The Gophers women’s basketball team won’t be in the NCAA tournament, but there is a silver lining.
The Gophers, coming off their 14th 20-win season in program history, will play in the Women’s NIT, and will open the tournament against Northern Iowa at Williams Arena at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
“I think any postseason experience for us is good,” first-year Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said. “Obviously our goal is always to make it to the [NCAA] tournament. But for our team, the experience all over our roster, it will be beneficial.”
Minnesota, at 20-10 one of 41 teams in the 64-team field with 20 or more victories and one of three Big Ten Conference teams in the tournament, could be granted at least one more home game should they get past the Panthers. It is another opportunity for seniors Kenisha Bell, Annalese Lamke, Irene Garrido Perez and Palma Kaposi to play a game at home.
First-round games will be over by Friday. Second-round games will be Saturday through Tuesday. Third-round games will be March 27-29, fourth-round games March 30-31. The semifinals will be April 3-4 and the championship is April 6.
The Gophers are coming off a 66-58 loss to Indiana on March 7 in the Big Ten tournament, but they enter the WNIT having won seven of their past 10 games. That includes regular-season victories over NCAA tournament teams Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan State and two over WNIT-bound Northwestern.
The Gophers were 14-4 at home this season, including 5-4 in Big Ten play, winning their final four home conference games.
Northern Iowa (20-12), coached by Tanya Warren, is from the Missouri Valley Conference, where the Panthers went 12-6 in conference play and reached the conference tournament semifinals. They are led by guards Karli Rucker (14.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists), Ellie Howell (9.7 points, 3.7 rebounds) and Mikaela Morgan (8.9 points). Blooming Prairie’s Taylor Hagen, a 6-1 senior forward and the lone Minnesotan on the roster, averages 7.9 points and 4.1 rebounds.
The winner of Friday’s game will play the winner of Thursday’s game between Cincinnati and Youngstown State.
“It’s going to be a really good game,” Whalen said of her team’s matchup. “I know they’ll come in here and be ready to go. They’re well-coached. But hopefully we can make some waves in this tournament.”