Thursday, February 08, 2001

It's now or NIT for UC women

At 15-7, they need strong run to get NCAA berth

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At the start of this year, the University of Cincinnati women's basketball program appeared headed for its third NCAA Tournament berth. It was 10-1, rated as high as No.28 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll and had a victory over crosstown rival Xavier, the highest-rated opponent on its schedule.

        But less than a month before the Conference USA tournament, the Bearcats (15-7, 5-6 C-USA) find themselves in a must-win situation every game.

        UC, going for its 100th all-time victory at Shoemaker Center, plays host to DePaul today (7:30 p.m.) and Marquette on Sunday (3 p.m.). It then goes on the road to Charlotte and Saint Louis before finishing the regular season at home against Louisville, which at 10-1 owns the best record in C-USA.

        “I think we have a good chance to still be an at-large if we handle these five games really well,” UC coach Laurie Pirtle said. “They're all very winnable. I think if we slip, we flat-out have to get to the finals of our (conference) tournament.”

        The C-USA tournament winner receives an automatic NCAA bid.

        Eight of UC's first 10 victories came at home, and only two games were against top-100 RPI teams. It lost at Wisconsin-Green Bay (63 RPI) and upset now-No.13 Xavier (21 RPI). Seven nonconference victories came against teams rated higher than 190. The Bearcats are 2-6 this season against top-100 RPI teams.

        Cincinnati is 12-1 overall at Shoemaker this season, but it is just 1-5 in conference play on the road, including four consecutive losses. The Bearcats are shooting .375 from the field and .598 from the foul line on the road, compared to .471 from the field and .717 from the line at home.

        “It's a mental barrier, no question,” Pirtle said. “Our leadership on our team has to change that. The coaches don't matter; it's between the lines and the kids on the floor.”

        If the Bearcats win all their remaining regular-season games, they will be 20-7 overall. But even that might not be good enough.

        “There used to be a point where 20 wins did it,” Debbie Antonelli, a college basketball analyst for Fox Sports Net, said. “I'm not sure 20 does it anymore based on the parity in the game.”

        Conference USA is rated only the ninth-best women's league and probably won't receive many at-large invitations. This week's forecasted NCAA field includes just one C-USA team: Louisville.

        Last season, three C-USA teams got in the NCAA Tournament and four were in the National Invitation Tournament. The only two teams with 20 victories on Selection Sunday got in the NCAA.

        The Bearcats and Cardinals, both 15-7, have the best overall records of all the conference teams. But UC is No.92 in the RPI, fifth among league schools.

        Cincinnati has been in postseason play the past three years, with its last NCAA bid in 1999.

        Pirtle has not mentioned the possibility of playing in the NIT to her players.

        “We want postseason, and right now we're still in the running for NCAA,” Pirtle said. “We're totally concentrating on the NCAA and finishing as high as we can in the conference.”


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- It's now or NIT for UC women

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