The last time Lubbock Christian University hosted the South Central Regional of the Division II NCAA Tournament, Lady Chaps guard Delaney Gaddis was a committed recruit coming to watch her future program. That was two years ago, and for three nights those were some of the most electric crowds of the Steve Gomez coaching era.
"It was wild," Gaddis said Thursday. "It was a crazy environment. I still remember watching Tess (Bruffey) make a half-court shot at the end of the first quarter, and the whole (arena) erupted. It was a cool experience."
The Lady Chaps are hoping to duplicate that experience -- the lively crowds, the winning outcomes -- when they again host the NCAA South Central Regional. The eight-team, single-elimination tournament, part of the 64-team NCAA Tournament, starts Friday and runs through Monday at the Rip Griffin Center. LCU (28-1), ranked No. 2 in the country and seeded No. 1 in the region, opens against No. 8 seed Tarleton State (20-11) at 6 p.m. Friday.
The Lady Chaps have won 47 in a row at the Rip, the longest active home winning streak in Division II.
"Two years ago, it was very helpful to us," Gomez said. "We know it's not a magic pill that we're hosting so everything comes easy for us, but it's good to be at home. Everyone is going to be a good enough team that if we don't play a really, really good game, we will not win."
The stakes are higher now for Bruffey, the Lady Chaps' 6-foot-4 cornerstone, and Gaddis, two senior starters whose careers are over the next time they lose -- if they lose. Bruffey was a starter and regional tournament MVP on the national championship team. She's the only member of the current team that played a major role two years ago.
"I haven't really given them special advice as far as how to play now," she said. "I feel like everyone knows how to play and everyone can feel the tension of it possibly being our last game. I don't think that needs much explaining, for our team at least."
Gaddis was a wide-eyed spectator when the Lady Chaps beat Texas Woman's, Angelo State and West Texas A&M in the 2016 regional on the way to a 35-0 finish and national championship. Now she's coming off a 19-point game, her LCU career high, in Sunday's 69-61 victory against Arkansas-Fort Smith in the Heartland Conference tournament final.
"I think like Tess said, we're just preparing game to game and not focusing on the pressures and the external environment," Gaddis said. "We're just focusing on our play and having each other to keep us stable and keep us grounded. I think that's what our mentality has been the whole season."
The LCU-Tarleton winner will play in a 7:30 p.m. semifinal Saturday against Angelo State (22-6) or Black Hills State (24-6), who play in the Friday late game. The only other ranked team in the region is second-seeded West Texas A&M (27-4), No. 21 in the WBCA coaches poll.
NCAA SOUTH CENTRAL
at the Rip Griffin Center
Friday's First-Round Games
Colorado State-Pueblo (3) (25-6) vs. Metro State Denver (6) (21-8), noon
West Texas A&M (2) (27-4) vs. Arkansas-Fort Smith (7) (20-10), 2:30 p.m.
Lubbock Christian University (1) (28-1) vs. Tarleton State (8) (20-11), 6 p.m.
Angelo State (4) (22-6) vs. Black Hills State (5) (24-6), 8:30 p.m.