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Originally published Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Seattle U women need to win conference tournament to advance

Seattle U captured the WAC regular-season title but will almost certainly need to win the conference tournament this week in Las Vegas to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Wednesday

Seattle U women vs. New Mexico St. @ Las Vegas, 6 p.m.

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Seattle U romped through its inaugural women's basketball Western Athletic Conference schedule, winning the regular-season title and picking up postseason awards.

The question now is whether Seattle U can withstand the weight of its newfound status.

"We had a great time on Saturday, cutting down the nets," said SU coach Joan Bonvicini of winning the WAC regular-season title at Connolly Center. "But this team is grounded."

Top-seeded SU (18-9, 15-3 WAC) received a first-round bye in the conference tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The Redhawks will play No. 8 seed New Mexico State at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The Redhawks swept the Aggies during the WAC regular season.

The tournament's first round through semifinal games will be carried live on WACbasketball.com. The conference championship game will air at noon Saturday on ESPNU.

The conference tournament champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and will almost certainly be the only WAC team to make the tournament. According to ESPN, the Redhawks are penciled in as a No. 16 seed and projected to play at Stanford, a projected No. 1 seed, in the first round.

The NCAA will announce its tournament bracket Monday. The Women's National Invitation Tournament will select its 64 teams after, and SU is a sure bet for that if it doesn't win the WAC tournament.

"I told them (players), 'When you start thinking about winning a tournament title, just stop and think about dominating your opponent,' " Bonvicini said. "But we (coaches) know for us to advance (to the NCAA tournament) we definitely have to win the (WAC) tournament."

Seattle U has a strong foundation for the future, no matter what happens. Juniors Kacie Sowell, Sylvia Shephard and Ashley Ward will each return next season. Sowell was the WAC player of the year and Shephard the conference's defensive player of the year. Bonvicini was WAC coach of the year.

Tuesday games

New Mexico State 76, Texas Arlington 63

The Aggies won for the sixth time in seven games, beating No. 9 seed UT Arlington in a first-round game. Kelsie Rozendaal had career highs in both points (23) and rebounds (17). Danesia Williamson scored 16, Stefanie Gilbreath 15 and Sasha Weber 14 for New Mexico State.

Denver 73, Texas St. 63

No. 7 seeded Denver shot a season-best tying 54.7 percent en route to a victory over No. 10 Texas State.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @JaydaEvans

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