2014 WNIT First-Round Daily Wrap: Something for everyone in a wild Wednesday of opening-round action

March 20, 2014 - 11:44am
Minnesota's Rachel Banham came up with two clutch three-pointers in the final minute of regulation to vault the Golden Gophers to a 62-60, come-from-behind win on the opening day of WNIT action in Minneapolis, Wednesday. (File photo by Eric Miller/Minnesota Athletics Media Relations)

Minnesota's Rachel Banham came up with two clutch three-pointers in the final minute of regulation to vault the Golden Gophers to a 62-60, come-from-behind win on the opening day of WNIT action in Minneapolis, Wednesday. (File photo by Eric Miller/Minnesota Athletics Media Relations)

While tip-offs in the NCAA Division I Women's basketball tournament await the weekend, play in the Women's National Invitational Tournament is already underway. And there was something for everyone on a wild Wednesday of opening round action, as the WNIT witnessed several distinct basketball dramas. In Missoula, Mont., one team’s offense could not be stopped. In Boulder, Colo., an abrupt coaching change cast a cloud over the evening for the visiting team. In Minneapolis, a mid-major had its heart broken by a Big Ten host. In Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., huge second-half runs changed the trajectories of previously taut contests.

Opening Round - Wednesday, March 19

Montana 90, Washington State 78

The Montana Lady Griz delivered a highly efficient offensive performance on their home floor to oust Washington State from the WNIT in Round One. Washington State roared past second-seeded and nationally ranked California in the quarterfinals of the PAC-12 Tournament last week and gave the appearance of a team that could make a deep run in this bracket, but Montana's use of home-court advantage represented a substantial countervailing force, one that enabled the Lady Griz to flourish at the offensive end of the floor.

Montana averaged 1.29 points per possession in this game. Coach Robin Selvig, who became a member of the 800-win club in the first weeks of this 2013-2014 season, could not have asked for a better showing from his team, which exploited Washington State's shaky defense. Four members of the Lady Griz scored at least 13 points, and two of them scored more than 20. Kellie Cole scored 22 points, while Jordan Sullivan poured in 21. Kayleigh Valley added 15, and McCalle Feller chipped in with 13.

An even more specific reason Montana thrived on offense was that it regularly got to the free-throw line. The Lady Griz earned 35 attempts and made 29 of them, an 83-percent clip. And in the end, that would be the deciding factor: Montana outscored Washington State by 13 from the charity stripe (29-16) in a game that was decided by 12 points.

Lia Galdeira led Washington State with 22 points. The Cougars didn't receive a good performance from Tia Presley, who scored only 11 points on 4-of-11 field-goal shooting.

Up Next: Montana plays San Diego or Cal Poly in the second round.

Colorado 78, TCU 71

Typically, coaches pursued by other schools are hired, and their new positions announced, after the current season ends. Kansas State University wasted no time, however, in hiring and revealing TCU's Jeff Mittie as its new head coach on Tuesday, and that couldn't help but disrupt the Lady Frogs' preparations for their WNIT opener against the Colorado Buffaloes on Wednesday night with TCU assistant Brian Ostermann pressed into service as the team's interim head coach for this WNIT first-rounder.

It showed.

Losing Jeff Mittie, its coach for the past 15 seasons, to a Big 12 conference foe proved to be too much for TCU to overcome. The move came as all the more a surprise, as Mittie's relationship with the TCU had been, and appears to remain, amicable, and there had been no evidence of dissastisfaction or turmoil that might have telegraphed an imminent departure.

The Associated Press, in its report on Mittie's move to Manhattan, Kan., quoted TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte as saying, “We can’t thank Jeff enough for the contributions he’s made to TCU and our women’s basketball program over the last 15 years. This was not a decision about TCU. This was a decision for Jeff on being able to go home and be closer to family.”

