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Archive for Tuesday, March 18, 2008

KU women to play first game of WNIT at home

March 18, 2008

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Kansas University's women's basketball team caught a break Monday night.

Make that two breaks.

Despite losing six of their final seven games, the Jayhawks earned a trip to the Women's NIT.

The breaks: a first-round bye and a first WNIT appearance on Monday, all but guaranteeing a bigger crowd than would be possible during this week's Spring Break.

"We're thrilled to have the opportunity to be in the tournament," KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "First and foremost, we're thrilled to get to play at home. And we'll get the students back on campus so we can sandwich this in between two big men's wins and build off that excitement."

The Jayhawks (16-15) will play the winner of Thursday's game between Southeast Missouri State (23-8) and Evansville (20-11).

Tipoff time has yet to be determined.

For more than a week, Henrickson figured she would land her second WNIT berth at KU.

"We felt confident we were in," she said. "It was just who we would play and when. There was a little anxiety there, whether we'd play at home, whether we'd have a bye."

The Jayhawks gathered Monday night to watch the NCAA selection show, but not because they thought they'd make that event.

They watched as eight teams made the NCAA field, then the Jayhawks dispersed.

Henrickson heard from WNIT officials late Monday night and sent a mass text message to her players to spread the news.

"They all texted me back," Henrickson said. "That's the rule. That's being respectful. So I heard from all of them. The kids are all excited: 'That's great news, see you tomorrow.'"

In addition to the eight teams in the NCAA field, the Big 12 also put three in the 48-team WNIT.

Thus all but one league school - 12th-place Missouri - will play in the postseason.

"That tells you what an outstanding league we're in," Henrickson said.

KU last appeared in the WNIT in 2006, when it beat Northern Iowa in the first round and fell to Mississippi in the second. Both games were in Allen Fieldhouse.

"We had our destiny in our own hands," Henrickson said. "But we didn't take care of ourself. That's a kick in the pants, something we have to chew on and use as motivation. But this (WNIT bid) gives us the opportunity, as young as we are, to get more game experience, more postseason experience, gain some confidence. Our goal was the NCAA Tournament. But we have to bounce back. It's a chance to gain some experience and play past the regular season."

Southeast Missouri State (23-8) was the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season champion with a 17-3 mark in league play, but fell to Eastern Illinois in the OVC Tournament semifinals. The Redhawks earned an automatic bid into the WNIT after picking up the OVC regular season title.

Evansville (20-11) earned an automatic invite to the WNIT after claiming a share of the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title. The Purple Aces, coached by 2008 MVC Coach of the Year Tricia Cullop, advanced to the conference tournament semifinals before falling to Drake, 46-41.

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