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UNM accepts WNIT bid

It’s not the Big Dance but it’s a two-step in the right direction.

The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team accepted a bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Monday night and will host St. Mary’s in a first-round contest Thursday. The game will be played at Johnson Center because the annual PBR Ty Murray Invitational is being held at Dreamstyle Arena this weekend.

It will UNM’s sixth appearance in the WNIT and its first since 2010. Second-year Lobo coach Mike Bradbury believes his team earned a chance to keep playing.

“We’ve come a long way in two seasons,” Bradbury said Monday night, “and playing in the WNIT is positive step. I’m excited we’re in and I’m excited we’re playing at home. By Thursday night we’ll be ready to go.”

There are plenty of familiar opponents in the 64-team WNIT field, including New Mexico State and Mountain West rivals Colorado State, UNLV and Wyoming. The Aggies will open the tournament Thursday at Wyoming.

Bradbury said he was contacted by WNIT officials during the regular season and he was hopeful that UNM (23-10) would receive a berth if it did not advance to the NCAA Tournament. The Lobos practiced Monday even before getting an official invitation.

“I just texted our players 30 minutes ago to let them know we’re playing at home against St. Mary’s,” Bradbury said. “We had a good practice today and I know they’re geared up to keep playing.”

The WNIT field includes teams from each of the NCAA-qualifying leagues. The top regular-season finisher from each conference that does not advance to the NCAA Tournament receives an automatic WNIT bid. UNLV and New Mexico State were automatic qualifiers.

The other 32 spots in the WNIT bracket are filled with at-large selections. The Atlantic 10 and Big Ten picked up five bids apiece, followed by the Mountain West and Conference USA with four bids each.

“I think it shows how good our league is,” Bradbury said. “Four got in and three of us are hosting games. That tells you something.”

Host sites are chosen through a bid process and attendance is among the considerations— one which clearly weighed in UNM’s favor. The Lobos averaged 5,124 fans per home game this season.

Bradbury conceded he did not yet have much information about St. Mary’s on Monday night but he was in the process of obtaining it. The Gaels (20-10) were regular-season runners-up in the West Coast Conference but were upset by seventh-seeded Pacific in the league tournament.

NOTES: Start times for first-round games were not announced Monday but UNM-St. Mary’s is likely to tip at 7 p.m. … If UNM wins its WNIT opener the Pit would be available for ensuing rounds, Bradbury said … MWC tournament champ Boise State earned the league’s lone NCAA berth. The Broncos were seeded 16th and will face Louisville in the opening round. … Fresno State and Nevada accepted bids to play in the WBI.