Six, who choked up as he reflected on the journey. "This is the sixth championship, but it's by far the best championship we've had since I've been here."

MEAC schools are 1-25 in the NCAA Tournament, largely because the conference's representative almost always is among the lowest seeds and has usually been assigned a true road game against a national power.

The conference's lone NCAA victory came in 1983 when South Carolina State knocked off La Salle in one of four opening round games. As a reward, the Bulldogs advanced to meet - and get smoked by - top-seeded Tennessee.

No MEAC team was invited to the tournament again until 1984, when the field expanded to 64 teams and each of the 32 D-I conferences received an automatic bid.

Hampton is 0-8 in the NCAAs, falling in the first round each time after winning the conference tournament. No MEAC team has ever received an at-large bid.

"We're going to celebrate the fact that we're champions," Six said. "And when the time is right, we're going to compete like we've never competed before. I know we will, because I've already seen it."

Hampton NCAA results

2000 - 16-15 record, 16th seed, lost at No. 1 UConn 116-45

2003 - 23-9, 15th seed, lost to No. 2 Texas 90-46

2004 - 17-11, 16th seed, lost to No. 1 Penn State 79-42

2010 - 20-12, No. 15 seed, lost to No. 2 Duke 72-37

2011 - 26-7, No. 13 seed, lost to No. 4 Kentucky 62-66 (ot)

2012 - 26-5, No. 16 seed, lost to No. 1 Stanford 73-51

2013 - 28-6, No. 15 seed, lost to No. 2 Duke 67-51

2014 - 28-5, No 12 seed, lost to No. 5 Michigan State 91-61 

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