Maine enters the NCAA women’s basketball tournament with a roster that would make the United Nations proud.
The starting lineup includes players from Spain, Sweden, Israel and Canada. Coming off the bench is a player from Germany.
“No matter where you are in this world, that round ball can unite a lot of different people from a lot of different places,” said Black Bears coach Amy Vachon. “For us, it really has. I mean, you forget that they’re from all around the world.”
Vachon said Maine’s worldwide recruiting pipeline was created by former head coach Richard Barron. About six years ago, he went on an international tour to scout foreign talent.
“We signed six kids that year,” she recalled. “They were all international.”
The Black Bears’ top player these days is Blanca Millan, a sophomore guard from Santiago de Compostela, a city of about 95,000 people in northwest Spain.
“I always knew I wanted to play (in the United States),” Millan said. “Maine was the best place for me.”
Senior guard Tanesha Sutton, who hails from Philadelphia, said Maine’s blend of foreign players works.
“I mean, we do everything together,” she said. “In the first weeks, it seemed like we were at least one year together. … I think it’s one of the best things we have.”
A BOLD PREDICTION: Before the season, Nebraska senior guard Jasmine Cincore predicted that the Cornhuskers would play in the NCAA Tournament.
That pronouncement might have created a few chuckles outside of Lincoln, Neb. After all, Nebraska was 7-22 last season under then first-year coach Amy Williams.
A year later, Williams has been named the Big Ten coach of the year, and Nebraska will enter the NCAA Tournament with a record of 21-10. The Huskers’ 14-win improvement this season represents the best in Division I women’s basketball.
“We were transitioning from a new staff last season,” Cincore said. “We had a lot of new players coming in and we were very young. I just saw something great within this team.”
NOT SO SWEET MEMORIES: Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne was a senior at Stanford when the Cardinal lost to Texas 79-58 in the Sweet 16 in 1988 in Austin. Her most unpleasant memory of the Erwin Center, though, came when she was a graduate assistant at Washington a year later.
“When we played here, we needed trash cans at the corner of the court because we had two kids with the stomach flu,” Thorne said Friday. “I remember Amy Mickelson having to go to the trash can during the game to throw up.
COMFORTS OF HOME: Playing at home has boosted Texas during NCAA Tournament games. Boasting an all-time tournament record of 40-29, the Longhorns are 23-9 when playing at the Erwin Center.
That includes two victories apiece over the past two seasons, when the Longhorns were at home for first- and second-round games. Win or lose, this will be the final chance for area fans to see Texas seniors Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty.
”You dream about (playing in the tournament) since you’re a little kid,” Atkins said. “Playing in it for the last time, I wouldn’t say it’s nerve-wracking, but there are butterflies.”
NOTEWORTHY: Former Longhorns coach Gail Goestenkors will handle color commentary for the ESPN2 broadcasts of Saturday’s game at the Erwin Center. Although most of her time is spent covering games in the Southeastern Conference, Goestenkors still lives at her lakeside home in Marble Falls.