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March 12, 2018

Rhonda Lundin Bennett

RICK NIXON: Welcome, everyone, this evening. I'm joined by Rhonda Lundin Bennett, chair of the Division I Women's Basketball Committee, and senior associate athletics director SWA at the University of Nevada.
The committee tonight announced the 64 team field for the 2018 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship, which tips off this Friday, March the 16th.
Before we take your questions, I would like to ask Rhonda for an opening statement.
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Thank you, Rick. Welcome to all of you.
We as a committee are very excited about this bracket and this tournament that's getting ready to start on Friday. We convened on Thursday evening and spent from Thursday night to midday today putting this bracket together, getting our seeding all done, sending teams, placing them into the bracket.
We feel great about this. We feel like there's a lot of parity in our game right now. We had a significant challenge coming to the decision of which teams should be in and which teams should be out. I think we were considering quite a few teams when we got to that point.
There are a lot of really good teams out there. I think that's going to lead to an excellent tournament.
We also felt very prepared for the seeding process after doing our three top 16 reveals throughout the year. I think it helped us tremendously. We put together a great top 16 and gave the opportunity for those 16 teams to host.
I just wanted to thank all of you for your coverage of women's basketball both throughout the year and throughout the tournament. It means a lot.
Now we'll open it up to your questions.

Q. When it came to evaluating Rutgers as a bubble team, what worked against them as opposed to maybe a Creighton or Minnesota, whom they beat?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Some of the things we thought were their 3‑7 record in the last 10 games, as well as their ninth‑place finish in the Big Ten standings. Those bad losses that they had as well were some of the things that differentiated them. Those losses were Northwestern and Washington State at a 175.

Q. Considering Rutgers beat Minnesota, I know Minnesota was five spots ahead of them in Big Ten standings, answering my own question, but considering Rutgers‑Minnesota head‑to‑head, was that a factor?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Head‑to‑head is just one of our considerations. You're going to look at that whole body of work and make that decision looking at that, as well as I said before. Rutgers' finish in their conference was another thing, too.

Q. How did you feel the reveal of the final eight went last night for what you were hoping out of it?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: I think it was wonderful. I mean, I think we as a committee have worked really hard to come up with ways to drive interest in our bracket and in our championship. That's why we do the top 16 reveals. That's why we did that last top 16 reveal with the 16 in order and put those first four lines in a bracket.
I think we're always just looking for ways to drive excitement about the women's game.

Q. Any thought of next year actually revealing the top 16 the same way you did the final eight last night so those teams that are going to be potentially hosting the first two rounds have an extra day to prepare for it?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We'll get together this summer and have a big discussion about some of the things we might want to do next year.
We feel really good about the top 16. It drives a lot of interest, gets a lot of people talking about our championship. We try to be very creative and think outside the box, and we'll continue to do that.

Q. What were your thoughts on the outcome of the last eight teams to be considered? Were you pleased? Was there any consideration of how it might affect those teams in the last 24 hours with that decision?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We were very pleased with it. I think having the opportunity to have our great partner here with ESPN and have them put that on SportsCenter, there were people talking about our tournament last night and talking about it all day today with those eight teams.
I don't think it was any surprise to those teams that we were talking about as that final eight. I think we believe they probably already knew they were on that bubble, and we put them out there in alphabetical order.

Q. Was there any consideration of the timing, since there were two tournaments still going on when the reveal happened?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: That's one hard thing with those tournaments still going. When you have tournaments that start at 7 p.m. on the Sunday before we announce the bracket, that's going to be something.
We were considering all those teams based on their body of work. If someone happened to be in that top eight who was still playing, we would have certainly considered them and made our decision based on that. Our bracket is not finalized until Monday. If something happened in the conference tournament, we certainly could have considered that.

Q. With regards to Rutgers and the final eight, obviously Rutgers was one of the four of those eight that didn't get in. Can I ask you what the final pecking order was in terms of the four that didn't get in? How close was Rutgers to getting in?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We announced those in alphabetical order, and that's where we'd like to leave it. Rutgers was one of those four teams.
We spent almost seven hours yesterday going over those last eight teams, really talking about everything. I think every one of those teams was right on the cusp of getting in. We took a look at them and feel really good about the decision that we came to.

Q. What were the factors that left Purdue out of the tournament?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Well, we felt for Purdue, they were 2‑4 in that RPI, 26 to 50, as well as they had some losses in the 101 plus. We looked at things like conference finish, conference record. Those were some of the factors.

Q. The men released the 1 through 68 seed list. How close is the women's committee to doing that?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: That's something that we'll continue to talk about. We've been interested in being transparent by doing those top 16 reveals, revealing things like our last eight teams.
We'll continue to talk about that.

Q. USF was really hoping for a four seed and the right to host. Coach Fernandez, after he learned they were a six seed, said, It looks like the tournament for one reason or another is becoming regionalized. Was geography any kind of consideration in putting USF, Tallahassee, as a six seed?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Geography is one of our principles when it comes to placing teams in the bracket. We seed the teams, then we place them in the bracket using that S‑curve.
Geography is one of things we do consider and is one of our principles.

Q. Is there anything on USF's rйsumй that may have hurt them or impeded their chances of becoming a four or five seed?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: I would say their worst loss was a 151, Wichita State. When you start looking at those teams and seeding, those are some of the things that are going to differentiate teams and determine which seed line they're on.

Q. (Question regarding Sherri Coale's statement about awarding strong strength of schedule.)
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We as a committee definitely value strength of schedule. I think you've seen that in the last couple years, as well as this year. We do want to reward teams that schedule up. You also have to win some of those games, and we're going to compare your body of work to other teams.
Strength of schedule is something that has been important to us.

Q. Concerning Oklahoma, when you're evaluating them, the schedule obviously helped the Sooners. What do you view as Oklahoma's marquee victories?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Their win over South Florida was a top 25 win for them. It's very important to have top 25 wins when you're comparing them to other teams that might have those significant wins.

Q. Aside from South Florida, was there anything else that you were impressed about specifically the games they won?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: They did beat Belmont. Belmont is an excellent team and is in our field. I think within their conference, as well, their conference record of 11‑8. They had some significant wins within their conference, as well.

Q. Could you address the one and two seeds, how close Baylor was to getting a one seed, how close you viewed the ones and twos this year in terms of the overall group?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We felt there was a razor thin margin between Baylor and Notre Dame. Notre Dame did have the best strength of schedule in the country, and they had nine more top 50 wins than Baylor. Those were the reasons that the committee put Notre Dame on that one line and Baylor on the two line.

Q. In terms of how close the twos were to the ones overall this year?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: I think that's where we were looking, is we had the one seeds, then we looked at teams like Baylor and Oregon and Texas and South Carolina. We felt really comfortable with the ones we settled on, as well as the order of the two line.

Q. I was wondering about the reasons or considerations for USC not making the cut out of the last eight that you considered.
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: For USC, it came down to their top 25 wins. They didn't have any top 25 wins. They also had only two top 50 wins. Those were some of the factors that we looked at with USC.
RICK NIXON: Thanks for being with us. Thank you, Rhonda, for being with us. We look forward to seeing you on the road during this year's championship.

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