Panthers prepare for Hoops in the Heartland



The UNI women’s basketball team will compete at the MVC Tournament, vying for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

PAUL NOBLE, Sports Writer

The UNI women’s basketball team is headed to Moline, Ill., for the annual Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Women’s Basketball Tournament. The Panther women secured the three-seed after posting a 16-4 record in conference play and a 21-8 record overall. 

The Panthers fought all season near the top of the MVC, but ultimately finished the season one game back from Illinois State and Belmont. February losses to the Redbirds and Bruins eventually cemented UNI in the three-seed spot. UNI will play the winner of Valparaiso and UIC in their first game in Moline this Friday at 8:30. Friday’s game will be a favorable matchup for the Panther women, regardless of who they play. The Panthers are a combined 4-0 against Valparaiso and UIC this season, averaging a 24-point margin of victory in their four games against the Beacons and Flames.

A quarterfinal victory for the Panthers would likely result in a semifinal matchup against Belmont, which is a tough draw for the Panthers. Belmont’s last loss came in mid-January, and the Bruins finished the year on a 14-game winning streak. UNI and Belmont faced off twice during the regular season, with Belmont winning on Jan. 8, 67-61, in Cedar Falls, and on Feb. 23, 82-77, in Nashville, Tenn.

However, a semifinal matchup in Moline, Ill., would give UNI a home-crowd advantage. Cedar Falls is only 147 miles from Moline, while Belmont is 537 miles away, and there’s no one more excited than Coach Tanya Warren about the location of the MVC Tournament. “I know we’ll have a lot of fans, and we’re extremely excited for the opportunity,” Warren said.

Should UNI make it through the semifinals, a championship match would most likely be against either Illinois State or Drake. The Panthers are 2-0 against the Bulldogs this year and 1-1 against the Redbirds.

If UNI wants to guarantee a spot in the NCAA Tournament, it must win the MVC Tournament. While the Panthers have received an at-large bid once in program history, more times than not, only one team from the MVC will receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament, and it’s the conference champion who gets the automatic bid.

UNI has qualified for the NCAA Tournament three times in program history. In 2010 and 2011, they won the MVC Tournament, and in 2017, they received an at-large bid to the tournament. Last year the Panthers narrowly lost to Illinois State in the final of the MVC Tournament. UNI had a 48-42 lead with five minutes to play in regulation but failed to score in the last five minutes and lost 50-48. 

The Panthers will be challenged by teams across the MVC this weekend, but this UNI squad looks poised to make another run at the MVC championship.