Monday, March 13, 2006
Basketball team recognized during Piston’s game
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
Oakland University’s NCAA Tournament-bound women’s basketball team was recognized during the Detroit Piston’s game at The Palace of Auburn Hills March 12. The team was presented to the sold-out crowd during halftime and recognized for its Mid-Continent Conference Tournament championship and automatic berth into the 2006 NCAA Division I Tournament.
“Oakland University is such a good friend,” said John Ciszewski, executive vice president of the Pistons. “From our stand point, bringing the team here tonight to recognize them was a no-brainer. We want to give them a wonderful send off to the NCAA Tournament.”
OU is one of two Michigan teams in the women’s tournament this year. Michigan State also is in the tournament.
“It’s weird,” said Head Coach Beckie Francis as the team prepared to be honored during the Piston’s game. “I wake up every morning and ask, ‘did this really happen?’”
Francis walked away from coaching in 2002 for health reasons and returned to the sidelines this season to coach the Golden Grizzlies to its second NCAA Tournament, both of which were under her leadership.
“This team has great chemistry,” Francis said. “They have been very driven and very focused all season long and they all are committed to this team.”
Alongside Francis on the bench is her former player and now assistant coach Katie Wolfe, who played on the last Oakland women’s team to head to the national tournament.
“It’s a different feeling,” Wolfe said. “But any championship feels good. This is a good group of girls and a good group of basketball players.”
As a player, Wolfe said it felt like she had more control over the game, but as a coach, she feels more apart of the preparation that goes into building a championship team.
During half time of the Piston’s game, the team stood at half court as the announcer told the crowd they were heading to the Big Dance.
“It was super nice of The Palace to do this for us,” freshman Jessica Knurick said. “Not many people get to say they did this.”
For the seniors on the team, the NCAA Tournament extends their basketball career and gives them the opportunity to experience the Big Dance for the first time.
“All of the attention we have been getting helps us appreciate being where we are and having won the conference tournament,” senior Jayme Wilson said. “It puts an exclamation point on a year and on a career.”
Senior Anne Hafeli, Mid-Con Tournament MVP, agrees.
“It feels really good to be here,” Hafeli said. “I am happy for the team. We have worked so hard all year. This is a really good way to end the season.”
The Grizzlies, the No. 6 seed in the Mid-Con Tournament, defeated the No. 3, No. 2 and finally the No. 1 seed to win the title and send them to the NCAA Tournament, marking the first time in conference tournament history any team, men’s or women’s, has defeated each of the top three seeds to win the championship.
“We bonded at the right time and came together at the right time,” Francis said.
The Golden Grizzlies will find out who they will face and where they will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday, March 13, during the selection show special, which will be televised live on ESPN beginning at 7 p.m.
OU is hosting a Selection Monday Celebration March 13 at 6 p.m. in the Oakland Center Banquet Rooms. The celebration will include refreshments, entertainment by the Golden Grizzlies Band and OU’s dance and cheer teams, comments from Head Coach Beckie Francis, and the NCAA selection show will be shown on a big-screen television. Travel details for fans also will be discussed.
A special “Golden Grizzlies March Madness – The Road to Boston” T-shirt also will be on sale during the celebration and beginning on March 13 at the OU Bookstore.
Follow the Golden Grizzlies as they travel to the NCAA Tournament by visiting the Road to the NCAA Tournament Web page, which is dedicated to offering up-to-date stories, photos and related links concerning OU's quest for a national title.
For more information on the women’s basketball team, visit the OU Athletics Web site.