Sports Women's Basketball

For UH women’s basketball, sting of missing NCAA Tournament fuel in WNIT run

UH women's basketball guard Laila Blair drives into the paint in a game against Memphis during the 2020-21 season at Fertitta Center. | Andy Yanez/The Cougar

UH women’s basketball guard Laila Blair drives into the paint in a game against Memphis during the 2020-21 season at Fertitta Center. | Andy Yanez/The Cougar

The Houston women’s basketball team will compete in its seventh Women’s National Invitational Tournament after securing one of 23 at large bids on Monday.

The Cougars, however, are also in uncommon territory after it was announced that they were the first of four teams in line to fill in for the NCAA Tournament if a program drops out.

In other words, the Cougars are just one phone call shy of taking a spot on the national stage if an issue arises, but they were not good enough to make it in with an at-large bid.

“I thought we did enough to get in,” UH head coach Ronald Hughey said. “I thought with the schedule we put together, non-conference, going undefeated in February, making it to the semifinals of our conference championships, (it was enough).”

During the first month of the season, UH took down schools like Oklahoma and Auburn, and the Cougars finished 16-7 on the season, and 12-4 against the American Athletic Conference to mark one of its best campaigns in program history.

“I’m just disappointed for our kids. I know how hard that they worked and the sacrifices they put in,” Hughey said.

The Cougars can’t be completely sure of who their next opponent will be as circumstances could quickly change depending on other teams’ COVID-19 test results, but are guaranteed some type of postseason regardless.

The UH women’s basketball team is scheduled to take on San Francisco (15-10, 10-7 West Coast Conference) in its first WNIT game on Friday, but all plans could change if the NCAA calls.

“It had us up late last night,” Hughey told reporters. The team is looking at preliminary reports for different regions that the Cougars could be thrown into.

Whichever route UH ends up taking, junior guard Dymond Gladney is a “full go,” according to Hughey. Gladney had to sit out for the AAC Tournament due to a plantar fasciitis injury, but will rejoin the team for the WNIT Tournament.

“The biggest thing that we have to do is just be ourselves,” Hughey said. “You’re not going to prepare a whole lot for teams because you play in 24 hours.”

While the Cougars hoped to play in the NCAA Tournament, Hughey said the players understand the importance of performing well in the WNIT for their future. They reflected on how teams get left out of tournaments, but come back the next season even harder, eventually earning an NCAA bid.

One thing Hughey took away from being the first team out of the tournament was the program’s growth, but knows there is still much left to do. From full games to single possessions, the selections pointed out to Hughey that UH needs to stay in control of their outcomes.

Looking back on the season, however, Hughey feels proud of how much his team accomplished during this abnormal year.

“All the perseverance and resilience they had to show to get to this point,” Hughey said. “I’m just proud of their mindset, to want to put their teammates above themselves and do what’s right for the program.”

After taking a few days off to refresh and reload, the Cougars are ready to get back to work.

“You have to be humble and hungry during this whole process,” Hughey said. “I think they’re really excited to play.”

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