Lady Utes get snubbed for the Big Dance

Last week the U women’s basketball team turned down an invitation to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament after being snubbed by the NCAA tournament committee in their postseason selection decision.

To the players, the decision to exclude the Utes from the “big dance” was questionable at best, unconscionable at worst.

During the course of the regular season, the Utes compiled an impressive record of 24-7.

They were 12-5 against nonconference opponents and tallied a record of 12-2 against Mountain West Conference opponents en route to a regular-season conference co championship.

The team was ranked in the top 25 in at least one major poll for seven weeks of the season, and never failed to receive at least a few votes for the top 25 in either of the major polls.

Not only that, but the U finished the season with an RPI estimated by ESPN.com at 38, and the team made it to the finals of the MWC tournament before losing to New Mexico.

But in the end, the NCAA committee did not extend the Utes an invitation to the tourney, passing over the highly touted group on selection Sunday in favor of teams from higher-level conferences.

Only the Lobos were selected from the MWC for the dance, leaving Utah and UNLV in their dust.

After the selection decisions were made, the Utes, who had fully expected to be included in the NCAA tourney, were devastated.

“It’s a feeling that I never want to have again,” said sophomore Shona Thorburn, one of the team’s leaders.

“It was really disappointing,” said sophomore Kim Smith, this year’s conference player of the year.

“We had a great record and a higher RPI than some of the other teams that got in. It really hurt,” she said.

According to both Thorburn and Smith, what made the exclusion from the NCAAs particularly difficult is that the team never saw it coming.

“Seriously, it was a huge shock for us to not get in. We all thought we were going to make it, so it was really hard to take,” Thorburn said.

After failing to make it to the NCAA Tournament, the Utes made a team decision not to accept an inevitable invitation to the WNIT.

The Utes were clear from the beginning of the year about the fact that competing in the NCAA Tournament was one of their goals, giving them little reason to play for a second-rate title they were never hoping for.

“We didn’t want to play for the wrong reasons,” Smith said candidly. “In women’s basketball, the WNIT is a lot less respected than it is for the men-most people don’t even know it exists. There was just no point.”

With the team’s pride already wounded, Thorburn concurred that there was no allure in going to the WNIT to face the same teams they had been playing all year long.

“It wasn’t our goal to go to the WNIT,” Thorburn said. “We would end up coming up against Colorado State and UNLV, and we have already played those teams a lot this year. Our goal was to go the NCAAs, and we didn’t make it, and that’s all there is to it.”

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