By JEFF HUTH
CHAMPAIGN — After a two-year absence, the Illinois women’s basketball team is headed back to the postseason.
It’s not the tournament the Illini had their sights set on, however.
Bypassed by the NCAA tournament on Monday in the wake of a late-season slump, Illinois (16-13) instead will continue its season in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. The Illini, who are 1-4 in their last five games, will face Miami (Ohio) on Thursday at the Assembly Hall. The starting time will be announced Tuesday.
“We’re glad to be playing at home,” UI coach Matt Bollant said.
Miami (19-12) finished third in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference with a 10-6 record. The RedHawks have won five of their last seven games and went 1-1 in the MAC tournament.
Miami is led by senior guard Courtney Osborn, an All-MAC first-team pick. Earlier this season, Osborn became the RedHawks’ all-time leading scorer and the 12th player in MAC history to score 2,000 points.
“Miami is a talented team, and they have a very good guard in Courtney Osborn, who made 90 three-pointers, and their team shot 35 percent from the three-point line,” Bollant said. “She also has 143 assists, so she makes a lot of plays for them.”
This will be the Illini’s eighth appearance in the WNIT and the first since 2010, when they reached the quarterfinals. The Illini have an overall WNIT record of 8-7.
After the 64-team NCAA field was announced early Monday evening, the Illini knew they were guaranteed a spot in the 64-team WNIT. Under the WNIT’s selection process, Illinois received the Big Ten’s automatic bid.
An automatic bid goes to the team in each of 31 conferences that finishes highest in the league’s regular season standings but is not selected by the NCAA. When six Big Ten teams made the NCAA cut, that left Illinois as the league’s highest remaining finisher — tied for fifth place with a 9-7 record.