Christine Hyde remembers her trip to California in March 2011.
The Texas Tech women’s basketball team lost to St. John’s in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Palo Alto, Calif. Fast forward two years later, and the Lady Raiders are back in the field of 64 after a trip to the WNIT in 2012.
Hyde, now a senior, knows what it feels like to lose in the first round, but that isn’t her motivation for Tech’s opening-round game against South Florida at approximately 5:30 p.m. Saturday in United Spirit Arena.
“What I’m using as motivation is I have four other seniors beside me that want this just as bad as I do,” said Hyde, one of five seniors from that 2011 squad that was bounced from the tournament early, “and I think going into this my motivation is to do that for them because we all had the same goal at the beginning of the year.”
The seventh-seeded Lady Raiders (21-10) have spoken all season about getting back to the NCAA Tournament after last year’s misstep. They officially accomplished that feat Monday night when they were drawn into the Spokane, Wash., region with a first-round match up with 10th seeded South Florida.
Tech brought itself to that point with strong play from its seniors, extremely sound defense, an attacking mentality and the ultimate bounce-back mentality.
Now that the Lady Raiders can mark off the NCAA Tourney from a list of goals, they can focus on what’s next: winning in the NCAA Tournament.
To do that, they plan to play their style of game.
“This is the time where we need to put on our boots and play hard like we have all year,” senior guard Casey Morris said, “and know this is like a whole new season and you have to come out strong.”
Standing in the way of the Lady Raiders are the Bulls (21-10).
South Florida is led by senior sisters Andrea and Andrell Smith.
The Bulls are quick and athletic, Tech guard Monique Smalls said. She added the Lady Raiders need to get their defense down against the athletic South Florida squad.
Defense has been one of Tech’s strong suits this season. The Lady Raiders were third in the Big 12 Conference this season in points allowed (58.4 points per game). South Florida averages nearly 70 points per game (69.3).
Really, the Bulls haven’t ever seen a shot they haven’t liked.
Along with the Smith sisters, sharp-shooter Inga Orekhova can go off at any moment.
South Florida ranked fourth in the Big East Conference in shots attempted (2,048) but 11th in the 15-team league in field-goal percentage (37.5).
“We’re going to go as far as (Smith and Orekhova) are going to take us, and that’s been our story all year,” Fernandez said.
If Tech can’t slow down the Bulls, it will need to pace them. Led by its four-guard offense, Hyde expects the Lady Raiders to attack the basket — just like it has all season.
“Why divert away from your strengths? We watched film, we’re pretty confident in our abilities in what to do,” Hyde said, “and I’m pretty confident in what I need to do to help this team to win. So I’m just going to continue to attack.”