Monday, November 30, 2015

Wildcats still clawing for WNIT berth

As much as it has to pain the Kansas State coaches and players, they might be Kansas’ biggest fans right about now.

That certainly was the case Tuesday night when the Jayhawks defeated TCU to end the regular season, snapping what had been a four-game losing skid for the Wildcats’ rivals. The Wildcats have also been quietly rooting for West Virginia to finish strong down the final this season.

That’s what its come to this season for a K-State team that still holds out some hope to make the WNIT field, despite its 14-16 overall record.

If the top seven Big 12 teams are selected to the NCAA tournament, that would make the Wildcats — who sit eighth — the automatic qualifier from the Big 12 for the WNIT.

“There’s no question in my mind that we should get seven into the tournament,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said recently. “I mean, are they going to put Sister Mother Mary of the Poor in there because they’re trying to be nice to some team from heaven knows where when the rest of us are scratching and clawing with the best players in the country?

“I have no hesitation saying that because its ridiculous sometimes the choices they put into the women’s NCAA tournament while others sit at home.”

Though Patterson is sure seven deserve to get into the NCAA tournament, it could be a tough call when it comes to West Virginia and Kansas. Both teams looked like solid picks two weeks ago. And while the Mountaineers finished 17-12 overall, they did manage to go 9-9 in the No. 1 RPI conference in America. The Jayhawks, on the other hand, didn’t do their rivals down I-70 any favors when they finished the season losing four of their last five to also wrap up at 17-12, but 8-10 in the Big 12.

Chambers would of course prefer K-State’s postseason hopes didn’t rest on the success of the Jayhawks and had more to do with the Wildcats’ success in the Big 12 tournament this weekend in Dallas.

“It is what it is now,” Chambers said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, we didn’t take care of business when we played them, so that’s where we are right now.”

K-State opens play Friday at 6 p.m. as the No. 8 seed against No. 9 seed Texas in the Big 12 tournament at American Airlines Center in Dallas. A win in the opening round would put the Wildcats up against top-seed Baylor in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Certainly, the Wildcats could help their own postseason chances with some success in Texas this weekend, but odds are, their best chance of making the WNIT still rests with the Big 12 getting seven into the NCAA field.

The NCAA tournament is clearly the top prize this time of year, but considering everything K-State has dealt with this season, there’s really no shame in wanting to land safely in the WNIT.

After all, there was a time this season when the outmanned Wildcats weren’t sure if they’d have enough players to field a team by the end of the season. K-State lost five players to season-ending injuries before the end of January and had another leave at semester, giving the Wildcats just seven healthy bodies during the stretch run.

“Postseason is postseason,” Patterson said. “It’s huge. And you have to understand that when you’re in the Big 12, the WNIT is huge because the league beats the daylights out of you. If you finish eighth or ninth in this league you are still a great program.

“The WNIT is an awesome experience in the postseason and the NCAA is always going to the higher level, but in this league, I don’t care who you are, if you get into any postseason play, its very well-deserved.”

K-State won the WNIT in 2005-06 and made it to the WNIT Final Four in 2006-07 before a stretch of four NCAA tournament appearances in five years.

“We’ve won it, we’ve been to the final four of the WNIT and you look at the teams that have springboarded into great NCAA appearances thereafter,” Patterson said. “KU did it - got to that championship game. Oklahoma State won the championship a year ago and automatically it put them in the Top 25 to start this season, simply because they had won the WNIT.”

Making the postseason is nice, but for the youthful Wildcats, it could prove to be even more important going forward because it affords the younger players more practice time and more game experience.

“If we could get that WNIT bid and get into the tournament, it would be absolutely huge — would be the best thing ever,” Patterson said. “I’ve been wanting that for months once it looked like we were going to be a long shot for the NCAA. I kept telling my team, ‘postseason, postseason, WNIT.’ To get those extra games, even one or two extra games and added practice for those young players, is huge.”

Chambers knows all too well what its like to miss out entirely. The All-Big 12 pick missed the postseason her freshman season, but then played in back-to-back NCAA tournaments as a sophomore and junior.

“For them to get to play in the WNIT, would be big for the younger players to get to experience that now,” she said. “Any postseason is tough to come by and they’re figuring that out this year.”


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