TAMPA — Incisors from Tallahassee to Tampa were clenched in anxiety when Monday night's selection show for the NCAA Women's Tournament began.
When it ended, Florida and FSU had snuck into the 64-team field with barely any enamel to spare. While they grinned, USF gritted.
Such was the fallout on one of the most precarious, skin-of-the-teeth nights in state women's college basketball lore.
Scrunched atop the NCAA bubble alongside USF, the Gators (19-12) and Seminoles (20-11) — with RPIs of 64 and 38, respectively — were among the last four teams picked for the field. Both are bound for the Stanford Region, as the 10th (FSU) and 11th seeds.
Meantime, USF (19-12) is bound for the Women's NIT.
"There was a lot of relief and excitement when we saw our name in the field of 64," said veteran 'Noles coach Sue Semrau, whose team was 5-8 against squads picked for the field. "I think looking at our whole body of work, it was certainly warranted for us to be making another NCAA appearance."
Fidgeting even more intensely were the Gators, who finished 8-8 in the SEC and 3-5 against ranked teams. A win against Kentucky in the SEC tournament quarterfinals likely would have removed all uncertainty about their fate.
But a 75-70 defeat left them squirming on the floor, sofa and loveseats of coach Amanda Butler's living room. ESPN selection show host Kevin Negandhi actually blurted out the Gators' name before their bracket appeared, setting off a chorus of screams.
"It's an accomplishment up to this point, but I think the thing that's so special about this team is they are really, really hungry and know they're not done," Butler said. "But this was a day to celebrate, and that's what we did.
USF, by contrast, couldn't quite atone for an abysmal December.
Despite finishing third in the American Athletic Conference and being undefeated since Jan. 1 against teams not named UConn or Louisville, the Bulls were denied a second straight NCAA berth.
Selection committee chairperson Carolayne Henry said they were among the first four out, hampered primarily by an 0-8 record against top-50 RPI teams. The Bulls, 58th in the realtimerpi.com standings, will host North Carolina A&T on Friday night to open the WNIT; game time will be announced today.
"We did everything we could in January, February and March, and I guess it wasn't enough," said coach Jose Fernandez, whose injury-besieged team finished 2-5 in December before returning to nearly full strength.
"We'll have to move on. Like I told my team, these are the kinds of things life is going to throw at you. It's going to happen once they leave USF, and how they handle it is what is going to matter."
Undefeated UConn and Notre Dame, the tournament's No. 1 and 2 overall seeds, respectively, remain heavy favorites to clash in the title game April 8 in Nashville.
Resurgent Tennessee (27-5), winner of seven in a row, earned the top seed in the Louisville Region, though it conceivably could play the No. 3 Cardinals on their home floor in the Elite Eight.
SEC regular-season champ South Carolina (27-4), which began the season unranked, earned the fourth top seed — in the Stanford Region — despite a 10-point loss to Kentucky in the SEC tourney semifinals.
Times staff writer Antonya English contributed to this report.