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Women's basketball team headed to North Carolina to play Hampton

March 17, 2014
<p>The Spartans huddle up on March 8, 2014, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind., to discuss the game plan. MSU lost to Nebraska, 86-58, and plays Hampton on Sunday. Betsy Agosta/The State News</p>

The Spartans huddle up on March 8, 2014, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind., to discuss the game plan. MSU lost to Nebraska, 86-58, and plays Hampton on Sunday. Betsy Agosta/The State News

Photo by Betsy Agosta | The State News

After beginning the previous two NCAA Tournaments in College Park, Md., at least a few members of the No. 20 women’s basketball team enjoyed a sigh of relief after finding out that this year’s first round would be elsewhere.

For the second consecutive year, the women’s basketball team is a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play No. 12 Hampton at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“I was a little bit nervous they would send us back (to Maryland), for the third time in a row,” said head coach Suzy Merchant. “I’m glad that we didn’t go there. Not that Maryland isn’t a great program and I’m really good friends with their coaching staff. I think it takes a little bit of excitement out of the NCAA Tournament and you should have different opportunities.”

MSU’s No. 5 seed comes after the Spartans lost in the Big Ten Tournament to Nebraska, 86-58. Merchant and players said after the game that toughness and improvement would be keys to improving and making a successful run in the NCAA Tournament.

Merchant also called for better effort and improvement from the team’s veteran leaders, who will be critical for the Spartans to make a deep run in the tournament.

After the disappointing semifinal exit in the Big Ten Tournament, there is a sense of optimism heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans have had a week of practice to regain focus, and the warm weather of North Carolina certainly is something players look forward to.

Opposite of the bracket is host No. 4 North Carolina, who will take on Tennessee-Martin at 3 p.m. Hampton (28-4 overall) finished the season on an 18-game winning streak and swept the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, 14-0.

The Spartans don’t know much about Hampton as of yet, but wisely understand the challenge that awaits. Not overlooking the opening game, and getting ready for a potential second round game against fourth-seeded North Carolina will be key.

“I don’t know a lot about Hampton yet, but I do know they do a really good job in that league,” Merchant said. “They’re consistently very talented and very, very athletic. North Carolina is really good and they’ve got a really great freshman class who have led them to some really remarkable things this year.”

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