GAINESVILLE — Following Florida's four-point loss to Kentucky in the SEC women's basketball tournament two weeks ago, coach Amanda Butler said she believed the Gators had done enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Women's Tournament, but she refused to say she thought the Gators were a lock.
Monday, Florida sweated out a nearly hour-long, nationally televised selection show before finally hearing its name called among the 64 teams selected to participate in the tournament. It is the Gators' first appearance since 2008.
The Gators (19-12), who play Ohio State on Sunday, join Miami and Florida Gulf Coast as the state schools in the NCAA field.
"It's great,'' Butler said. "For our kids to have put in as much work as they have, and really this is the hardest working team I've had since I've been here, they've done so much extra, everything that their coaches have asked and then some, this is absolutely what they deserve and they earned it."
Baylor (34-0) is the overall No. 1 seed and the favorite to win it all. Notre Dame and perennial powers Stanford and Connecticut are the other No. 1 seeds. Stanford has advanced to the Final Four the past four years, while UConn is in search of its eighth national title. North Carolina did not make the field for the first time since 2001.
Miami (25-5) is a No. 3 seed for the second straight season, and will play No. 14 Idaho State on Saturday in Spokane. The Hurricanes lost to Wake Forest in the ACC tournament quarterfinals but have won 14 of 16 games.
"We feel good," junior Stefanie Yderstrom said. "We have a pretty hard bracket, but it still feels good. At this point, it doesn't really matter who we play. It's going to be fun, we're excited. It's going to be a little travel, but it's good."
Florida Gulf Coast (29-2), which finished the season with an 18-0 Atlantic Sun record, will play in the tournament for the first time, facing St. Bonaventure. The Eagles have a 21-game winning streak that is the nation's third-longest behind Baylor (31) and Stanford (25).
Butler's hesitance to declare the Gators securely in the field turned out to be wise. According to NCAA Division I Women's Chair Greg Christopher, the Gators were among the final four teams chosen.
Christopher told ESPN Monday night that about 10-15 teams were squarely on the bubble and that the committee spent about four hours debating the merits of the final four in and first four out.
"The one thing that stood out with those four teams (that made it in) was that they elevated their play late in the season," Christopher said. "They stood up and had some significant wins that the others did not have."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.