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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

NCAA snub a blessing in disguise

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

As soon as he finishes reviewing tape of tonight's opponent, Oklahoma State, Vince Goo ought to find time for a Hallmark moment and drop a thank-you card in the mail.

Maybe a box of anthuriums or a carton of macadamia nuts while he's at it.

Address them to the NCAA Selection Committee and sign the card with sincerest appreciation because the way things are going, the University of Hawai'i women's basketball team has a lot to be thankful for.

Though nobody realized it at the time, not being picked for the NCAA Tournament has turned out to be a 24-karat blessing. Call it the kindest cut of all.

The NCAA, which hasn't done the Wahine any favors in the past, did them a huge one this time, however unintentional.

Somewhere Judith Holland, the former selection committee tormentress, is kicking her bracket.

For instead of cleaning out their lockers this week, the Wahine are playing on into the Elite Eight of the Women's National Invitation Tournament tonight at the Stan Sheriff Center with a shot at the final four and beyond.

And for a handful of reasons that's a lot better than doing their laundry, which is what they'd have a lot of time for if they had found themselves in the NCAAs last week.

As the No. 2 team in the weak Western Athletic Conference, you know the Wahine would have been buried deep in the NCAA bracket. If conference champion Texas Christian managed only a No. 11 seed, it is hard to see how the Wahine would have done better than a 14. In short, the Wahine would have been a gift-wrapped sacrificial offering for one of the big girls: Connecticut, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Iowa State, etc.

But what the Wahine lost in prestige by being passed over by the NCAA they gained in opportunity by landing in the WNIT. After they cast aside their disappointment, there was potential to be found and the Wahine have certainly seized it.

Instead of being shipped off to Ruston, La., or NCAA points East right after they'd gotten off their flight from the WAC Tournament, the Wahine got to catch their breath, play at home, build their fan base and take a running start at next season.

That's a remarkable opportunity for a program that had, in its quarter-century history, played all 39 previous postseason games on the Mainland.

What's more, the Wahine have returned home to find the stage in Hawai'i all theirs and have taken advantage of it by giving the growing crowds — 2,624 for Santa Clara and 3,279 for Brigham Young — a reason to come back.

And with the departure of Kylie Galloway, they have gotten a head start on reloading for next year, three games and two weeks worth of extra practices to bring along the young players.

Of course, playing in the WNIT isn't something an aspiring program wants to turn into an annual event. For the Wahine, the goal needs to be the NCAA Tournament and for more than just a game.

But for one year, at a time when the Wahine really needed it, the WNIT has become the gift that keeps on giving.

And, for once, Goo and the Wahine can thank the NCAA for making it possible.