Huskies to host EWU in first round of WNIT

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SEATTLE — Washington has a purpose to its practices again. The women’s basketball team accepted a bid Monday night to play in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

Washington (20-11) hosts Eastern Washington (19-12) in the opening round Friday at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Seattle University, which won the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title but lost in the WAC tournament championship game, will also play in the 64-team WNIT. The Redhawks will play at Saint Mary’s on Thursday. Each team is 20-10.

Should Washington and Seattle U advance, the teams could face each other in the quarterfinals. Washington won a nonconference meeting, 77-75 in overtime, at KeyArena in November.

“We were disappointed with the way we played at the end of the year,” said UW coach Kevin McGuff, whose team lost five of its past six games. “(Monday) we had a really good practice and we have the right frame of mind to move forward. We’re going to have some good practices to be successful against a very good Eastern Washington team.”

Washington will have had two full weeks of rest and preparation in anticipation of its postseason berth. The Pac-12 tournament was held March 7-10 at KeyArena, with UW losing in the quarterfinals to Colorado on March 8. Stanford won the tournament championship and received a No. 1 seed to the NCAA tournament on Monday.

The conference moved its postseason tournament up a week to give the NCAA selection committee more time to evaluate its schools. It also gave the top programs more rest before vying for the NCAA title.

California, UCLA and Colorado joined Stanford in the NCAA tournament. Utah will play in the WNIT.

“It feels like forever,” McGuff said. “It’s more time off than we’ve had at any point throughout the year. The combination of rest and practice has been good for us, and hopefully that will show up on Friday.”

The Huskies were hoping to be the fifth Pac-12 team into the NCAA tournament. Washington’s last appearance was in 2007, when it lost in the opening round to Iowa State. Washington missed two opportunities for a big win this year in losses to Colorado, which is ranked No. 19.

“It was tough after the Colorado game,” McGuff said of the 70-59 loss in the Pac-12 tournament. “The time away has been good to get refocused and re-energized a bit.”

Washington lost to San Diego 58-47 in the quarterfinals of the WNIT last season. Regina Rogers led Washington with 21 points and 13 rebounds. This season, the Huskies will be led by sophomore point guard Jazmine Davis (19.4 points) and redshirt freshman Talia Walton (13.7).

Eastern Washington lost 70-64 to Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference tournament semifinals. The Eagles are led by redshirt sophomore guard Lexie Nelson (14.3 points).

It’s the second time in four years under coach Wendy Schuller that EWU has advanced to the WNIT. The Huskies are 21-1 against Eastern, last playing in 2009.

Seattle U was one three-pointer from advancing to the NCAA tournament. Redhawks guards Sylvia Shephard and Daidra Brown missed attempts in the final six seconds that could have sent the WAC title game against Idaho into overtime. Instead, SU lost 67-64.

As the regular-season champion of the WAC, however, Seattle U received an automatic bid to the WNIT. It’s a step up from the Redhawks’ trip to the Women’s Basketball Invitational last year, when they lost to Northern Iowa in the semifinals.

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