Saturday, Jun 25, 2016
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UT

Rockets thrilled for chance to keep playing

No member of the University of Toledo women's basketball team has ever been in this position.

A loss in the Mid-American Conference tournament usually meant the end to the season, but not this year.

The Rockets accepted their automatic bid Monday night to play in the Women's National Invitation Tournament and will host Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. Friday for a first-round matchup.

"We're really excited," UT coach Tricia Cullop said. "The last time [UT] played in the postseason was 2003 [also in the WNIT]. It's a great opportunity for us. It's been a goal of ours from the beginning of the season to play in the postseason."

Cullop added that the WNIT invite has helped ease some of the sting left from the Rockets' 62-53 loss to archrival Bowling Green in the conference championship game Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

"It was funny because the players' reaction after the loss was it's so weird to know we have another game," Cullop said. "That's a cool feeling, because last year there was a lot more sadness after the loss. Yes, there was still sadness this year, but it was exciting knowing that that wasn't the end."

Like the rest of her teammates and coaching staff, sophomore point guard Naama Shafir stayed up late Monday night clicking the refresh button on her computer to see the unveiling of the bracket on the WNIT home page, where the full 64-team field was posted around 11:30 p.m.

"We were all falling asleep but trying to stay up," Shafir said. "We were all wondering where and who we'd be playing."

The winner of Friday's contest at Savage Arena will play the winner of the Kent State-Michigan matchup, with the likelihood of that second-round game being played either Sunday or Monday. UT is a strong contender to host that game, too, should it advance Friday.

"We're going to try," Cullop said. "We would love to host, and I'm very thankful our administration jumped behind this and said they wanted us to host and have this experience."

Tickets for Friday's game are already on sale at UT athletic ticket office and cost $13 for reserved seats, $11 for general admission, $6 for children 12 and under, and $5 for UT students with a valid I.D.

"We're so excited to be at home and for our fans to get to experience this with us," Cullop said. "You know, it's one thing to play in the postseason, but how cool is it that our fans who have been tremendous to us all season long get a chance to experience this too?"

Contact Zach Silka at:

zsilka@theblade.com

or 419-724-6084.

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