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Left out of the NCAA, Gophers host Milwaukee to open WNIT

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The Minnesota Gopher women's basketball team won't make a repeat appearance in the NCAA Tournament this season. The Gophers were left out of the 2016 NCAA Women's basketball tournament.

Instead they'll have to settle for a bid in the WNIT. Minnesota will be a top seed in the WNIT and will host a first round game against Milwaukee Wednesday night at Williams Arena.

"We are certainly disappointed about not having an opportunity to play in the Big Dance," said Gophers coach Marlene Stollings Monday. "Our team knows we were extremely close and feels badly about not competing for our university and community on that level. As we build this program, we are clear in our vision that we will pursue NCAA Tournaments and Top-25 status."

Minnesota finished the Big Ten at 11-7 and had an upset win over No. 5 Ohio State on Feb. 24 at home. But the Gophers stumbled down the stretch, losing four of their last five game, including a devastating loss to Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Minnesota also wasn't helped by their No. 81 RPI, which included a non-conference strength of schedule that ranked 230 – the worst among the NCAA tournament bubble teams.

The news is especially tough for Gopher senior Rachel Banham. As the Pioneer Press notes, Banham has been the face of women's college basketball for the past two months. She's become both the school and Big Ten's all-time leading scorer, she was named the Big Ten's Player of the Year and gained national attention after a 60-point game when she willed the Gophers to a double-overtime victory over Northwestern.

But she'll finish her career without ever playing in the NCAA Tournament. Banham missed last season's NCAA appearance after suffering a knee injury early in the year.

"The good news for our team and fans is that we are not done yet," Stollings added. "We are excited to be hosting the WNIT opener. What an opportunity for our fans to come and see this team continue to play in a highly competitive tournament."

It will be Minnesota's fourth appearance in the WNIT. The others were in 2007, 2013 and 2014 advancing to the WNIT Sweet 16 in 2014.

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