Tulane to host Sam Houston in WNIT opener

NEW ORLEANS — The Conference USA tournament last week didn’t go as the Tulane women’s basketball team had hoped. A week later, the Green Wave has a shot at redemption.

After being tabbed the C-USA title favorite in the preseason, Tulane tanked in its first-round game of the conference tourney last week when it fell to Tulsa in the quarterfinals on March 14.

With its hopes of a berth in the NCAA tournament crushed by the defeat, the Wave picked up a spot in the Women’s NIT and, along with it, a chance to erase the disappointment the players felt after falling to Tulsa.

That chance comes in the form of a first-round home game against Sam Houston at 7 p.m. Thursday at Devlin Fieldhouse.

“We’re just excited to be playing in the postseason,” Tulane senior guard Olivia Grayson said. “It’s an opportunity to really show people what we can do as a team and display our program.”

In addition to potentially rebounding from the Tulsa loss, the Wave’s WNIT berth presents the squad with the possibility of gaining revenge on other teams that beat Tulane this season. Five C-USA squads — Tulane, UAB, East Carolina, Memphis and SMU — made the tournament field, and amazingly, all of them were placed in the same bracket.

Two of the other four, ECU and SMU, handed Tulane home losses during the regular season. (For the record, Tulsa parlayed a hot streak to win the C-USA tourney and earn a berth in the NCAAs.)

Tulane coach Lisa Stockton said the fact that a quintet of C-USA programs landed in the WNIT proves how tough the league was this year, and that the placement of all five in the same bracket should only heighten those in-conference rivalries.

“This year was tremendously competitive,” Stockton said. “I think anybody in our league can be competitive enough to play in this tournament. I love to see that many teams in for us, but I hate that we’re all kind of in the same bracket. I’d love to make it a Conference USA deal where we could play to get to each other. It is what it is and we just have to go out there and play.”

The Bearkats enter Thursday’s clash with an 18-14 mark, but they earned a spot in the tournament by claiming the Southland Conference’s regular-season crown for the first time in school history.

“We’re excited to be in the WNIT,” Sam Houston coach Brenda Nichols said. “We’ve worked hard to earn this privilege.”

Nichols said Tulane presents a formidable challenge, especially since the Wave program has much greater postseason experience than the Bearkats. But she said if her team can stay confident, it has a shot at pulling off an upset.

“It will be a good matchup,” Nichols said. “But once the ball goes up, you never know how it’s going to end. We have to do the little things that got us this far. We have to focus on the fundamentals — playing defense, getting rebounds, taking care of the ball. We have to play our game, get out there and enjoy it.”

But Grayson said Tulane can counter SHU’s strengths with a deeper bench, one of the big reasons the Wave is making its fourth straight postseason appearance.

“We have a lot of depth, which not a lot of teams have,” Grayson said. “Everyone on our team can contribute.”

Overall, she added, Thursday’s game means a great deal to all involved.

“We can get our underclassmen some experience, and its a chance for the seniors to continue their college careers,” she said. “We’re excited about it.”