ORONO, Maine — Playing in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament was postseason Plan B for the University of Maine women’s basketball.
With their NCAA hopes having been dashed in Sunday’s 65-54 America East semifinal loss to Hartford at Vestal, New York, the Black Bears have embraced the chance to play in the postseason.
“We just have to be excited about the opportunity to play in the WNIT,” said UMaine senior Courtney Anderson of Greene. “Obviously, it’s not what we were envisioning or what we had wanted for ourselves, but things don’t always work out the way you want them to.”
Like the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship, the WNIT is a 64-team, single-elimination event. However, it is held on the home courts of the highest seeds that submitted bids to host the games.
The first round will be played March 18-20.
There are four rounds leading up to the WNIT championship game, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, April 4, and will be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network.
The WNIT, initiated in 1998, provides an automatic berth to a representative of each of the 32 Division I conferences. They go to the teams not selected for the NCAA tournament that finished highest in the regular-season standings.
The remaining 32 at-large berths are filled with the best teams available, that have a record of .500 or better including conference tournament games.
Coach Richard Barron’s UMaine team (23-8), which earned the America East regular-season crown for the first time since 2005, hopes to play at least one game on its home court at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“We’re excited about it,” said UMaine athletics director Karlton Creech. “We want to host. We love playing at the Cross Insurance Center, and we’re really happy to be part of this next-level tournament.”
Creech said UMaine has submitted paperwork to the WNIT indicating its desire to host as many rounds as possible should the Black Bears advance. He said potential hosts agree to pay a tournament fee for each round.
Creech would not divulge the guarantee figure, citing legal concerns, but explained that “it’s a few thousand dollars. It’s not an exorbitant number.”
UMaine averaged 1,872 fans at home games this season, attracting 2,361 per contest for its eight America East games in Bangor.
“Based on our attendance and our ticket sales numbers, those are very doable, so there were no [financial] concerns there at all,” Creech said.
One potential issue for UMaine is conflicts with other events booked at the Cross Insurance Center. It likely would have to play a WNIT first-round game on March 18, as the facility is the site of the Bangor Boat Show on March 20-22.
A possible second-round WNIT game, which must be played March 21-23, could not be held at the Cross Insurance Center until March 23. Creech said UMaine would not use an alternate site.
The WNIT field will be announced Monday night, March 16 — a few hours after the NCAA tournament bracket is released.
Teams that have accepted automatic bids thus far are: Central Connecticut State (Northeast), Colorado State (Mountain West), East Tennessee State (Southern), Hampton (Mid-Eastern Athletic), Maine, Marist (Metro Atlantic), Penn (Ivy), Radford (Big South), South Dakota (Summit), Texas Southern (Southwestern Athletic) and Tennessee-Martin (Ohio Valley).
“The America East tournament really didn’t go how we expected it to,” said junior Liz Wood, who was held scoreless in the semifinal loss.
“After a loss like that, it’s nice not to have your season end,” she added. “We’re thankful to have the opportunity to play in a postseason tournament.”