Palm trees in Portland? Three state schools are packed into this region.
Knights still dancing
UCF third-year coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, a Twitter mini-sensation for her postgame locker-room dance moves after Knights victories, probably saved some of her best jukes and gyrations for Monday. UCF (26-6), a bubble team, earned the program’s first at-large bid, capping an astounding turnaround. Known widely as “Coach Abe,” Henderson inherited a team coming off a seven-win season in 2016, and has led it to three consecutive 20-win seasons. UCF averages fewer than 62 points a game, but ranks 15th nationally in scoring defense (55.6 ppg).
If Florida Gulf Coast’s men’s team became synonymous with dunks, its women’s team should be known for 3-pointers. Only two teams in the country (Idaho and DePaul) have made more 3s than the Eagles, who enter the tournament with 341. FGCU is only the second team ever to attempt at least 1,000 treys in four consecutive seasons. It’s working: Coach Karl Smesko entered the year with the fourth best winning percentage among active Division I coaches (.813), and that’s before this 28-4 season.
USF of the West
What Oregon lacks in depth (only nine players have logged time all season), it makes up for in diversity. The Ducks’ leader in steals and blocks (forward Satou Sabally) is from Germany. One of their starting guards (Maite Cazorla) is from Spain, and another key contributor (guard Morgan Yaeger) is from Australia. No player is from Oregon, although two are from nearby Washington and another is from Alaska.
Perhaps no team fared better with the selection process than Miami. The No. 2 seed Hurricanes, who are in the tournament for the fifth straight season, will host No. 13 Florida Gulf Coast (28-4) in the first round Friday. The Watsco Center is home to two of Miami’s biggest wins this season — a 72-65 victory over Notre Dame on Feb. 7 that marked the first time the Hurricanes had ever beaten a defending national champion, and a 64-54 win over Florida State on Feb. 24 that snapped a five-year regular-season losing streak against its fiercest rival. Better still, Miami could end up facing another state school in the second round. UCF is playing No. 5 Arizona State in Friday’s other matchup in Coral Gables. Two more home wins and the Hurricanes could be heading to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1992.
South Dakota success
Not only did South Dakota and South Dakota State both make the field with a combined 54-11 record, they made the same region. South Dakota State boasts the seventh-best shooting percentage in the country (48.4) and earned the six-seed by winning the Summit League (over the Coyotes). South Dakota is dancing as a No. 8 seed one month after entering the top 25 for the first time in program history. Just don’t foul the Coyotes; their free-throw percentage (79.3) trails only Virginia Tech nationally.
Women’s Final Four
Amalie Arena, Tampa
April 5: Semifinals, 7 and 9:30
April 7: Final, 6
More info/tickets: www.ncaa.com/womens-final-four