Colorado got the jump on TCU and bolted to a 43-30 halftime lead. The Frogs, understandably distracted, finally gathered themselves and made a strong second-half push to tie the game at 59 with five minutes left, but as is often the case when one team spends a lot of energy throughout the middle section of a second half, it can find itself running on empty down the home stretch. That's what happened to the Horned Frogs, who ran out of steam after the under-four media timeout. Colorado had fresher legs and more contributing players in the final four minutes, as the Buffs restored order and pulled away for the win.

Depth was definitely a factor in this game. Colorado, powered by 16 points from reserve Jamee Swan, scored 36 bench points compared to only three for TCU. Home court gave the Buffaloes, who are accustomed to playing at mile-high altitude, even more than the typical advantage over the Frogs, who call Forth Worth, Tex. (elev. 653 feet above sea level) home. TCU competed admirably under difficult circumstances, but the Frogs' ragged first half caught up with them in Boulder, Colo.

Up Next: Colorado, a good team but one that unquestionably caught not just one but several breaks in all of this, moves on to the second round, intent on doing more damage in the WNIT bracket. The Buffaloes will take on Colorado State or Southern Utah in the second round. TCU heads home to evaluate its situation for the coming season.

Minnesota 62, Green Bay 60

The Minnesota Golden Gophers led the Green Bay Phoenix for only four minutes and 42 seconds of their Wednesday night WNIT opener.

They led, however, when the second-half game clock read "0:00.0."

In a game that truly qualified as an act of "basketball grand theft," the Golden Gophers stole one from the gut-punched Phoenix. Playing uphill all evening, Minnesota caught lightning in a bottle on its home floor in the final minute of regulation. 

Minnesota never led by more than three points all evening. Green Bay, on the other hand, established a lead of 10 at halftime (33-23) and trailed for only 63 seconds in the game's final 33 minutes. Unfortunately for the Phoenix, 11 of those seconds came at the very end of this 40-minute rollercoaster.

Trailing Green Bay by a 60-55 count with 51 seconds left, Minnesota was able to catch the Phoenix napping off a made basket. The Gophers pushed the ball up the court and found Rachel Banham who she promptly tossed into the basket from downtown to make the score 60-58 with 45 seconds to go. Minnesota was able to play normal defense as a result of that made basket, and when Green Bay missed a jump shot with 20 seconds left, the Gophers had a chance to tie or take the lead.

Banham, who had to be seen as a primary option for Minnesota after her three-pointer just moments earlier, was able to get free again. She found some space -- enough to get off the shot -- and poured in a go-ahead three with 11 seconds remaining.

Green Bay's Sam Terry missed a triple on the Phoenix's final possession with three seconds left, and Minnesota managed to pull out a win on a night in which it was largely outplayed. 

Up Next: Minnesota will face SMU or Texas Southern in the second round.

Villanova 74, Quinnipiac 66

The Wildcats outfought the Bobcats in Philadelphia, as Villanova powered past Quinnipiac thanks to a massive run midway through the second half.

Coaches want to see their teams play an unselfish brand of ball. Villanova head coach Harry Perretta had to love the way his team turned this game around with 16:04 left in the second half. Trailing Quinnipiac, 42-36, 'Nova uncorked an 18-1 run that gave the home team a 54-43 lead with 10:52 remaining. What made the run so impressive was that it wasn't the product of one player going ballistic from three-point range, taking ridiculous 27-footers that somehow went through the hoop. This was truly a team effort, with five Villanova players scoring over the course of the pivotal run. The Wildcats swamped Quinnipiac with their pressure and a genuinely blended offense. 

Despite having outscored Villanova in the opening minutes of the second half by a 15-6 margin, the Bobcats were unable to recover from that nightmarish turnaround sequence. Villanova maintained a healthy working margin in the final 10 minutes.

Up Next: Villanova is one of of just two teams whose second round foe had been established by the end of play on Wednesday. They'll host George Washington in the second round Sunday, March 23, at 1 p.m. EDT. 

George Washington 86, East Carolina 68

Officially, the homestanding George Washington Colonials and the visiting East Carolina Lady Pirates played one game on Wednesday night in Washington, D.C.

