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WNCC to face Hutchinson at nationals

WNCC to face Hutchinson at nationals
Cougar women's team and staff were waiting on pairing this morning. (KNEB)

The Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team didn’t have to sit on pins and needles waiting their fate for the NJCAA national tournament like last year. They knew they were in, it was just a matter where they would be seeded for next week’s national tournament in Lubbock, Texas.

WNCC, who topped Casper College 65-60 on Saturday to win its 14th regional title, earned the automatic berth to the national tournament, which will be the school’s third straight trip to nationals. Monday morning the Cougar players and coaches watched the unveiling show with anticipation to learn their fate. It didn’t take long either to see their name unlike last year when they were one of the last teams unveiled.

The Cougars, 29-3, earned the 20th seed at the national tournament and will face the 13th seed Hutchinson Community College on Monday at 5 p.m.

“Everybody at the national tournament is pretty good,” WNCC coach Chad Gibney said. “I haven’t seen a ton of Hutch. I know they have been there year in and year out for a long time, so they are a perennial power. But, we are certainly excited to go down there and compete against them.”

Gibney doesn’t look at it as the 20th seed because it is just a number. They are going to go to nationals and play.

“I don’t know who necessarily watches all these teams throughout the country,” he said. “We don’t look at it with a number by our name; it is just let’s go play who we have to play.”

The Cougars enter nationals with a 29-3 record and are on a 17-game winning streak. Hutchinson enters the tournament at 30-3 and earned one of eight at-large bids to the tourney. The Blue Dragons fell to Butler Community College 61-60 in the Region VI Championship game.

The two teams have plenty of common opponents including Seward County Community College, Garden City Community College, Cloud County Community College, Iowa Western Community College, and Lamar Community College. WNCC dropped games against Seward County 74-64 and Iowa Western 80—75. Hutchinson lost to Seward County twice, 70-54 and then 77-69 in overtime.

Gibney said they are not going to do anything different come national tournament time.

“We are not going to try to reinvent the wheel this week,” he said. “We are going to play like we have all year and hopefully we can play some solid basketball down there.”

The eight top seeds that received first-round byes include No. 1 Wabash Valley, No. 2 Gulf Coast State, No. 3 Shelton State, No. 4 Angelina, No. 5 Odessa, No. 6 Butler, No. 7 Seward County, and No. 8 New Mexico.

The winner of the WNCC and Hutchinson game will play Angelina College on Wednesday at noon MST.

The 24-team field had some surprises. For one, defending national championship Tallahassee Community College, who the Cougars played in the first round last year, did not earn an at-large bid.

Gibney said competing at nationals is an accomplishment for the players and community.

“It is our third straight trip and an incredible accomplishment for the program,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the group we have this year to get the job done. We are excited for our girls to experience a national tournament.”

Hutchinson is also making their third straight trip to nationals. They, too like WNCC, fell in their first game like WNCC. In 2017, Hutching lost to Jones in the second round after having a bye. Jones defeated WNCC in the first-round. Then last year, Hutchinson fell to San Jacinto North in the opening round.

NJCAA Tournament Schedule

Monday, March 18

9 a.m. – 16) Cochise vs. 17) Florida Southwestern

11 a.m. – 9) Jones County vs. 24) Three Rivers

1 p.m. – 15) Walters State vs. 18) Miles

3 p.m. – 10) South Plains vs. 23) Harford

5 p.m. – 13) Hutchinson vs. 20) WNCC

7 p.m. – 12) Tyler vs. 21) Salt Lake

Tuesday, March 19

9 a.m. – 14) Trinity Valley vs. No. 19 South Georgia Tech

11 a.m. – 11) Northwest Florida State vs. 22) Northern Oklahoma-Enid

1 p.m. – 1) Wabash Valley vs. Cochise/Florida Southwestern winner

3 p.m. – 8) New Mexico vs. Jones/Three Rivers winner

5 p.m. – 2) Gulf Coast vs. Walters State/Miles winner

7 p.m. – 7) Seward County vs. South Plains/Harford winner

Wednesday, March 20

12 p.m. – 4) Angelina vs. Hutchinson/WNCC winner

2 p.m. – 5) Odessa vs. Tyler/Salt Lake winner

4 p.m. – 3) Shelton State vs. Trinity Valley/South Georgia Tech winner

6 p.m. – 6) Butler vs. NW Florida State/NOC-Enid winner

Thursday, March 21

Quarterfinals

Friday, March 22

Semifinals at 3 and 5 p.m.

Saturday, March 23

Finals at 10 a.m. on CBS Sports Network

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