Provided by Texas Tech Athletics
LUBBOCK, Texas - Texas Tech head coach Kristy Curry has had plenty of time to think about what Saturday means to her and her team, especially the five seniors that will join her.
Monique Smalls, Chynna Brown, Casey Morris, Christine Hyde and Mary Bokenkamp were brought in four years ago to help do one thing - get Texas Tech back to the NCAA Tournament, and make it a habit.
Tech (21-10) will play in its second NCAA Tournament in three years when it opens the First Round against South Florida (21-10) at 5:30 p.m. CDT at The United Spirit Arena.
It will mark the first time the Lady Raiders have played an NCAA Tournament game on their home court since 2005 - which was also the last time they advanced to the second round. Tech hosted the opening rounds in 2009 but were not in the 64-team field.
Smalls, Brown, Hyde and Bokenkamp were recruited out of high school that year with the goal to not let it happen again. Morris was added as a transfer from California and the five began to mix immediately.
She sat out the 2009-10 season as the other four got their first postseason taste in the WNIT. When 2010-11 came along, Smalls had already started every game while Morris became a regular starter. Hyde and Bokenkamp came off the bench behind Brown, who was the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year that season as Tech appeared in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years.
"I think it helps with previously playing in the NCAA Tournament just from the experience," Morris said. "This is the time we need to put on our boots and play the hardest that we have all year and know that this is like a whole new season. We need to come out strong."
Tech has won 64 games since the five came together on the court in 2010 as Morris and Brown each became 1,000-point scorers - Morris doing so in just three years in Lubbock. Smalls has started all 132 games of her career, breaking Erin Grant's school record 128 consecutive starts.
Brown became Tech's scoring leader shortly after conference play began - scoring in double digits in every game. She scored 15 points or more in 14 games and 20 points or more in half of those, including the last four of the regular season.
Junior forward Kelsi Baker also became one of the more consistent players this season, scoring 17 points and a career-high 14 rebounds for her first career double-double against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament.
But now the team was to get back to another tradition - winning in the first round. The Lady Raiders are 19-1 at home in the NCAA Tournament and 12-4 overall in the opening round.
"Survive and advance, no matter how we have to do it," Baker said. "That's the big key. We're going to go and grind it out in every game, and we are going to play hard every game and we need to go out there to win."
South Florida will make its second overall tournament appearance in school history - both coming under head coach Jose Fernandez, who is in his 13th season. The Bulls are led by sisters Andrea and Andrell Smith, who average 16.5 and 13.8 points apiece, respectively.
"It's kind of like having Tiffany Bias (Oklahoma State) and Aaryn Ellenburg (Oklahoma) in the backcourt together, on the same team. They are just very dynamic and they definitely understand where each other are. We've got our hands full. They're a very good team, very athletic, and have earned the right to be here."
Saturday will also mark the ninth overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament for Curry, who is looking for her first tourney win since beating UCLA on March 21, 2006. Nine days later, she became the head coach at Texas Tech.
"(These seniors) have understood what it takes to be successful and they had a choice to make," Curry said. "You know, players make plays and they make coaches look good so these kids deserve all the credit because, they've really done a great job of turning the corner and doing the things they know they've needed to do to be successful."
Texas Tech will tipoff against South Florida at 5:30 p.m. (CDT) or 30 minutes following the first game between California and Fresno State. The second round game on Monday, March 25, will tipoff at 8:30 p.m. (CDT).
Tech is 1-1 against South Florida all-time with the two teams last meeting in 2008 at the Paradise Jam tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands - where Cal was also a participant.
Full session (all three games) prices are $25 for adults and $15 for youth (18 and under)/seniors. Individual session passes will go on sale Wednesday, March 20 and are priced at $15 for adults and $10 for youth (18 and under)/seniors.
Texas Tech students with a valid Tech ID will receive free admission courtesy of the Marsha Sharp Leadership Circle, Student Affairs and Student Union and Activities.
Parking for the event is free in the west lots of the arena on game day and a limited number of ADA spaces will also be available.