It’s not exactly the Sweet 16 that the UC Davis women’s basketball team had hoped to reach, but the Aggies are still in the midst of their deepest postseason run in 20 years.
With Sunday’s 58-57 victory at Colorado State, the Aggies advanced to the third round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament for the first time. They will travel to Pullman, Wash., on Thursday to play Washington State (14-19) at 7 p.m.
“There’s been so much excitement about basketball in Davis,” said UCD coach Jennifer Gross. “Obviously, the men did a great job to get people excited to really follow March Madness. People were kind of riding the wave of their tournament.”
After a dominant regular season (25-7, 14-2 conference), UCD fell to UC Santa Barbara in the Big West tournament semifinals in Anaheim. But by winning the regular-season title, UCD earned an automatic berth into the WNIT if it failed to reach the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
“Obviously, we were disappointed,” Gross said of the conference tournament. “It took a few days to get over that, but I think once we hit the road for Utah, we saw just a different energy from our group.”
UCD defeated Utah 72-62 in Salt Lake City last Friday in a tournament opener. Instead of using a seeding system, host teams for all games are determined by the WNIT committee.
The Aggies need three more wins for a berth in the WNIT championship game April 1. UCD’s three previous WNIT appearances – 2008, 2010 and 2012 – ended in the first round.
As excited as UCD is for the chance to play for a title, extending a season into March can take a mental and physical toll.
“At this point, I would say we’re running on fumes a little bit,” said Gross, whose team opened the season on Oct. 29. “We’re in finals week, so not only have we been on the road all week playing at altitude, but the kids, every spare second, they’ve been studying for finals.”
With only one senior, it could be easy for Gross to look ahead to high expectations for next season.
But there is still at least one game and more fun to be had this season.
“What I love about this group is that we’re still having fun,” Gross said. “We’re on the bus, we’re at hotels, we’re at restaurants and we’re still having a great time.”