The Sacramento State Hornets pose for a team photo after winning the Womens Big Sky Championship game between the Sacramento State Hornets and the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
Photo by Tyler Ingham/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 4 Women's Teams Making NCAA Tournament Debuts Have One Thing in Common

If you like the letter "S", then you'll love the crop of four schools who have punched their first ticket to the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament in 2023.

Welcome to the dance, Saint Louis, Sacramento State, Southeastern Louisiana and Southern Utah.

Or, should we say, Salutations! Here's a look at how these four programs earned the right to put on their dancing shoes.

Saint Louis Billikens (17-17, A-10 Champions)

After starting the season 1-8, most Billikens fans probably didn't hold out much hope for St. Louis making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance this year. But they looked to their mascot, a mythical figure who provides good-luck and represents "things as they ought to be." The Billiken decided that this year, Saint Louis ought to be in the big dance.

When the Billikens lost to Davidson on January 25th, they fell to 6-16 on the year and just 2-5 in Atlantic-10 Conference action. Then they ripped off five straight wins and closed the regular season winning eight of nine games, entering the A-10 tournament as the No. 3 seed, which earned them a bye into the quarterfinals.

From there, Saint Louis held off No. 6 Saint Joseph's, and upset both 2-seed URI and top seed UMass in overtime, 91-85.

The Billikens are led by a trio of Seniors: Julia Martinez, Kyla McMakin and Brooke Flowers.

McMakin, the A-10 Touranment Most Outstanding Player, scored a game-high 27 points in the championship win. She broke the program record with 591 points this season, averaging 17.4 points per game.

Flowers is leading the country in total blocks (128) and blocks per game (3.76) and is 12th in the nation in rebounding with 318 (9.4/gm). Martinez is second in the nation with 116 steals and among the top-50 in the country with 4.7 assists per game.

The Billikens are a No. 13 seed and will face No. 4 Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday.

Sacramento State Hornets (25-7, Big Sky Champions)

Sacramento State Hornets guard Jordan Olivares (23) drives to the paint during the Womens Big Sky Championship game between the Sacramento State Hornets and the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

Photo by Tyler Ingham/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was a season of firsts for the Big Sky regular season co-champions, who shared the title with Northern Arizona and Montana State, but by virtue of tiebreakers found themselves as the third seed in the tournament.

The Hornets, who set a record for most wins in a single season in program history, defeated No. 6 Idaho and No. 7 Portland State (who had upset Montana State in the quarters) easily and then knocked off No. 1 seed Northern Arizona, avenging a pair of regular season losses to the Lumberjacks.

Riding a nine-game winning streak heading into NCAA tournament, the Hornets will not have to leave the state for their opening round matchup. Sacramento State, a 13-seed, will head to Southern California to do battle with No. 4 seed UCLA (25-9).

Look for a barrage of three-pointers from the Hornets, as they led the Big Sky in averaging 23.4 attempts from behind the arc. They led the conference in both three-point percentage (38.6 - 4th in the country) and field goal percentage (46.9 - 11th in the country).

Kahlaijah Dean is 12th in the nation in scoring (21.1 ppg), while Katie Peneuta shoots 45.5% from three-point land and Isnelle Natabou is 5th in the country, shooting 64.2% from the field.

Southeastern Louisiana Lions (21-9, Southland Conference Champions)

The Lady Lions of Southeastern Louisiana outscored Lamar 39-21 in the second half of the Southland Conference championship game to claim a come-from-behind 66-57 victory and claim their first ever NCAA berth.

Southeastern Louisiana was a superb 11-1 on their home court, but just 8-8 away from home. They compiled a 14-4 conference record which secured the top seed for them in the SLC tournament, but were nearly upset by No. 5 Texas A&M-Commerce in the semifinals.

It took a banked in game winner with 0.4 seconds left in overtime by Hailey Giaratano to send the Lions into the championship game.

Stingy defense was the calling card for Southeastern Louisiana throughout the season. They were 14th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 54.5 points per game, and were 15th in the country with a turnover margin of +5.63, forcing their opponents into 18.43 turnovers a contest.

Senior Natalie Kelly from Albany, Louisiana, was a force on the block. Her 2.13 blocks per game led the SLC and was 20th in the country, while her 8.5 rebounds per game placed her third in the conference statistics.

The No. 15 seeded Lions will have a difficult matchup ahead of them, as they will have to deal with player of the year candidate Caitlin Clark and No. 2 seeded Iowa.

Southern Utah Thunderbirds (23-9, WAC Champions)

While Sacramento State celebrated their first Big Sky conference title, Southern Utah won a conference crown in their first year OUT of the Big Sky. After last season the Thunderbirds, who failed to get out of the first round of their conference tournament for the second year in a row, made the move to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). The results they reaped were immediate.

Southern Utah went 16-2 in their new conference, catapulting themselves to the No. 2 seed and a bye into the quarterfinals in the tournament, where they took care of business against No. 7 New Mexico State and No. 3 Grand Canyon. Southern Utah claimed the championship with an 82-73 win over California Baptist, who had knocked out top-seed Stephen F. Austin in the semifinals.

With their WAC tournament run, Southern Utah won two or more conference tournament games for the first time in nearly 30 years.

The last time Southern Utah achieved the feat occurred when the Thunderbirds won the only two titles offered by the short-lived American West Conference in the mid-90s.

On tap for the Thunderbirds is a showdown with No. 3 Notre Dame (25-5) on Friday afternoon in South Bend.

Southern Utah will rely on their height, led by 6'5" center Lizzy Williamson from Adelaide, Australia. Williamson is averaging 2.38 blocks per game, good for 11th in the nation and 7.5 rebounds per game, 17th in the country. As a team, the Thunderbirds rebounding is among the best in Division I, especially on the defensive glass, where their 30.8 defensive rebounds per game is sixth in the nation.

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