Brittney Griner and her 34-0 Baylor teammates will face UC Santa Barbara Sunday afternoon at Bowling Green State University's Stroh Center.
BOWLING GREEN -- Women's basketball fans in northwest Ohio are excited to have Brittney Griner at the Stroh Center for the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
But Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said Griner is excited to be here too.
"She thinks the university is named after her," Mulkey said of Griner, whose nickname is "BG." "She sees 'BG' everywhere you go, so that fired her up."
Griner, Mulkey, and the top-ranked Bears will open NCAA tournament play against UC Santa Barbara Sunday in the second of two games at the Stroh Center. The first contest pits Ohio State and Florida starting at noon, with the second contest beginning 30 minutes after the first game ends.
Mulkey said she didn't mind playing at the Stroh Center, but she thought the roughly thousand miles that separate Bowling Green and Baylor's campus in Waco, Texas, was too far away.
"I wish that our fans could follow us, but it's just too expensive and too far for our fans to travel," she said. "With the team, they're so focused right now it doesn't matter where we play.
"But for our fans, I would have liked to see [us play] a little bit closer [to home]."
The award for the longest distance traveled goes to UC Santa Barbara, a team that trekked more than 2,000 miles. Their cross-country trip involved a two-hour bus ride and a four-hour plane flight and also included a three-hour time change.
The long trip has done nothing to temper the Gauchos' excitement about their spot in the tournament.
"I feel excited and ready," senior Emilie Johnson said. "I think the adrenaline of 'March Madness' is what is firing us right now.
"We are just excited for the opportunity."
UC Santa Barbara also may have had the more difficult route into the tournament, needing to win the Big West tournament just to earn a berth after finishing the regular season with a losing record. The Gauchos' 15 losses were tied with Prairie View A&M as the most for a tournament qualifier.
Of course, their route doesn't get much easier since they face a Baylor team that is 34-0, making the Bears the lone undefeated basketball team -- men or women -- in Division I basketball.
"I want our kids to be so confident that they actually believe they have a chance to win," coach Carlene Mitchell said. "We might play our best game and still not win, but I want these kids to believe and enjoy the opportunity.
"And if you can keep it close, anything can happen."
Sunday's first game features Ohio State, which was ranked 16th nationally in the most-recent poll, against a Florida team that many experts considered a "bubble" team.
"We knew we were a good enough team to be [in the tournament]," Florida senior Azania Stewart said. "I think we did what we needed to do to prove to the [NCAA selection] committee that we should be here. And we are."
Gators coach Amanda Butler said her team's contest against Ohio State is the best first-round game in the tournament.
"When you have two teams with the numbers right beside each other [as eighth and ninth seeds], I think it should be a good game," she said. "The thing that gets forgotten is there is so much hype and attention about who is number one and the number beside your name, and it's not going to matter if our number was eight or nine, four, two, or 12. It is going to be Ohio State versus Florida.
"Our seed doesn't have anything to do with how good we are or aren't and how good they are or aren't. It's going to be how we play tomorrow, and that's what we're going to focus on."
The Gators' game against Ohio State is on a neutral court, but it forces Florida to play a team just 100 miles down the road. UF isn't worried, though, that the site is far from neutral.
"We have played in big arenas and big crowds, so I don't really think it's going to affect us that much," Stewart said. "We played at Tennessee in front of a packed house on senior night, so I don't think [this game] is going to do anything to us."
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes, who feel an eighth seed doesn't properly reflect their ranking nationally, will use that slight as motivation.
"I feel we have been disrespected since the beginning of the season, so it's nothing new to us," junior Tayler Hill said. "Since the beginning of the season we have been underdogs.
"We were never in the talk of the top teams in the Big Ten, and we weren't ranked in the top 25. From the beginning of the season nobody thought we were going to be anything."
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.
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