Fresno State

'Dogs women have good timing for tournament

Fresno State was in the right place at the right time on Selection Monday for the Women's NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA selection committee, in an about face, awarded a record seven at-large bids to teams from mid-major conferences.

The Bulldogs were one of three lower Division I teams that captured conference regular-season titles and were handed at-large tickets to the NCAA Tournament.

"It's a sign of the parity in our sport and recognition that mid majors have to travel more," said Fresno State's Adrian Wiggins, named Tuesday the Region 7 Coach of the Year by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

Fresno State (27-6) went 16-0 in the Western Athletic Conference, but lost the NCAA automatic bid when Louisiana Tech beat the Bulldogs 68-66 for the tournament title.

The Bulldogs head to Berkeley as the No. 13 seed to play No. 4 Baylor at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

How rarely have at-large bones been thrown to mid-majors? Only three in the past five years. Over that same span, 10 mid-major conference champions were left out of the NCAA's field of 64.

This year, Fresno State joined Green Bay (Horizon) and Arkansas-Little Rock (Sun Belt) as at-large teams after seizing regular-season titles.

Fresno State helped its cause by winning 19 of its last 20 games and capturing 11 road victories, behind only No. 1 Connecticut and No. 2 Stanford.

The NCAA selection committee apparently took notice.

Bulldogs assistant coach Brett Frank offered a theory for the greater number of at-large bids for mid majors.

"It's been a weird year where [Bowl Championship Series] schools are so down," he said. "Look at the Pac-10. They got only two teams in."

As evidence, there weren't as many bubble teams from the power conferences.

The WAC, Horizon, American East and Sun Belt conference wound up with as many NCAA bids (2) as the Pac-10.

The benchmark of 26 wins once was the standard for schools from Bowl Championship Series conferences to make the NCAA Tournament 64-team field. In the past decade, 10 mid majors reached at least 26 wins and were left out. That seems to be changing.

"I do think BCS teams aren't as strong this year," Wiggins said, "but on the other side, the whole game is up.

"More really talented girls are playing in high school, and there's been a wider distribution of talent at the college level. The top teams are still better, but what you're seeing is the bottom coming up."