CEDAR FALLS — For the eighth time in the past nine seasons, the Northern Iowa women’s basketball team will play in the postseason. The WNIT came calling this week for Tanya Warren’s Panthers, who face Milwaukee at 7 p.m. Thursday at McLeod Center in Cedar Falls.
Warren said Monday before the WNIT selection process that headed into the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, the NCAA tournament selection committee was considering the Panthers, but a good showing would help their case considerably.
Ousting No. 2 seed Missouri State, then falling short in the tournament final against top-seeded Drake gave UNI (19-13, 13-5) 12 wins in its last 14 games. Ultimately, it was a resume worthy of the WNIT, where the country’s next 64 best teams have at it.
“We knew it was going to be a process,” Warren said. “Anytime you’re returning a roster as young as we (were) — you only have five kids returning who played 10 minutes or more (per game) — you know it’s going to be a process. But, not being discouraged and staying humble and coming to work every day and staying hungry regardless of the circumstances — and I think that’s what this team was able to do.”
Milwaukee (20-11, 11-7), was the fourth-place finisher in the Horizon League and has the ability to score from all five positions, but according to Warren, the amount of similarities between Milwaukee and MVC opponents should work in UNI’s favor Thursday.
“Offensively they’re extremely good,” Warren said. “Defensively they like to mix it up. I’ve seen a little 2-3 (zone), I’ve seen some 3-2, and I’ve also seen some man. I think it’s going to be very similar to much of what we’ve seen in league play, which is good.”
Warren’s young roster of Panthers — the youngest of her 11-year tenure — turned its season around in the midst of conference play. They began to create depth the more games they played and began to limit costly turnovers as the reptitions built up. As Warren alluded to, the players staying true to the process despite some tough circumstances has rewarded them with the opportunity to be one of the last 128 teams playing in the country.
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“(The WNIT) doesn’t change who we are or what we do in terms of our mindset and preparation” Warren said. “But don’t ever take for granted playing in postseason play. It’s an honor and a privilege, and one that (the team) has worked really hard to achieve.”