13-Seed Illinois to Host First Four Rounds of NCAA Tournament
Dec. 1, 2013
Champaign, Ill. - The University of Illinois Fighting Illini got some exciting news this evening, as the Orange and Blue earned the No. 13 overall seed for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The Illini will host the NCAA First and Second Rounds at Huff Hall on Dec. 6-7, with the weekend winner advancing to the NCAA Regional just down the road at State Farm Center on Dec. 13-14. Since Illinois was a pre-selected Regional host, the Illini have the unique opportunity of playing up to four matches at home, not having to go on the road until the Final Four, which will be held at Key Arena in Seattle, Wash., Dec. 19-21.
"The first thought that I had is that it's incredible that we get to host; we feel fortunate to do that," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "Right now it's easy to look ahead in the bracket and see what's in front of you, and the fact that we get to be at home is a big deal, but you have to go one point at a time, one moment at a time. We need to get ready for what's in front of us and enjoy it."
Illinois will take on Morehead State at Huff Hall on Friday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. in the first-ever meeting between the two teams. After claiming the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title, the Eagles (27-7, 15-1 OVC) swept SIU Edwardsville last Saturday to win the conference tournament for the second time in the past three seasons and punch their ticket to their second-ever NCAA Tournament.
"(I'm) a little shocked, but really excited," said senior libero Jennifer Beltran, who was a key component of Illinois' run to the NCAA title match in 2011. "This is a really, really great opportunity for us, playing at home and to have the chance to have four straight matches at our place. It's something not a lot of teams get to have."
Prior to Illinois' first-round match, Marquette and Louisville will face off at Huff, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Marquette (25-5, 15-1 BIG EAST) makes its third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament after claiming the BIG EAST Conference's automatic bid with a 3-1 victory over Creighton in the title match of the conference tournament. The Golden Eagles come to Champaign on a hot streak, riding a 14-match winning streak and having won 20 of their last 21 matches.
Louisville enters the postseason with a 23-7 overall record, claiming the automatic bid from the American Athletic Conference with a perfect 18-0 slate in the new league inaugural season. Prior to the formation of the AAC, the Cardinals were a member of the BIG EAST and took on Marquette in the 2012 conference championship. Louisville was the victor of that match in a 3-0 sweep (25-19, 25-23, 26-24).
The two first-round winners will compete in the second round match at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7. Despite having never before faced Morehead State, should the Illini advance, they will see a familiar foe in the second round. While Illinois did not play Louisville this year, the two teams faced off in each of the previous four seasons, and the pair played in the NCAA Tournament in both 2003 and 2004. The Illini hosted Marquette in the Second Round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, defeating the Golden Eagles, 3-0, early in their run to the National Championship match. Illinois is 9-4 all-time against Louisville and 3-0 against Marquette.
The Illini earn their 21st bid to the NCAA Tournament and will host the opening round for the 15th time. Illinois is 32-20 all-time in postseason play and 24-3 at home.
Illinois is one of eight Big Ten teams selected to the tournament, marking the fifth time that the conference-best eight have made the postseason (1999, 2002, 2010, 2011). Joining the Illini as seeded teams are #2 Penn State, #8 Nebraska, #10 Minnesota and #12 Wisconsin. Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue all earned bids as well and will be hitting the road this weekend. Only the Pac-12 had more teams earn a bid, with nine, while the SEC also got eight teams in.
2012 NCAA Champion Texas earned the No. 1 overall seed, followed by No. 2 Penn State, No. 3 Washington and No. 4 Missouri. In addition to Illinois and Mizzou, No. 5 Florida and No. 12 Wisconsin are the other two seeds that would advance to the Champaign Regional at State Farm Center should they win their matches at home this weekend.
"My heart was racing the whole time, I wasn't sure what to expect," said sophomore setter Alexis Viliunas, who will make her first career NCAA Tournament appearance on Friday. "Especially after losing to Minnesota, I was not expecting to get seeded, so my eyes lit up when I saw it. I'm super pumped!"