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’cause it’s the most wonderful time of the yeeeeeeear… Take a deep breath, y’all, shut the door and pull up a chair ’cause you’ve got a lot of reading to do!

First things first: WNIT!!
Saturday, April 2  |  3 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. CT
CBS Sports Network – Thad Anderson (play-by-play) and Chiney Ogwumike (analyst)

The finals are set and it pits two programs who’ve got something to prove (to the selection committee): South Dakota v. Florida Gulf Coast University.

The Coyotes earned a birth by throughly handling Oregon, 88-54.

DakotaDome’s long goodbye as a basketball facility will now officially be talked about for a very long time. The old gal just doesn’t want to give up on roundball just yet. USD will now play the winner of Michigan vs. Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday accompanied by a crowd expected to be bigger than Wednesday’s.

“Even when we were just warming up at 60 minutes (before the game), the people were filling in,” said Kelly Stewart, who was one of six Coyotes who hit double-figures. “Then every time we came out of the locker room there was more people. And finally, when we were about to do the starting lineups, I looked up and I got a huge smile on my face. Everyone was smiling.”

The Eagles took on Michigan in from of a record crowd, and came away with the 71-61 win.

“It was a great defensive effort against a great offensive team,” said head coach Karl Smesko. “Now we’re excited to get to play for the WNIT Championship. The crowd was exceptional tonight. It was a huge advantage for us to have it here with that type of atmosphere. I’m sure it’s the type of game that these players will remember for a long time.”

FYI: WNIT NOTES

-Minnesota’s Rachel Banham scored 48 points on March 16 to lead the Gophers to an 87-80 win over Milwaukee in Round 1. That set a Postseason WNIT record for most points in a game, surpassing Tamika Whitmore of Memphis (45 against Arkansas State, 1999). 

-Sharnae Lamar of Northern Iowa dished out 15 assists to set a single-game WNIT record in the team’s 64-58 victory over Drake, 64-58. 

-The 2016 title game between South Dakota and Florida Gulf Coast is the second time since 1998 that two mid-major programs have played for the Postseason crown. In 2004, Creighton beat UNLV for the title.

-Before 2016, there have been 13 mid-major teams to reach the Postseason WNIT championship game. The six mid-major champions are Creighton (2004), Missouri State (2005), Wyoming (2007), South Florida (2009), Toledo (2011) and Drexel (2013).

About that stuff happening in Indianapolis: FREE Women’s Final Four Activities

General:

Indianapolis set to be center of women’s basketball world

All of the women’s basketball world will descend on Indianapolis this weekend in a celebration of the sport.

For the first time in NCAA history the Division I, II and III women’s titles will be decided on the same court.

“We can’t wait for the 2016 championship games in Indianapolis,” NCAA vice president for women’s basketball Anucha Browne said.

Celebrating 35 Years of NCAA Women’s Basketball

Beth Mowins to replace Dave O’Brien as announcer in Final Four, first-time all-female crew for ESPN at event

Women’s basketball | Final Four: Three first-timers crash party with UConn

Meet the Women’s Final Four

Audio: ‘Around the Rim’: Final Four preview

Audio: Kara Lawson with SI’s Richard Deitsch

Audio: Sue Bird talks about the low pay for women’s professional basketball in the United States on this edition of our Keeping Score with Rick Horrow audio podcast

Audio: HBO and The Ringer’s Bill Simmons is joined by Diana Taurasi to discuss her WNBA return from Russia, UConn’s dominance (6:00), the stupidity of lowering the rims (13:00), GSW’s selflessness (16:30), playing pickup with Westbrook and Draymond (21:00), and the struggling Lakers and D’Angelo Russell (30:00).

Audio: Special Dishin & Swishin Podcast: “Ambassador” Tamika Catchings welcomes the WBB world to Indy

Audio: Dishin & Swishin 3/31/16 Podcast: Doug Bruno is back to break down the 2016 Final Four

Women’s NCAA tournament: Four keys to the Final Four

Women’s Final Four: Can Anyone Stop UConn?

