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Women’s basketball: Gophers’ season might not be over

Minnesota has applied for consideration in the 64-team WNIT, and could be an attractive at-large selection

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Minnesota Gophers head coach Lindsay Whalen during a timeout in the third quarter of a college women’s basketball game against American at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Minnesota beat American, 73-56.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota women’s basketball team might have more games to play.

Although knocked out of the Big Ten Conference tournament with a losing overall record last week, the Gophers might be an attractive team for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, which will announce its field Sunday night.

Minnesota has officially entered its name for consideration.

The Gophers finished 14-17 overall and 7-11 in conference play but teams aren’t required to finish above .500 for one of the tournament’s 32 at-large bids. Automatic bids are offered to the best finisher in conference standings that didn’t receive an NCAA tournament bid. The remaining team slots, the WNIT said on its web site, “Will be filled by the top (Division I) teams available.”

That won’t be Minnesota, which finished 10th in the Big Ten, with attractive NCAA bubble teams such as Purdue (16-14), Michigan State (15-15) and Northwestern (17-12) finishing above them. The Gophers might, however, tick some other boxes.

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“How the NCAA determines its field, along with the various challenges that teams had to confront because of the pandemic, will likely affect selections for the Postseason WNIT,” tournament director Jared Rudiger said in an email. “Teams with a sub-.500 record are open for consideration, but as of today, there’s just no predicting how many sub-.500 teams will be selected.”

Among considerations are a team’s strength of schedule, how it performed in its final 10 games and its standing in the NCAA’s NET rankings, a complicated index that has replaced the Ratings Percentage Index as the key factor in selecting postseason tournament teams.

The Gophers were 5-5 in their last 10 regular-season games, a run that included their two best victories — over Michigan State and Northwestern — and close road losses at No. 11 Indiana and No. 8 Iowa. They’re ranked 89th of 356 Division I teams in the NET standings, ahead of winning teams such as Charlotte (19-9), Seton Hall (19-12) and Old Dominion (22-8).

Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen declined to comment.

Another plus, Gophers junior guard Sara Scalia’s 105 made 3-pointers rank second nationally, tied with Ohio State’s Taylor Mikesell and behind only Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson, who has 110. Scalia ranks fourth in 3-pointers per game (3.47) and 13th in 3-point percentage (42.5).

The Gophers played in the 2019 WNIT in Whalen’s first season coaching at her alma mater, beating Northern Iowa at Williams Arena and then losing at Cincinnati.

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