Arizona women's basketball set to host first round of WNIT Thursday
The University of Arizona women’s basketball team will be hosting a postseason game for the first time since 2001. They will take on Idaho State in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
In a rematch of their season opener, the Wildcats defeated the Bengals 71-46 in a game that saw both redshirt sophomore Aari McDonald and freshman Cate Reese record double-doubles.
The Wildcats finished the season 18-13 after losing to No. 1 seed Oregon in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament. While they knew they wouldn’t make the NCAA Tournament after the brackets were accidentally leaked by ESPNU earlier Tuesday, the 'Cats knew they were likely to receive an invite to the WNIT and potentially even host it.
“It’s a big investment for a university to do it,” head coach Adia Barnes said after the loss to Oregon. “I do know that we are trying to host. I think we have a really good chance, if we go to the NIT, to host a large chunk of games in the beginning at home, which is really beneficial.”
Barnes herself was part of the 1996 Arizona team that won the WNIT, being named Most Valuable Player. The following season saw the Wildcats make their first ever NCAA Tournament, something Barnes said the WNIT championship helped to kickstart.
“The next year, we weren’t looking at NIT. It was (NCAA) Tournament or nothing,” she told the Arizona Daily Star last month. “You have that drive. When the freshman come in, it’s like, ‘Uh, uh, you’re getting on this page,’ because it’s your career. That was a pivotal point in the program when I was playing, and that will be a pivotal point here. Whether we make the NIT or NCAA Tournament, which is going to be really hard. But it’s going to change, because you see that you can play at a certain level and you don’t want anything but that success.”
With the men’s season over after a first-round exit in the Pac-12 Tournament, the WNIT would also serve as a way to get more fans out to watch the Wildcats, which would be good for the ‘Cats' hopes of hosting more WNIT games.
“From my understanding, after [the first few games], it goes off of attendance and what your revenue is,” Barnes said when talking about the hosting process. “I think then we would really have a push to get everyone out in Tucson to our games, because we want to stay home as long as we could.”
While not the NCAA Tournament they may have wanted at the beginning of the season, the Wildcats will be heading into the WNIT with the same attitude that they have kept all year.
"So, I think that we can definitely get some wins in the tournament. And I don’t think anyone in the tournament would want to play us," Barnes said.
Follow Noah Auclair on Twitter