At Women’s Final Four, male-coached teams not a bad thing

These Are The Last Three Teams That Have A Chance To Beat UConn

SNYDER: UConn overshadows parity among other women’s basketball teams

VanDerveer: UConn’s rule isn’t bad for the sport — but next year it could be

Jeff Jacobs: In Women’s Final Four, It’s The Men Who Beat The Odds

Jeff Jacobs: Think UConn’s Geno Auriemma Is A Rock? You Should Meet His Wife

Pac-12 Feature: From ground floor to Final Four

My turn: JUST CATCH UP

Washington:

How UW’s and OSU’s Final Four run is a breakthrough for Pac-12 women’s basketball

Pac-12 Feature: From ground floor to Final Four

7 things to know about Washington Huskies (Syracuse women’s basketball Final Four foe)

Meet the Final Four-bound UW Huskies women’s basketball team

Washington’s jump shooter doesn’t jump

HUSKIES WOMEN: Masters of the Unexpected

Four knee surgeries later, UW’s Walton unfazed by doubts

Mike Neighbors: From Blockbuster To The Final Four

Oregon State

Five questions for Beavers-Huskies

Washington and Oregon State new faces in Final Four

New to following Oregon State women’s basketball? Here’s a crash course on the Beavers

Oregon State Beavers women’s basketball blending intensity, playfulness during Final Four run

Final Four newcomer Oregon State scrappy on defense

Watch: Gary Andersen and Pat Casey on Oregon State

OSU dreams big, embraces Final Four berth

Watch: Oregon State women’s basketball Final Four appearance called ‘incredibly miraculous’

Can Oregon State Shock The World?

Rueck’s Beavers have big fans in OSU’s 1963 Final Four team

OSU has unfinished business in Final Four

Aki Hill and the bliss of the Final Four

Open tryouts to the Final Four: Oregon State’s dramatic rise

Syracuse:

Syracuse’s Hillsman, Read preparing carefully for Washington

Syracuse women’s basketball guard Alexis Peterson brims with confidence

Keep shooting: Syracuse women’s basketball senior Brianna Butler does what she’s told

Turning point for Syracuse women’s basketball this season began with a loss

Kayla Alexander: Syracuse Orange Nation on Cloud Nine

Syracuse women’s basketball center Briana Day: Bigger foes aren’t going to push me around

Go Orange! Syracuse men’s, women’s basketball teams head to Final Four

Connecticut:

Is UConn’s sustained dominance bad for women’s basketball?

UConn may be the greatest college basketball dynasty ever

Geno Auriemma: Having to defend success ‘makes no sense’

Geno: Ignore UConn Women If You Want, ‘But Don’t Demean Those Who Appreciate It’ –

Why the dominance of the U-Conn. women’s team should be embraced

UConn’s opponents need to step up their game

Jeff Otterbein: UConn Women Simply The Best, Just Watch And Learn To Live With It

Here are a few additional assignments for sports columnist

Fans appreciate greatness, even when the games aren’t close

Fans don’t agree with columnist who says Huskies are killing the game

UConn Women’s Basketball Team Confronts Consequences Of Being ‘Too Good’

UConn too good? Quit the whining, beat ’em!

Respect the Women!

Be Great. Don’t Apologize.

UConn women don’t find winning boring

UConn women should be respected

UConn can join a pair of 4-peat pioneers in women’s basketball

Connecticut poised to make history again

UConn making something hard look easy

Huskies closer to place no team has ever been

Freshmen provide Huskies with needed backup help

UConn freshmen stepping up in NCAA Tournament

Samuelson’s family is UConn women’s basketball’s family, too

Women’s basketball: Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart leads a star-studded Final Four

Other basketball news:

Rachel for threeeeee: Banham edges Smith in 3-point championship

Brava: Jennifer Azzi comes out as gay, announces marriage to her USF assistant coach

“I, too, lived a long time not being 100 percent honest,” Azzi said. “Kind of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell kinda of thing. And it’s so stupid. I don’t know why we do that, but we do that. I’m a college coach. Is it going to hurt me with recruiting? What are people going to think? And you are constantly worrying about those things.

