Redhawks draw Evansville in WNIT

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Southeast Missouri State women's basketball team will play its first Women's National Invitation Tournament game against the University of Evansville on Thursday night.

The field and pairings for the 48-team WNIT were announced Monday night, after the NCAA field was set. Game times will be announced today.

"We're excited to be a part of the WNIT for the first time," Southeast coach John Ishee said.

Southeast received an automatic WNIT berth after it won the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title, but failed to win the OVC tournament.

The Redhawks captured their third straight OVC regular-season championship, but lost to Eastern Illinois in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

The Redhawks (23-8) had won the past two OVC tournament titles to earn the league's automatic NCAA tournament berth.

Southeast had hoped to host an opening-round WNIT contest, after the university submitted bids to host the first three rounds of the WNIT.

"Naturally you'd like to have a chance to host when you're playing a national tournament game. It would have been a great thing for the university and the community," Ishee said. "But sometimes things don't work out.

"We have to go play on the road, but we've been a good road team."

Southeast went 10-0 in OVC road games this season.

Evansville (20-11) finished in a three-way tie for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference at 13-5 before losing in the semifinals of the MVC tournament.

The Purple Aces are directed by MVC coach of the year Tricia Cullop, who is in her eighth season at the school.

Cullop led the Aces to the third-highest victory total in school history this year.

"Evansville had a great season. I know she [Cullop] has done a great job building the program from the ground up," Ishee said.

Ishee said he had a feeling the Redhawks would play either Evansville or Arkansas-Little Rock, based on the geographic proximity of the schools.

"I just didn't know where we'd play, but I actually just watched a little film of Evansville yesterday," Ishee said.

Southeast returned to practice last week following its loss in the OVC tournament semifinals March 7. The Redhawks can start focusing on Evansville today.

"I'm glad we have an extra day to prepare," said Ishee, noting that some of the WNIT's first-round games are played Wednesday. "It should be a really good game."

The winner of the Southeast vs. Evansville game will play at Kansas on Monday in a second-round matchup.

Thursday's contest won't be played on Evansville's normal home court, Roberts Stadium.

According to Evansville Web site, the game had to be moved to the University of Southern Indiana's PAC Arena after a facility conflict with Roberts Stadium arose. Division II Southern Indiana is also located in Evansville, Ind.

Tickets for Thursday's game will be $6 for adults and $4 for youth (18 and under) and seniors (65 and over). All tickets will be general admission.

The WNIT, in its 11th season, is played entirely at campus sites. Sixteen seeded teams received a first-round bye.

Each of the nation's 31 conferences is guaranteed a team in the WNIT, filled by the highest-finishing squad in the league's regular-season standings that does not advance to the NCAA tournament.

The remaining seventeen berths are filled by the top teams available, regardless of conference affiliation, based on various selection criteria.

Wyoming, the 2007 WNIT champion, won't be around to defend its title after the Cowboys earned the program's first NCAA tournament berth this season.

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