The Wildcats are making a return visit to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, when they travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma to take on Oklahoma State Thursday in first round action.
The Wildcats finished the season with a 22-8 overall record and a 16-2 record in the Southland Conference to capture co-conference champion honors with Central Arkansas. This earned the Wildcats a return trip back to the WNIT as an automatic qualifier, as UCA earned a spot in the NCAA Championship Tournament after its win Southland Tournament championship last week.
The women’s basketball team competed last year in the WNIT, but fell 66-62 in the first round to UTEP without then junior Lizzy Dimba, who sustained a season-ending injury during the final stretch of conference.
ACU had a tough non-conference schedule this year filled with power-5 conference teams, so head coach Julie Goodenough said the Wildcats will be used to the big school atmosphere.
“We feel like we have a pretty good idea of what our team can do to use our strengths in this game, and obviously it’s going to take a team locked in on defense to get stops, Oklahoma State plays really well at home,” Goodenough said. “Our seniors are excited about our match up, excited about playing another Big-12 opponent. We’ve played Big-12 and SEC opponents throughout this season.”
Led by those seniors, Alexis Mason, Sydney Shelstead, Suzzy Dimba and sister Lizzy Dimba, ACU will be looking for its first-ever Div. 1 postseason victory. Mason and both the Dimba twins made post-season All-Conference teams, but a valid argument could have been made for Shelstead to have joined them on one of the teams.
Despite having never played each, this will somewhat familiar territory for Goodenough who served as the head coach for the Cowgirls from 2002-2005. But Goodenough is quick to deflect the spotlight of this game to her team.
“Our players have heard lots of stories from me about Stillwater and we love Stillwater,” Goodenough said. “But I’m least in this equation, this is not about me. This is about our team doing something historically, playing in back-to-back WNIT tournaments.”
Meanwhile Oklahoma State finished the season at 17-14, with a 6-12 record in conference. The Cowgirls finished seventh in the very competitive Big-12 and received the Big-12’s WNIT automatic qualifier bid. OSU is led by junior Kaylee Jensen, who is averaging 18.5 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game and 10 of the 14 losses on the season for the Cowgirls have come against ranked opponents this season.
“They’ve got two dominant post players inside, a really good point guard, it’ll be a big challenge for us,” Goodenough said. “She’s [Jensen] very aggressive getting low post position. It’s hard to get around her, hard to contest her shot. Keeping her off the boards is obviously going to be a big challenge for us.”
Oklahoma St. has never lost a WNIT game at home, boasting a record or 11-0 but the ACU is riding a seven-game winning streak as the Cowgirls lost its last game to the University of Texas.
This will be the first meeting between the two programs.