Provo • The BYU women’s basketball team knew it was going to be called — only no one knew when.
The players sat front and center in the BYUtv auditorium, watching the names tick out two by two on the theater-size screen. The Cougars wanted to know where they’d be in the Big Dance, and the buzz grew louder and more excitable as 60 teams flashed by.
No. 10 BYU vs. No. 7 DePaulTipoff » Saturday, 4:30 p.m. MDT
Location » All-State Arena, Rosemont, Ill.
The set-up » The Cougars aim for a first-round upset in their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2007.
Fun fact » BYU last played DePaul in the postseason in a 1982 WNIT appearace, beating the Blue Demons 72-69 in the first round.
Finally, the crowd of more than 100 players, coaches, family and fans got their chance to stand and cheer as their long-awaited destination was revealed: BYU earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face No. 7-seeded DePaul at 4:30 p.m. MDT Saturday in Chicago.
The Cougars stood up, cheering and clapping at their good fortune — and it grew even louder as images of themselves celebrating flashed on national TV.
"We’re excited, even though it wasn’t where we expected to be," senior guard Haley Steed said. "We all started to sweat a little bit, get a little nervous in there. … I’m pleasantly surprised with a 10 seed and really excited."
It was a big moment for a BYU (26-6) program that secured its first NCAA berth since 2007 by winning the West Coast Conference Tournament, but still had to wait to figure out its first-round destination. BYU’s contest with DePaul (22-10) was the second-to-last game announced on the ESPN Selection Show.
Most of the team had been expecting an 11 or 12 seed, but the surprise of a 10 seed was an added bonus of making the field.
Being on the selection show itself might’ve been the real treat.
"I had butterflies the whole time," freshman guard Lexi Eaton said. "I’ve always just watched it on TV. To be a part of it is crazy."
The Cougars will compete in the Des Moines region with No. 1 seed Baylor and No. 2 seed Tennessee — two powerhouses in women’s basketball. With a win, BYU could face the Volunteers in the second round.
But the focus was on the Blue Demons, the Cougars’ Big East opponent in Saturday’s contest. DePaul reached the Sweet Sixteen last season and has appeared in 10 straight NCAA Tournaments.
The Blue Demons will also be enjoying what is essentially a home game: Although the women’s team competes in a different facility, the All-State Arena is the men’s home court.
BYU coach Jeff Judkins felt his team had been dealt a favorable matchup, however.
"I’ve watched them a lot. I have a lot of respect for the coach," Judkins said. "DePaul’s not a real quick, athletic team. They shoot the ball well; they execute well. And I think one thing our team does is if we can prepare them, they can take teams out of their offense."
DePaul is led by junior guard Anna Martin, who led the Big East with 19.1 points per game this season. As a team, the Blue Demons are one of the most dangerous 3-point-shooting teams in the nation, making 7.8 long-range shots per game.
The Cougars are coming off a strong performance in the WCC Tournament but also have had a weeklong layover. Balance is the key for BYU, which boasts five scorers who average at least nine points per game.
Steed is among the national leaders in assists, and senior forward Kristen Riley has come on strong lately, earning the last two WCC player of the month awards. Eaton has been a boost in her first year on the team and is the second-leading scorer on the roster.
For most of the Cougars, it will be their first NCAA experience. Steed was injured when BYU last went to the Big Dance, while Riley remembered watching her sister play for the Cougars.
"I was just so excited that our name was in no matter what," Riley said. "I’m excited I get to do it my own way."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.