Where UW women’s basketball stands with its NCAA tournament chances
Despite losing two of its last three games, Washington stands on the cusp of a 20-win season and its first NCAA tournament berth since 2007. But serving as one of the host sites for the opening two rounds for a second straight year seems unlikely.
Seattle Times staff reporter
UW women @ WSU, 1 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
For the Washington women’s basketball team, the opportunity to host opening-round NCAA tournament games for the second consecutive season likely faded in the second half of Friday’s loss to Washington State.
The Huskies led by five points at halftime but allowed their rival to shoot 55.6 percent after the break, UW ultimately losing 83-72. Every three-pointer seemed to puncture a new hole in UW’s argument to host.
Two weeks ago, UW defeated No. 7 Oregon State at home and was named a top-20 team in contention to host the opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
“Then we promptly went down and lost to Utah,” said UW coach Mike Neighbors of his team’s response to the committee’s Feb. 11 announcement. The Huskies have lost two of their past three games – to teams below them in the Pac-12 standings.
Friday’s loss makes Sunday’s rematch a pivotal game for Washington (19-8, 8-7 Pac-12) at Washington State (15-11, 7-8). UW has dropped to No. 29 in the NCAA’s RPI rankings and isn’t playing as well as it was during its 11-1 start.
Washington hosts USC on Thursday and UCLA on Saturday to conclude the regular season.
“You can really keep yourself up late at night looking at all of that stuff, but all that matters is how you finish,” Neighbors said. “I do not think we had to win out to be a team they’re talking about on (selection) Monday. But if we wanted to host? Yeah, that might be right.”
The NCAA is returning to the format in which the top 16 teams host the opening rounds for the first time since 2003 (UW hosted opening-round games last year, but the team did not make the tournament). The Huskies made the top-20 list because of wins against then-No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 9 Florida State, OSU and Cal, which has a top-50 RPI ranking.
The Pac-12 had five teams among the top 20 possible opening-round sites, the most of any conference. Dru Hancock, chair of the NCAA women’s basketball committee, said seven Pac-12 teams overall are being considered to advance to the tournament.
Oregon State, No. 12 Arizona State, No. 18 Stanford and Cal are shoo-ins. UW is jockeying with WSU and possibly USC for additional bids, assuming there isn’t another upset in the conference tournament. Last season, the Trojans upset the Cardinal and then defeated the Beavers in the Pac-12 championship game to snag the Pac-12’s automatic NCAA berth.
“In the past, we’ve never even considered more than three teams in the Pac-12,” Hancock said in a phone interview Thursday. “When you get to the No. 6 team in the Pac-12, (you analyze) how would they fare against a No. 2 team out of the Mountain West or Horizon, leagues that typically only get one or two teams in. It gets down to the eye test. (But) most of the schools under consideration in the Pac-12 are really in control of their own destiny, no question.”
For UW and WSU, simply advancing to the NCAA tournament is a feat. The Huskies haven’t received a bid since 2007 while the Cougars’ only appearance was 1991.
The committee will meet in Indianapolis on March 11 to begin its selection process. The bracket will be announced March 16.
“We met for two days when we came up with the top 20,” Hancock said. “It’s OK if we mess that up. It’s only February. When we get there in March, we’ve got to get this as right as we can get it.”