“It’s been a great run for us,” Kay Norton said minutes before the Bears’ first-round opponent had been announced. “But it isn’t over.”
Northern Colorado received a No. 15 seed and will play Mountain West tournament champion and No. 2 seed San Diego State in the West Regional on Thursday in Tucson, Ariz.
Some 500 alumni, boosters and residents were on hand to watch players pound their chests and raise their fists into the air at Butler Hancock Pavilion for the festive, small-town gathering. The group cheered as loudly for the announcement as when the team’s four seniors raised the Big Sky championship banner.
“We aren’t just glad to be here,” said Northern Colorado guard Devon Beitzel, the Big Sky tournament and regular-season MVP. “We don’t want this to stop. We’ve reached some of our goals this year, and we just want to keep it going.”
The Bears won their first regular-season championship, then followed it up by beating Montana 65-60 for their first Big Sky tournament title.
“Now we want to be the first team at Northern Colorado to get an NCAA tournament win,” Beitzel said.
And first-year coach B.J. Hill thinks his team has a few positives to draw on.
“This is a veteran group with a lot of experience in big-time venues,” Hill said. “There is no pressure on us. There have been only four teams that have done it as No. 15 seeds, and we just want to go and play.”
This from a program that played at the Division I level for the first time in 2006-07 and was first eligible for tournament play in 2007-08. And a team that went just 4-24 in 2006-07.
Northern Colorado has only four postseason victories since 1994, one of which came when it was a member of the Division II Northern Central Conference.
“We’ve had some rough years,” said Mike Deutcher, who played on the 1966-67 Northern Colorado team that lost to Phil Jackson and North Dakota in the Division II regional finals. “It’s unbelievable that this is finally happening to us.”
UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY: Michigan State had to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.
“We were nervous,” senior guard Kalin Lucas acknowledged.
Coaches and players gathered in a lounge just outside their locker room, fidgeting while most of the 68-team field was announced before finally finding out they had been seeded 10th and matched against seventh-seeded UCLA in the Southeast Regional on Thursday in Tampa, Fla.