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Bubble burst: BC women are kept off dance floor

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / March 17, 2009
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The "backup" call was the toughest one for Sylvia Crawley to make. Even though the Boston College women's basketball team popped up on projected lists to make the NCAA Tournament, Crawley made plans last week for the Women's National Invitation Tournament - just in case.

That didn't stop the Eagles from gathering in a room at Conte Forum yesterday, sharing pizza and sodas while the 64 teams for the NCAA Tournament were revealed on national television. BC hoped its numbers would be enough: a 20-11 overall record and a sixth-place finish (7-7) in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But as the Trenton bracket was unveiled - the final group of teams - Crawley realized her team was out. The Eagles would need the backup, and they are headed to the WNIT.

Six ACC teams - including No. 1 seeds Duke and Maryland - made the NCAA cut. The Eagles have a bye in the first round of the WNIT and will host the winner between Central Connecticut State and Boston University in the second round on Monday. The Terriers (24-7) host the Blue Devils (18-13) Thursday. Harvard (Friday at St. John's) and Hartford (Sunday against Harvard/St. John's winner) are also in the field.

With only two wins against ranked opponents (No. 24 Texas Christian and No. 22 Georgia Tech), the Eagles' NCAA résumé wasn't strong enough for them to squeeze in among the top 64. Losses against Wake Forest (52-48) and St. John's (72-63) may have contributed to teams such as Minnesota and Georgia being favored over BC.

"There's a lot of things that [the selection committee] looks at," Crawley said. "Obviously, they look at your strength of schedule, your good wins and your bad losses. We didn't really have a lot of good wins and we didn't have any bad losses. We didn't pull any upsets basically is what it came down to.

"I think they want to make this tournament exciting, and they want to put teams in who they think could have potential to upset someone else who has a higher seed. You understand what they're trying to do, it's just unfortunate because we got bumped off."

The ACC could make an argument for being the toughest conference, as five teams ended the regular season ranked among the Top 25. The Eagles' RPI is 40th but they didn't have the big victory.

Crawley may be in her first year at BC but she is familiar with the NCAA Tournament. She and BC assistant coach Stephanie Lawrence Yelton were part of North Carolina's championship in 1994. While Crawley was hopeful an NCAA berth awaited, she didn't want the season to end watching the selection show.

"That was tough for me to do because I didn't want to speak those words," Crawley said. "I didn't want to make those preparations. It's probably been one of my toughest weeks as a head coach because I'm so positive and see the glass as half-full always, but we needed to make those steps."

The Eagles played in the WNIT last season, beating Vermont in the first round but losing to St. John's in the second. The last time BC was in the NCAA Tournament was 2006, when it reached the Sweet 16.

"I think this team needs postseason play - I think that's very, very important for our young team," said Crawley. "To build this program, I want to stretch their minds past a certain number of games, otherwise they will always hit a brick wall when they get to this point of the season. So this is important for the future of our program."

Still, Crawley does not want her players to forget how they felt as the last NCAA teams were announced.

"It's important for our players to bottle up what they're feeling," Crawley said. "It's just a sick feeling in the gut of your stomach, and that will drive them in the offseason to get off the couch to put down the Nintendo Wii remote control and lift another weight or go shoot another basket."

Crawley doesn't regret the decision to have the team gather; as long as they had hope, the players wanted to be together. For seniors Corey Rusin and Vic Jones, this will be their last season, and Crawley said there is plenty they can take away.

Once the Eagles were ousted in the second round of the ACC Tournament, they were anxiously watching every other tournament, hoping for upsets.

"If we beat Wake Forest and we beat St. John's, we wouldn't be having this feeling that we're having right now," Crawley said. "That's the lesson our young kids get from this.

"It's a lesson our seniors will get as well. They don't get next year, but they leave this university knowing they have control over what happens to them. You dictate what happens. Don't put your destiny in someone else's hands."

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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