Women’s basketball falls in WNIT to Minnesota

COLIN HORNING, Sports Writer

Although they were not fortunate enough to earn an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, the UNI women’s basketball team was given the opportunity to play in the 2019 Women’s National Invitation Tournament, or WNIT.

Their first-round matchup in the field of 64 teams took place on Friday, March 22, against the University of Minnesota. Northern Iowa had finished out the regular season with a loss to Missouri State in the MVC tournament in the Quad Cities the previous week, ending the regular year with an overall record of 20 wins and 12 losses.

Because the Panthers were the lower seeded team, they took the opportunity to travel up north to Minneapolis. The Big Ten’s Golden Gophers proved to be too much for UNI, as they came away with the 91-75 victory and earned a spot in the WNIT round of 32.

Minnesota outscored the purple and gold 30-11 in the first quarter and extended their lead to 24 points in the second period, leading 52-28 at the intermission.

Hot shooting for the home team was a big story in this one, as the Gophers shot a sizzling 78 percent from the field in the first quarter, and finished the game converting 54 percent of their overall shots. Minnesota was able to take advantage of the Northern Iowa miscues, as they scored 26 points off of the 17 Panther turnovers in the contest.

Karli Rucker led all UNI scorers with 26 points, including 9-15 from the field and four three-pointers. Nicole Kroeger followed up with 16 points of her own, but no other Panther player was able to reach double figures for the game.

Senior Mikaela Morgan, in what would turn out to be her final game in a purple and gold uniform, scored nine points.

After the game, Morgan had high praise for her experience on the UNI women’s basketball team. “The four different teams that I’ve been on have been really great. So, it’s meant a lot. It’s just kind of like another family of mine and it’s going to be hard to leave it.”

Coach Tanya Warren also had nothing but praise for her outgoing senior. “She will probably be one of my greatest success stories in terms of how she has grown into a young woman and matured over the years,” she told the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Along with Morgan, the team will graduate two other seniors, Ellie Howell and Taylor Hagen.

Next season, however, the Panther women will return a strong roster, with Rucker, Kroeger, Cynthia Wolf, Rose Simon-Ressler and Bre Gunnels returning. All five contributed a plethora of minutes for UNI this year. Megan Maahs, a pre-season All-Conference honoree, will also come back after an early season injury which left her sidelined for the remainder of the year.

The Cats will look to build off of a solid 2018-19 season and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.