UPDATED: Tuesday, 12:30 a.m.
The Elon University women’s basketball team knew its name would be called on ESPN’s Selection Show, but didn’t know when. But the Phoenix didn’t need to wait long.
Six minutes into the show, Elon found out it would open its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed taking on 6-seed West Virginia University in College Park, Maryland. Head coach Charlotte Smith was relieved to finally know who the opponent was.
“The girls have been super excited all day,” Smith said. “When I came down, they were in the locker room rocking and rolling in there. We’ve been anxious all day to figure out who we’re playing and get to business.”
The Phoenix clinched the school's first trip to the Big Dance by winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Saturday night, defeating James Madison University 78-60 on the Dukes' home court.
Meanwhile, West Virginia pulled off three-straight upsets to win the Big 12 Conference championship, defeating No. 2 Baylor University 77-66 March 6. The Mountaineers went 23-10 on the season, winning every non-conference game they played.
The game is set for approximately 2:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, though it could be later depending on how long the game between 3-seed University of Maryland and 14-seed Bucknell University goes. Elon would play the winner of that game if the Phoenix defeats the Mountaineers, a team Elon is familiar with.
“We’re excited to play them,” Smith said. “We’ve played them twice since I’ve been here as a head coach. We played them [Dec. 28, 2015] and it was a competitive game on their home turf, so it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out on a neutral court.”
Elon’s lost all three games to the Mountaineers in Smith’s era, including two in the past three seasons, but the Phoenix was within single digits late in the fourth quarter of last season’s 67-57 loss in Morgantown, West Virginia. The core of each team’s lineup still remains the same, something that gives senior guard Lenaira Ruffin confidence that it has some idea of what to expect.
“They play a very fast-paced game, which we play, too,” Ruffin said. “I think if we slow them down and play to the best of our ability and stick to the game plan — defense, rebounding — then I think we’ll be okay and highly competitive.”
While the spotlight will certainly be on the Phoenix, First Team All-CAA junior guard Shay Burnett believes Elon will approach this game similarly to the 33 it has already played this season.
“We’re going to prepare for this game just like any other game that we prepare for,” Burnett said. “It’s just that we’re in the dancing shoes now.”
But don’t dare question Burnett’s confidence in her team. She thinks Elon can make some noise against the favored and familiar Mountaineers.
“We kind of know their system and how they play,” Burnett said. “[Last year’s game] was a good preparation game for us to beat them in the upcoming game.”
See more of our coverage from the championship run:
Saturday: Journey has Elon on cusp of CAA title