The Gophers women’s basketball team waited more than a week to get the bad news.
For the fifth consecutive season, the Gophers will not be going to the NCAA tournament. Teetering on the bubble since losing to Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, the team had to settle for a bid to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
The Gophers’ automatic bid to the WNIT was announced shortly after the NCAA selections were finished; automatic bids go to the highest-rated RPI team left in a conference after the NCAA bids. The Gophers will open at home against Wisconsin-Green Bay on Wednesday. The Phoenix (22-9) was the regular-season champion of the Horizon League but lost to Wright State in the conference tournament final.
Wednesday’s game time will be announced Tuesday.
“I thought our team did everything it needed to do and was deserving of a bid into the NCAA tournament,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said in a release. “But sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. However, we are excited to keep playing basketball together and ready to compete for a championship.’’
This is the second straight season the Gophers have had to settle for a WNIT bid. And in the wake of the announcement of the NCAA tournament field, perhaps the Gophers weren’t as close to getting a bid as they might have hoped.
Ultimately, the Gophers’ lack of signature victories — they did not register a win against a team that finished ahead of them in the conference standings — cost them. When asked, Carolayne Henry, head of the NCAA selection committee, indicated the Gophers were not among the first four teams eliminated from consideration.
A fifth straight season without an NCAA berth is bound to increase speculation about Borton’s future. The Gophers went to the tournament in her first four seasons as coach, which led to two berths in the Sweet 16 and a memorable run to the Final Four in the spring of 2004. But the team has gone only two more times in the past eight seasons, reaching the second round once.
Attendance also has steadily declined in recent seasons. This season, the Gophers drew an announced average of 3,178 fans for 17 home games.
Borton had maintained after winning in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament that her team had done enough to deserve an NCAA bid. But the selection committee clearly disagreed.
The Gophers were 0-6 against teams with top-25 RPI rankings, 1-1 against teams 26 to 50 and 6-3 against teams 51-100, losing to Creighton, UCLA and Indiana. The Gophers had a 3-5 conference road record, but none of the three wins came against teams ahead of them in the standings.
“When we were looking at the last four in, one of the things we noted was that the last four had multiple wins over top-50 teams,” Henry said. “While there were some losses in those columns, most of them had more top 50 wins than those that were left out.”
And the Gophers, clearly, were lacking by comparison.
“Looking at Minnesota, they lost all their top 25 games, lost three against teams 51-100 and lost one at 109 (Dec. 12 at Hawaii),” Henry said.
All that was enough to outweigh an RPI rating of 46, a 20-12 overall record and an 8-8 conference mark, good for a tie for sixth.
So now the team will have to shake off its disappointment and focus on the WNIT.
Before the NCAA selections were announced, star guard Rachel Banham vowed the team would do just that should the situation arise.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” she said. “If we don’t make the NCAA we go the WNIT and just go to work. We’ve talked about that. We need to prove ourselves in the WNIT. You always have to make a positive out of a negative.”