Love and basketball: College hoops power couple competing in both men’s, women’s NCAA tournaments

As the Texas A&M women’s basketball team waited to receive results of their COVID-19 tests on Saturday, senior center Anna Dreimane and her teammates watched the end of the first-round matchup between Oral Roberts and Ohio State in the men's tournament.

Dreimane and the others yelled as the Buckeyes tried to send the game to overtime, but when the buzzer sounded and Oral Roberts became the ninth 15-seed to make it to the round of 32, Dreimane got up to hug and kiss — with mask on — the TV.

The hug and kiss were for her boyfriend, Oral Roberts starting forward Francis Lacis. The Texas A&M women’s basketball Twitter account posted Dreimane’s reaction, which Lacis said was the best thing he saw following the win. 

“The emotions after winning the game was cool, but then you'll see that video and that's something that you can just rewatch the next day and it still warms your heart,” Lacis told USA TODAY Sports.

Francis Lacis of Oral Roberts and his girlfriend, Anna Dreimane of Texas A&M, have handled the challenges of a long-distance relationship. (Photo: Getty Images/AP)

Both players are from Latvia and played for the same club basketball team there. They weren’t friends, but that changed on New Year’s Eve in 2016 at a party organized by one of Dreimane’s teammates. Three months later, they were a couple. Now they are in their respective bubbles of Indianapolis and San Antonio, rooting for each other to win a national championship. 

“We're definitely each other's biggest cheerleaders,” Dreimane said.

COVID-19 protocols have made seeing family members and friends nearly impossible for college athletes this season, but it’s nothing new for the pair ever since Dreimane began her college career at Colorado State eight months into their relationship. They spent some time together at home this past summer, but since they returned to the U.S. before the season, they’ve been together only twice. 

Congrats @ORUMBB! We got your biggest fan over here ❤️🎉 @annarezijaa | @FrancisLacispic.twitter.com/mhzQJ1xebD

They primarily communicate through FaceTime and will motivate each other, but of course they still talk about basketball. When asked on Zoom who was the better player, Dreimane said, “What you think?”

“Anna is a beast,” Lacis immediately responded. 

Lacis has been part of an improbable tournament run as Oral Roberts is the second No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded in 1985. While the Golden Eagles have busted brackets, Dreimane was not shocked to see her boyfriend’s team capture the attention of the college basketball world.

“I really thought that they were gonna win,” Dreimane said. “When they won the next game and got to the Sweet 16, I knew that would happen because at the point when they beat Ohio State, I knew that anything's possible.”

Dreimane is part of an Aggies team that finished the regular season 23-2, won the SEC regular-season title and is one of the favorites to win the program’s second national championship. Lacis said even though Texas A&M didn’t get the No. 1 seed, he thinks the Aggies will win it all.

“I just don't think they have anyone that can stop them,” Lacis said. “I know that the loss in the conference tournament probably hurt them, but hey, haters are my motivators, and I think that's their motivation right now.”

As for what’s next after the tournament, Dreimane is deciding whether to use the extra year of eligibility the NCAA has granted all college basketball players, while Lacis is a junior for the Golden Eagles. They said they appreciate the understanding the other has of their hectic schedules — let alone the fact that Lacis attends a small Christian school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, while Dreimane is more than eight hours away in College Station, Texas. 

“That is something that other couples might not understand; the importance of practices or how long it will take and that you just can’t take a day off just to spend time with each other,” Lacis said. 

Despite the challenge of a long-distance relationship, it's clear they're crazy about each other.

“He's always super positive,” Dreimane said. “I just love that about him, like how positive he always is and just the support when I'm hard on myself, he's like, ‘no Anna, you got it. Focus on the good.’”

“Anna keeps it real,” Lacis said. “I like that she points out my mistakes, I like that she wants me to get better, so she tells me what I'm doing wrong and that's what I really appreciate about her. Wouldn't change it for anything else.”

Contact Jordan Mendoza at [email protected] or on Twitter @jord_mendoza.

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