Created:Monday, March 13, 2017 8:37 p.m.CDT
Updated:Monday, March 13, 2017 10:19 p.m.CDT
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NIU women's basketball: Huskies elected to play in WNIT

By JESSE SEVERSON jseverson@shawmedia.com
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The best Northern Illinois women’s basketball season in two decades isn’t over yet.

The Huskies qualified for the 64-team Women’s National Invitational Tournament on Monday night, with the first games of the single-elimination bracket starting Wednesday.

“It was weird because you sit around all day and you don’t do anything,” NIU coach Lisa Carlsen said Monday night about waiting to see whether the Huskies would make the field. “You just wait. You don’t know if you’re going to keep playing or you’re not. You don’t know who you’re going to play. It was kind of weird. We were in the office all day and we were laughing like, ‘OK, here we are. Here we are waiting.’ Waiting until 7:51 (p.m.) – that’s not fun.”

The opening rounds of the tournament will be played at campus sites, and the Huskies’ first-round opponent was announced late Monday.

It’s been a resurgent season for the Huskies (21-11) in the second year under Carlsen. It’s the most wins in a season since 1993-94, when the Huskies went 24-6 and made the NCAA tournament. The Huskies also compiled the most conference wins as a part of the Mid-American Conference (12) and advanced to the MAC championship for the first time in program history.

“It’s the most legit tournament after the NCAA tournament,” Carlsen said about the WNIT. “It’s known for that. It’s not just us trying to make ourselves feel good about it.”

In the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament, the No. 4-seed Huskies erased a 22-point deficit for a 72-71 victory over No. 5-seed Ohio for the largest comeback in program history. After blowing out No. 8-seed Western Michigan, 83-55, in the semifinals, the Huskies led by four early in the fourth quarter before falling to Toledo, 82-71, in the championship.

The team is led by senior guard Ally Lehman, a first-team All-MAC performer this season who is averaging 18.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists a game. Fellow senior Cassidy Glenn is averaging 14.2 points a game, and Carlsen highlighted how happy she was that the Huskies’ seniors will get to play at least one more game.

“That’s the biggest part of it – having these guys have a chance to play again and to play in postseason, it’s not something they’ve done before,” Carlsen said. “To have that opportunity for everybody, and especially the seniors, is special.”

Also joining the Huskies in the WNIT is Central Michigan, which was the MAC regular-season champion, Ohio, Ball State and Kent State.

As of Monday, NIU’s RPI was 75th in the nation, fourth-best among MAC teams, behind Central Michigan (43), Toledo (44) and Ohio (72).

The National Women’s Invitational Tournament was played from 1969-1996, before a brief absence and returned as the WNIT in 1998. The Huskies played in the NWIT in 1991, when they finished the year 25-10 as a member of the North Star Conference under coach Jane Albright.

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