No Locals Have It Easy; UCLA Out

Times Staff Writer

Pepperdine, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA all watched the NCAA women's basketball tournament selection telecast with great interest Sunday. When the show was over, players from all three teams were left fighting different levels of disappointment.

At least Pepperdine and Santa Barbara knew they had automatic tournament bids.

UCLA, which lost to Stanford in a semifinal of the Pacific 10 Conference tournament, didn't get the invitation it was hoping for. An 18-11 record and a fourth-place finish in the Pac-10 was not enough to overcome a relatively soft schedule.

UCLA was also hurt by the NCAA selection committee's decision to select seven Big East teams and six Big Ten teams. Five bids to Conference USA teams also helped wipe out several at-large bids in seedings 12 through 16, where the Bruins figured to be considered.

"We got to the point this year where we had hope," UCLA Coach Kathy Olivier said. "I felt we finished strong. But ... next year we can't put [the selection] in the hands of committee. We can't just get better for us; we have to get better for the conference.

"[The] Pac-10 should be getting four and five teams, and UCLA should be in that mix. We're a legitimate conference. And we need to be one of the teams that is stepping up."

Olivier said the Bruins were contacted by representatives of the WNIT last week, but the team declined consideration.

Asked what she thought might have kept the NCAA selection committee from choosing UCLA, Olivier said: "The reality was we needed to beat some people early. You don't have to play great teams all the time. But, as I told our team, you can't just wait for the conference to step up."

Pepperdine Coach Mark Trakh, whose team is 22-7 and the West Coast Conference champion, was heard muttering "Don't send us there" several times while watching the telecast with his players at the home of Pepperdine Athletic Director John Watson.

When the Waves did pop up, it was as the 12th-seeded team in the West Regional. Pepperdine will travels to Ruston, La., to face No. 5 Louisiana Tech. The Lady Techsters (29-2) have a 27-game winning streak, longest in the nation. Trakh threw back his head and sighed but quickly regained his composure.

"We'll play them anywhere in the country," Trakh said. "It doesn't matter. You have to beat somebody good and you have to beat them somewhere. So we'll go play our hearts out and do the best we can."

Santa Barbara Coach Mark French, whose Big West champion team is 26-4, also thought the Gauchos might be higher than No. 7 assigned to the Midwest Regional.

Santa Barbara, headed to Lubbock, Texas, has a tough opener against 20-9 Xavier. Should the Gauchos win, they will probably play No. 2 Texas Tech (26-5), the Big 12 tournament runner-up.

"To be honest, when I first saw the bracket, I was a little frustrated," French said. "I thought we'd be a little higher seed. But as I watched the rest of the show and saw the West Regional, I was a little thankful.

"The major frustration with the seeding itself is for our fans; it seems like we always have to fly all over God's creation. It would have been nice for our fans to get Stanford or Oregon. I'm not sure they can get to Lubbock."

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