For the 14th time in program history, in Lindsay Whalen’s first year as head coach, the Gophers women’s basketball team won 20 games. Among them were good wins against Syracuse, Rutgers, Indiana and Michigan State, all with RPI rankings in the top 50.
But the team’s relatively weak nonconference schedule means there is little chance of a second straight NCAA berth when bids are announced Monday. However, that doesn’t mean the Gophers’ season is over. The team appears to be a lock for a Women’s National Invitation Tournament bid, with its Big Ten Conference status and its 20 wins. And, considering the Gophers attendance — they were third in the conference with an average of 5,738 at home — chances would be good that the Gophers would get at least one home game.
In the end, Minnesota’s nonconference slate — something Whalen and her staff inherited and had nothing to do with — hurt. Of their 11 nonconference opponents, only Syracuse currently has an RPI better than 100. So even an 11-0 mark in those games, while impressive, didn’t do much to help the Gophers; there are 351 schools in Division 1, and the Gophers faced five teams with current RPIs at 297 or worse in the nonconference.
The 64-team WNIT field also will be announced Monday night. Then, later in the evening, the brackets and pairings should be announced. Then fans will know if they will have another chance to see seniors Kenisha Bell, Annalese Lamke, Irena Garrido Perez and Palma Kaposi at least one more time at Williams Arena.