WVU women WNIT bound, will face Bucknell

MORGANTOWN — For the second time in four seasons, the WVU women’s basketball team will play postseason games in the WNIT.

The Mountaineers (21-11), mentioned by the NCAA selection committee as one of eight teams in contention for the final four spots in the NCAA field, were bypassed Monday, but will have the opportunity to build on their fifth consecutive 20-win season.

WVU   will host Bucknell (22-9) on Thursday. The tip-off time will be announced today.

If WVU advances, the Mountaineers are expected to host the second round, which would be against the winner of the Seton Hall and St. Joseph’s game.

It will be the 12th consecutive postseason appearance for the Mountaineers, who advanced to the WNIT finals, in 2015.

WVU fell to UCLA, 62-60, in the championship game played at the Charleston Civic Center.

WVU made a push for the NCAA tournament behind a strong start to the non-conference season. The Mountaineers began 13-0, including a 70-56 road victory against then-No. 18 Texas A&M, and rose as high as No. 9 in the Associated Press poll.

Injuries and a lack of depth took a toll during the Big 12 season.

WVU finished sixth in the Big 12 with an 8-10 record.

As for the injuries, the Mountaineers played all season without star guard Tynice Martin, who was a preseason all-Big 12 pick, but missed the season after fracturing her foot during an under-20 Team USA training camp last summer.

Fellow guard Anja Martin, who could have been a key replacement for Tynice Martin, missed the season with a hip injury. Both were redshirted.

WVU starting senior forward Kristina King missed five games with a broken foot. She returned, but played the rest of the season with a fiberglass brace in her shoe and played through pain.

Starting point guard Chania Ray is also dealing with a knee injury that kept her out of practice over the final weeks of the regular season, but the senior did not miss any games.

The Big 12 sent four teams to the NCAA tournament: Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

The Sooners, who are 16-14, likely just edged the Mountaineers for one of the final NCAA tournament spots.

Oklahoma played the second-toughest schedule in the country, according to the RPI and finished with an 11-7 record in Big 12 play. The Sooners swept WVU in conference play.

“We thought their strength of schedule at No. 2 in the country was one of the factors that caused them to get into the bracket,” said Rhonda Bennett, the chair of the NCAA selection committee. “We also thought their 6-4 record down the stretch, as well as their finish inside their own conference were things that differentiated them from some of those other teams that didn’t get in the field.”

The Mountaineers were hurt by their strength of schedule, which was ranked No. 61 in the country. Only Kansas and Texas Tech had lower-ranked strengths of schedules in the Big 12.

“Strength of schedule is definitely something our committee has valued,” Bennett continued. “It helps you differentiate those teams who have gone out there and played a great schedule and gotten quality wins.”

Joining the Mountaineers in the WNIT are TCU and Kansas State, meaning the Big 12 sent seven of its 10 teams into postseason play.

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