Alyssa Charlston

Idaho forward Alyssa Charlston shoots during a practice at the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 22, 2014, in Iowa City, Iowa. Idaho plays Louisville in a first-round game on Sunday. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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As upstart newcomers to the NCAA tournament a year ago, the Idaho women’s basketball team was relegated to a No. 16 seed and suffered a 68-point loss at the hands of No.1 seed Connecticut, the eventual national champion.

So, after earning a No. 14 seed this year, the Vandals should get a more manageable opponent, right?

Not quite, according to coach Jon Newlee.

Idaho (25-8) opens tournament play at 3:30 p.m. today, against Louisville — the team Connecticut beat in last year’s national title game — in Iowa City.

The Cardinals (30-4) have suffered three of their four losses against the Huskies, including a 72-52 loss in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

“I think they were deserving of a No. 1seed in my mind,” Newlee said in a press conference Saturday. “I was shocked when I saw that they were a No. 3 seed. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it.”

Last year, Idaho entered the tournament with a 16-15 record after rattling off three straight wins in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. This time around, they enter as WAC regular season and tournament champions and winners of 18 of their last 19 games.

The Vandals returned all five starters from last year, including three who were freshmen.

“It’s been nice because they had that experience and they could grow from last year’s experience as freshmen playing all those minutes, starting all those games,” Newlee said. “They’re a year older, wiser and better, which is the good news for us coming into this year and into this tournament.”

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