Unofficially, they bundled three games into one 40-minute box.

In a contest that amounted to a three-act play, George Washington -- strong in Act One and weak in Act Two -- made sure that act three flowed in its direction. The Colonials placed five scorers in double figures, led by Megan Nipe's 20 points. East Carolina's Shae Nelson scored 23 in a losing cause.

Act One of this drama witnessed the march of the Colonials, who took a 31-14 lead with just under six minutes left in the first half. That point in the proceedings gave way to Act Two, in which Nelson led an East Carolina rally that spanned the break and pulled the visitors within one point of GW, at 56-55, with 10:31 left in the game. The home crowd in Foggy Bottom was perceptibly nervous, and the flow of the game suggested a fight to the finish.

Abruptly, though, a lid covered the basket for East Carolina from that point onward as the curtain rose on Act Three. The Pirates made just three field goals -- one of them a garbage-time layup -- in the final 10:31.

One could say that after the Pirates made the score 56-55 with 10:31 left, George Washington went on a 15-1 run to build back a 71-56 cushion with 4:21 remaining. Yet, this wasn't so much a George Washington run as the cessation of any effective offense for ECU. George Washington and Villanova, as they prepare for their second-round game, will realize that they both benefited from major second-half runs. They can't expect the same thing to happen on Sunday afternoon, at least not for both of them.

Up Next: George Washington takes to the road, facing Villanova in the second round on Sunday, March 23, 1 p.m. EDT at Villanova.


Round One, Day Two: Thursday, March 20  (All times Eastern Daylight Time)

Furman (18-12) @ Auburn (17-14) -- 7 p.m.

High Point (22-10) @ Bowling Green (27-4) -- 7 p.m.

IUPUI (22-9) @ Central Michigan (20-11) -- 7 p.m.

Belmont (14-17) @ Indiana (18-12) -- 7 p.m.

Delaware (20-10) @ Rutgers (22-9) -- 7 p.m.

Stetson (26-7) @ Miami-Florida (16-14) -- 7 p.m.

Harvard (21-7) @ Iona (26-5) -- 7 p.m.

VCU (22-9) @ Princeton (20-8) -- 7 p.m.

American (22-9) @ Seton Hall (18-13) -- 7 p.m.

Navy (24-7) @ Old Dominion (17-15) -- 7 p.m.

Marquette (21-10) @ Indiana State (20-11) -- 7:05 p.m.

Lamar (18-12) @ Southern Miss (26-6) -- 8 p.m.

Tulane (20-10) @ Mississippi State (19-13) -- 8 p.m.

Texas Southern (20-12) @ SMU (17-13) -- 8 p.m.

Ball State (18-16) @ Northwestern (15-15) -- 8 p.m.

Missouri (17-13) @ Creighton (19-13) -- 8 p.m.

Butler (15-15) @ South Dakota State (22-9) -- 8 p.m.

Cal Poly (18-13) @ San Diego (22-8) -- 9 p.m.

Southern Utah (22-9) @ Colorado State (25-7) -- 9 p.m.

Pacific (18-12) @ Oregon (15-15) -- 10 p.m.

Opening Round, Day Three: Friday, March 21 (All times Eastern Daylight Time)

Charlotte (15-15) @ St. Bonaventure (23-10) -- 7 p.m.

Stony Brook (24-8) @ Michigan (18-13) -- 7 p.m.

North Carolina A&T (24-6) @ South Florida (19-12) -- 7 p.m.

Mount St. Mary's (19-13) @ Duquesne (19-12) -- 7 p.m.

CSU Bakersfield (19-11) @ Saint Mary's (22-9) -- 9 p.m.

Arkansas State (22-11) @ Texas-El Paso (24-7) -- 9 p.m.

Hawaii (17-13) @ Washington (17-13) -- 10 p.m.

Editor's Note: Please see our Full Court  home page for links to the WNIT and NCAA brackets, full schedules and other information.