With a record above .500 but a resume unbefitting March Madness, the Blue Devils were a shoo-in for a WNIT bid. But they didn’t even consider playing.
According to a report from Mitchell Northam, an ACC reporter at The Next and digital producer at WUNC, Duke declined consideration in the WNIT ahead of Sunday’s selection show. A team spokesperson confirmed the report but head coach Kara Lawson declined to comment. After finishing the season 17-13 and 7-11 in the ACC—a conference that sent eight teams to the NCAA tournament—with the 56th-ranked NET and a 9-12 record across quadrants one and two, the Blue Devils would’ve been among the tournament favorites. The team, however, clearly could not come to a consensus on playing in the invitational.
Junior Celeste Taylor said last week, following the Blue Devils’ loss to Miami in the second round of the ACC tournament, “[we're going to] see what we're gonna do as a team, and probably make that decision together as a team.”
That came in direct response to freshman Shayeann Day-Wilson saying: “Another opportunity is never a bad opportunity. So if the opportunity presents itself, then we're definitely all going to take it.”
Duke's culture is proudly player-led, so it's unsurprising that the decision to voluntarily end its season for the second-straight year would be a team-wide discussion. With the team's rotation consisting of seven transfers and a freshman who arrived to campus in August (Day-Wilson), the roster includes this year's ACC Freshman of the Year (again Day-Wilson), WNBA hopefuls, Fuqua students heavily invested in their coursework and players who've been to Sweet Sixteens. (Those categories are not mutually exclusive.) Especially given the factors pervading the Blue Devils’ collapse over the past two months, it’s understandable that the team was not fully in lockstep.
Recent up-and-coming WNIT winners include: Arizona (2019), last year’s NCAA runner-up; Indiana (2018), which has since finished top-20 in the AP poll in three consecutive years; Michigan (2017), which has since been to four-straight NCAA tournaments; and UCLA (2015), which reached the Sweet Sixteen in each of the next four years. The last three runners-up (Ole Miss, Northwestern, Virginia Tech) all received March Madness bids within the couple years following their appearance.
As Northam pointed out, Notre Dame currently holds a five-seed in the NCAA tournament after declining a WNIT bid last year in head coach Niele Ivey’s first season.
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