Supporters laud Jennifer Azzi for her bravery – but you can read the fear…

New women’s basketball coach Kenny Brooks raves about recruiting potential at Virginia Tech

Jonathan Tsipis’ plan to grow Badgers women’s basketball attendance starts with being visible –

New UW women’s basketball coach wants to keep state’s best players

Tsipis tasked with turning tide for women’s hoops

Wisconsin Women’s Basketball: Tsipis’ energy stands out during initial meeting with team

Bradbury named UNM women basketball head coach

KSU Women’s Basketball Coach Agnus Berenato

Kim Rosamond named Tennessee Tech women’s basketball head coach

Finally poached: UCF announces Katie Abrahamson-Henderson as head coach of women’s basketball

Former UConn players apply Auriemma lessons as coaches

Bye: Jatarie White to transfer from USC women’s basketball program

Bye: Two leave Duke women’s basketball team

WNBA:

Updownup-down… honestly, I think the NBA should raise their rim. It’s ridiculous how easy it is for the giants who play the game to score…

Army brass supports Minato in WNBA bid

Jennifer Gish: The next goal for UAlbany’s Shereesha Richards — the WNBA

Lindsay Whalen Joins Timberwolves’ Broadcast Booth

Deep Diving WNBA Data — Griner’s Paint Defense

WNBA Award Accuracy by Win Shares

Girls Sports Month: Candace Parker on what drives her, dunking and being a mom

WNBA Reveals New Apparel Items Celebrating Landmark 20th Season

The Legend of Lauren Jackson

Cool: Boomers And Fire GMs Head To WNBA Again

Following on from a successful visit last year to work alongside management at the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, the off-court leaders at the Deakin Melbourne Boomers and JCU Townsville Fire will again embrace a fact-finding mission in Los Angeles and Phoenix this June, this time taking in eight sporting events in 10 nights.

WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw “hitting game-winning shots” on and off the court

In case you missed it: Blake Griffin’s ‘Broad City’ appearance included a discussion about the WNBA

OT, but not really: Nike responds to U.S. national team jersey controversy

The sportswear behemoth that has outfitted the national team program for decades has been hit especially hard on two issues.

First, with the women’s jerseys, the low-cut neckline has been called unnecessarily sexualizing by some fans, and simply inconvenient anatomically for others whose body shapes aren’t the same as the widely used industry standard.

Second, with the men’s jerseys, you can’t buy one emblazoned with the three stars that represent the World Cups won by the women’s team. There are plenty of men who support Jill Ellis’ reigning champions just as much as they support Jurgen Klinsmann’s collection of question marks.

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A) Drey Mingo named tournament Most Outstanding Player. Why? Remember this and this and this?

Thanks to Mingo and Houser and Moses, Purdue punched out Michigan State and punched in to the NCAA Tournament. Oh, and crowned themselves Big 10 Conference Champeens. Graham asks, Purdue is back … is the Big Ten?

March is made for moments that don’t require a bigger picture.

After Purdue’s Drey Mingo completed an on-court television interview in the minutes immediately following her team’s 62-47 win against Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, the sixth-year graduate student turned, grabbed coach Sharon Versyp in a bear hug, lifted her off the ground and held her there for several seconds before she returned the coach to terra firma.

Then Mingo picked her up again.

B) Fordham Rams in the A-10 Finals. Hmmmm…. Brooklyn, March 16th. 7pm.

St. Joe’s got, and kept, an early lead against #11 Dayton, rudely interrupting the Flyers’ march to the A-10 Finals. Instead, it will be Hawks v. Rams.

Oklahoma State kept #1 Baylor honest with the zone, but the Bears prevailed, 77-69. Will the Cowgirls go Dancin’?

St. John’s kept #13 Louisville honest, but the Cardinals prevailed, 62-55. Will the Red Storm go Dancin’?

South Florida kept #2 Notre Dame honest, but the Irish prevailed, 75-66. Will the Bulls go Dancin’?

It was a back and forth game between Kentucky and Texas A&M…. and then the Aggies went forth. Nice way to start your tenure in the SEC, huh?

It was never really close between Duke and North Carolina. Blue Devils are ACC Champs.

About 15 yards separated the Duke and North Carolina locker rooms inside the Greensboro Coliseum. But at halftime of Sunday’s ACC tournament final, the strategies being discussed behind those doors could not have been further apart. 

The Blue Devils had just streaked into the break, clamping down with a full-court press and finishing the half on a 14-2 run that gave them a 39-24 lead. One Duke player called out, “We can’t stop now,” then, “Let’s keep doing what we’re doing!”

