There was no bracket watch party in Whitewater on Monday.
Often times, teams get together to watch the NCAA’s live reveal of the basketball tournament field. But UW-Whitewater’s women’s basketball team had suffered a lopsided loss to UW-Oshkosh in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship game Sunday.
The Warhawks were not feeling all that confident about their prospects of earning one of 20 at-large bids into the Big Dance.
You don’t really want to throw a party if there’s not a reason to celebrate.
And yet, shortly after the live selection show began on NCAA.com, the Warhawks had reason to celebrate—wherever they were.
UW-Whitewater (18-9) was announced as part of the field. It will travel to Washington University (19-6) in St. Louis for a first-round game Friday night.
“We honestly thought we had just a slight chance because of our strength of schedule,” UW-Whitewater head coach Keri Carollo said. “We had some pretty good wins versus ranked teams.
“But we thought it was probably an outside chance. I don’t think anyone was holding their breath.”
A loss to UW-Stout in the teams’ regular-season finale appeared to put a damper on the Warhawks’ NCAA hopes. They needed to win the WIAC Tournament for the third straight season to automatically get in but could not pull off the three-peat. However, knocking off UW-La Crosse for a second time helped.
The Warhawks had also won 10 of their last 12 games, including putting together a nine-game winning streak that included a pair of victories over Oshkosh, which is ranked No. 14 nationally in the latest D3Hoops.com poll.
“I felt like they had earned the opportunity to continue their season,” Carollo said of the group that gave UW-W its 12 NCAA Tournament appearance in the past 13 years. “They, collectively as a group, really came together and put together a pretty nice season.”
Carollo said the NCAA selection committee typically does not look at something like a 10-2 record in the last 12 games when determining at-large teams. But she felt like two victories each over Oshkosh and La Crosse, as well as nonconference win over Illinois Wesleyan likely tipped the scales in the Warhawks’ direction.
“It’s more about total body of work, and the biggest thing is the strength of schedule and also wins against ranked teams,” Carollo said. “Our strength of schedule, I think, was one of the top five in the country, so that definitely played a part, I’m sure.”
And so Monday afternoon began the familiar process of Carollo and her staff doing a quick dive into the scouting report on an NCAA Tournament foe.
Washington University appears to be on a similar course as Whitewater. The Bears have lost just once since the calendar flipped to 2019. Washington also played against Illinois Wesleyan in the nonconference portion of the season and lost, 81-63.
“They have a post player that’s averaging almost a double-double … that transferred in from a Division I school,” Carollo said. “Their point guard is terrific, as well … and they have an outside shooter.
“It’ll be an intense, physical game.”
The Warhawks will likely enter the game feeling like they have little or nothing to lose.
“We’ve had teams in the past that have had more than two or three losses, and they’ve made great runs in the tournament,” Carollo said. “It’s not really about what you have done. You’ve done the work to get in the tournament, and now is the time to make it your own.
“Take it all in and enjoy it, because anything is possible.”
Of course, it’s only possible now that the Warhawks—who woke up nervous Monday morning—are in.