There was little suspense Sunday afternoon at the 50-yard-line suite at Rice-Eccles Stadium where Utah's women's basketball team gathered to learn its NCAA fate.
Sophomore guard Lana Sitterud hadn't even walked into the room yet when it was announced on the television selection show that she and the Utes would travel all the way to Raleigh, N.C., as an eighth seed to meet a ninth-seed DePaul (22-9) next Sunday at N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum, a first-round site that includes the nation's No. 1-ranked team and Midwest No. 1 seed, Duke, 31-1.
The Blue Devils will play No. 16 seed Georgia State (20-10) Sunday, with the winner advancing to meet the Utah-DePaul winner on Tuesday, March 25. As part of the Midwest Regional, the survivor at Raleigh heads to a regional at Albuquerque.
Utah was the third name to pop up on the screen Sunday out of the whole 64-team field, and the regular-season league champions watched with a little jealousy as Mountain West Conference tournament champion New Mexico drew a No. 6 seed and a spot in its own Albuquerque "Pit."
Concluding her 20th year as Ute coach, Elaine Elliott was a bit indignant that her 23-6 team got little respect from the selection committee.
"We're still first in this league and still have the best RPI even after the conference tournament," she pointed out. Utah's RPI is 26, and 22-8 New Mexico is 27.
"You're going three-quarters of the way across country again, and you don't know why you do, but it's a long week," Elliott said, calling herself "baffled."
"I'll have to be completely honest. There's two scenarios. As a pure seed, of course, it's disappointing. I don't know how you run away with the conference championship and have your second-place team get a higher seed. As a manipulated seed, I absolutely see what they're doing. They're protecting seeds from the Albuquerque home floor, and that's unfortunate when you're talking about a national-championship tournament."
Elliott also had some diplomatic thoughts. "We're thrilled to be an NCAA tournament team, and we're thrilled to have run away with this conference championship. We're excited to play," Elliott said. "You've got to be hungry now, and, whatever it takes."
She noted that Utah has played games in that storied North Carolina area and, "It's a fun place to play. It's a great tournament atmosphere. A great tournament feel."
Her team has no seniors, so it's really just starting to build its personal tradition, and a couple of Elliott's newbies say they don't care who they play or where, they're just pumped for the chance to dance.
"We're a young team. The worst it can give us is experience," said freshman forward Kim Smith, named last week the MWC player of the year and newcomer of the year. "We're just excited to go out and play."
Sophomore Shona Thorburn, in her first season of playing, said, "It's my first year. We would have taken anything. As long as we make the tournament."
She was kinder about the treatment of the league's top two teams. Of the Lobos, she said, "They won the conference. They played, I guess, better than we did this past weekend, so it's OK."
Thorburn, from Ontario, Canada, is happy to go to North Carolina because she thinks she can talk parents and family into traveling there.
Elliott said she knew nothing of DePaul, which lost at Cincinnati twice over its last five games and finished its season going 6-2.
Over the last three NCAA women's tourneys, No. 9 seeds have upset the No. 8s 75 percent of the time.