From Rob at Full Court: Duke does it again, wins eighth ACC tournament

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, UCLA and Stanford were channeling their inner Rutgers (27%/39%) as they painfully clawed their way through the Pac12 finals. With Chiney having an off night (perhaps the weight of the team on her back finally took a toll), the Cardinal were fortunate to have Orrange appear to counter the Bruins’ Marckel. And that the clock ran out when it did. Stanford escapes 51-59, and earn the Conference Championship. From Michelle:

The buzzer sounded Sunday evening on a Pac-12 tournament final that was alternately excruciating and compelling, and Stanford point guard Amber Orrange became ground zero for the celebration.

The sophomore, the shy Army brat whom Tara VanDerveer has been pulling out of her shell since she arrived on The Farm, had just willed the Cardinal to a 51-49 win against UCLA to send Stanford to its seventh straight conference tournament title. 

Orrange finished with 20 points, including the game winner as she split two significantly larger defenders to score on a drive to the basket with seven seconds to go, capping the best game of her college career.

No BU in the tournament means Albany’s path to the America East Championship is really clear. Will Hartford be able to surprise ’em?

The Southern Conference’s top two seeds held serve. The final will be Chattanooga v. Davidson.

See above for the Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee (after a fight with Florida International) will face Arkansas-Little Rock.

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there were, as Nate notes, some serious trips. Writes Mechelle:

Quarterfinal Friday at the ACC tournament was the perfect example of why conference tournaments are terrific. And it was also the perfect example of why they aren’t. It all depends on your point of view, of course.

Great, improbable, win for Kellie Jolly Harper and her North Carolina State team. (Must have been lovely for Wolfpack alum Debbie Antonelli to be there to make the call.) I’m guessing Coach P has one word for her Duke team: FREE THROWS.

Equally great win for Mike Petersen and his Wake Forest team. Initially, Miami looked like they were going to get blown out. But, they made a run, tied it… and then Wake Forest held. AND made their free throws.

…some almost trips…

Penn State let the Gophers get that “upset feeling,” but then reeled’em in, and used some *everybody shout* FREE THROWS to seal the win.

Vandy tried to spoil the Vols’ party, but second-half Stricklen was having none of it. Tennessee moves on.

Kentucky had all it wanted and more from Florida, but eeked out a win. Boy, the Wildcats shot for carp.

Arkansas had’em where they wanted, but the Tigers roared back and won on…. a three.

Georgia Tech put away a wicked stubborn North Carolina team. Dang, that last minute and a half reads like a hot mess.

…and some, “we were paying attention to the path ahead of us and are going to avoid those tripping spots.”

How much would Debbie and Beth love the Skyhawks? 102pts worth, and Tennessee-Martin grounded the Racers. Note to schedulers: There’s only ONE senior on the T-M team.

The Terps quickly disarmed the Cavaliers.

Sparty was dismissed from the Big Ten party by Rayburn (29pts) and the Boilermakers.

Random WHB observations:

Tough way for New Hampshire to end a season: OT. Of course, if you’re UMBC, it’s a great way to continue the season, especially since you sank your FREE THROWS.

Another OT ends a season and reads as an upset: Eastern Illinois (11-5, OVC) gets taken down by Tennessee Tech (10-5). Almost a triple-double by Tech’s Tacarra Hayes: 26pts, 14 rebounds and 9 assists.

A third OT game saw Winthrop come out the winner, 81-75.

Stetson used Victoria’s McGowan’s triple-double to overcome Jacksonville. More on the 5’4″ A-Sun POY. Next up for the Hatters: FGCU.

Yes, indeed-ee, something’s gotten into the Billikens (4-10, A-10): 64-69 winners over Charlotte (8-6).

on edit: I didn’t mean to ignore the South Carolina win/upset over/of Georgia (but was anyone really surprised?). Just having some edit/draft/save issues. As soon as I see them in the mirror, my copy room editors are so fired.

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the WNIT preseason field has been announced.

The 16-team field for the 2011 Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament was announced today.

Top 10 teams Baylor, Notre Dame, and UCLA headline the field that also includes Akron, Chattanooga, Detroit, Drexel, ETSU, Hartford, Howard, Indiana State, Long Island, Manhattan, McNeese State, Tennessee Tech, and UAB.

The Preseason WNIT bracket will be announced in June. Click here for snapshot of the field.

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