LINCOLN — The Nebraska women's basketball team just got a choice incentive to reach its second straight Sweet 16.
The NCAA announced Wednesday that Lincoln's Pinnacle Bank Arena — NU basketball's new home — will host one of four regionals March 29 to April 1. The winner of the regional heads to the Final Four.
The Huskers submitted a bid last spring to host part of the NCAA tournament. Louisville, Notre Dame and Stanford will host the other regionals.
“It's an exciting time to be a part of the Nebraska women's basketball program, and the NCAA regional announcement just keeps that building,” coach Connie Yori said. “We've got a long way to go as a team before we can even think about the possibility of getting back to the Sweet 16 this year, but it is certainly a great opportunity for men's and women's basketball fans to have a chance to watch college basketball being played at a really high level at the end of March in Lincoln.”
A sixth seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament, Nebraska upset third-seeded Texas A&M on its home floor to reach its second regional in school history. The Huskers subsequently lost to Duke in Norfolk, Va.
This year, NU returns the bulk of its team except for point guard Lindsey Moore — who holds many school records and is now a WNBA rookie. The Huskers are expected to be among the favorites in the Big Ten. But to play on their home floor in the NCAA tournament, they'll have to win two games at one of 16 first- and second-round sites. Iowa and Iowa State will both host early-round games.
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Yori said Lincoln and the state's history of supporting big sporting events make Pinnacle Bank Arena a good fit for the women's tournament. Omaha's CenturyLink Center has hosted the NCAA men's basketball, women's volleyball and wrestling tournaments, and Lincoln hosted NCAA men's regionals in the 1980s.
“An NCAA women's basketball regional to cap the first season at Pinnacle Bank Arena is certainly a big-time event,” Yori said. “Sports fans of all kinds all across the state of Nebraska can start making their plans now.”
Nebraska last hosted an NCAA women's tournament game March 17, 1993. That night, the Huskers beat San Diego 81-58 at Devaney Center in the first round. The Devaney hosted the opening rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament in 1980, 1984 and 1988. The Husker volleyball team has hosted several opening-round and regional NCAA tournament events at NU Coliseum. Omaha's CenturyLink Center has hosted the volleyball final four along with NCAA men's basketball and wrestling tournaments.
“We're excited that Lincoln was selected to host its first NCAA basketball tournament action since 1993,” said Nebraska Executive Associate Athletic Director Marc Boehm, who oversees basketball. “We believe it is an amazing opportunity to show off the Pinnacle Bank Arena and showcase Nebraska basketball and the city of Lincoln.”
The NCAA allowed individual schools — rather than neutral sites — to host regionals for the first time in more than a decade. The plan has drawn criticism from some coaches but appears geared toward improving attendance. The crowd for NU's second-round game at Texas A&M was larger than that in Norfolk for the regional.
“The committee continues to look for ways to create a better in-arena atmosphere for our student-athletes, improve attendance and enhance the broadcast look of the games,” Carolayne Henry, chair of the Division I women's basketball committee, said in a statement. “The 2014 championship presented us with a unique opportunity for our institutional hosts during the regional rounds of play. The committee is continuing to look at other host and format options that make sense for our championship going into 2015 and beyond.”
The 16 early-round locations besides Iowa and Iowa State are Baylor, Duke, Kentucky, LSU, Maryland, North Carolina, Penn State, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Toledo, UConn, UCLA and Washington.