INDIANAPOLIS — The waiting game is now underway.
Minnesota (20-12) is .500 (1-1) thus far this post season. The women’s basketball team will know this Monday whether or not their proverbial “body of work” has earned them their first NCAA at-large berth since 2009.
Nearly everyone who the MSR talked to here in Indianapolis last week thinks they have:
“I think Minnesota deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament,” says Nebraska Coach Connie Yori, whose league tourney champion Huskers twice defeated the Gophers this season, including a 13-point win in the Big Ten quarterfinals March 7. “With the strength of our league and their RPI (38), I think they need to be in the NCAA Tournament.”
The Gophers are 7-3 in their last 10 games, including a first-round overtime win after being down 16 points in the second half over Wisconsin. “We’ve had a great February (5-2) and a strong run here towards the end of the
season,” proclaimed U of M Coach Pam Borton.
“Yes, I feel that we should [be in the tournament],” said Gopher freshman guard Stabresa McDaniel when asked about her team’s NCAA chances. “We’ve been working hard all season and continue to get better.”
Said Dominque Barber, a Gopher alum and one of three Blacks we clearly saw rooting for the Gophers at the games, “I really think that we should have a shot in the tournament. It was important to get that win [over Wisconsin] — I think, in my opinion, 20 wins in the Big Ten is pretty impressive.”
However, unless you win the league tournament, which locks you in as an automatic NCAA qualifier, a team’s post-season continuance is fully based on the NCAA selection folk deciding they deserve an at-large berth.
“We’ve lost some games we should have won, but I think we’ve done enough to get into the tournament,” said Minnesota Associate Head Coach Curtis Loyd. “I hate leaving it in someone else’s hands.”
In a few days we will see if these “hands” will hand the Gophers an NCAA berth or leave it on the table.
Movin’ on up
McDaniel averaged 12 points and 7.5 rebounds in two tournament games. Her 14 points and seven boards against Nebraska last week matched career highs and led the Gophers. Against Wisconsin, she settled down after struggling early and scored eight of her 10 points after halftime.
“I had a rough start [in the Wisconsin contest], but my teammates believed in me the second half,” recalled the 5’-10” guard from Dallas, Texas.
“I think she’s playing her best basketball this time of the year, and she’s getting better and better each and every day, and more confident,” noted Borton. “I’m very happy for her and happy for us.”
“Right now she’s playing like a sophomore,” added Loyd. “I’m so proud of Bre.”
“It was my first [post-season] experience. It was a lot of fun,” said McDaniel.
Drove me crazy
As this reporter drove over 10 hours last Saturday returning from Indianapolis, no women’s basketball final scores or updates were broadcast over the car radio. But a report that Phil Jackson might take a front office job with the New York Knicks, NFL draft talk, a hockey player being traded, and of course, men’s college hoops results were aired on an endless loop.
Although the announced attendance of the Minnesota-Nebraska game was 5,677, the place looked virtually empty. A tournament official later told me that the figure represent tickets sold, not live bodies in the seats. Perhaps the empty seats were full of H.G. Wells’ fans (author of The Invisible Man).
UPDATE (March 18):
The Gopher women host Green Bay Wednesday (March 19), 7 pm at Williams Arena in a WNIT first round game. Minnesota (20-12) was selected among the 64 teams Monday night.
Green Bay (22-9) is runners-up in the Horizon League tournament. Minnesota, who reached the Big Ten quarterfinals, is playing in the tournament for the second consecutive year.
“We are excited to keep playing basketball together and ready to compete for a [WNIT] championship,” says U-M Coach Pam Borton in a press release.
The winner will play the SMU-Texas Southern contest winner in the second round (TBA).
More cliche-free March Madness coverage on the MSR web site and next week’s MSR print edition.
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