Golden Eagles visit Bradley in first round of Women's Basketball Invitational

Golden Eagles visit Bradley in first round of Women's Basketball Invitational

View the complete WBI bracket (PDF)

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - The 2011-12 season continues for the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team, as the Golden Eagles have been invited to play in the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI). It marks the 23rd time that Tech will advance to post-season action, and the second consecutive year under coach Sytia Messer during her three seasons at the helm.

The Golden Eagles will open play Wednesday night at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., with tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m. CDT. The host Braves finished the year with a 17-15 overall record, after going 7-11 in the Missouri Valley Conference.

It's Tech's first appearance in the WBI since the event was established in 2009-10. The Golden Eagles have advanced to NCAA Tournament play 10 times and WNIT play four times, including last season when they hosted Auburn. Prior to the NCAA, Tech also played in AIAW Regional or National Tournaments 12 seasons.

Tech is one of two OVC teams in the 16-team field, along with SIU Edwardsville which is in the opposite side of the overall bracket. Likewise, Bradley is one of two Missouri Valley teams in the field, along with Northern Iowa.

Wednesday's game wil mark the first meeting between Tech and Bradley in women's basketball. Tech is 2-0 against Missouri Valley opponents under Messer, downing Drake, 56-55, last season and claiming a 59-56 win over Southern Illinois the previous year.

Tech and Bradley have faced two common opponents this season, both Ohio Valley Conference teams. Bradley went 1-1, losing a 59-58 home game against Eastern Illinois and claiming a 66-60 win at SIU Edweardsville, both in December.

The Golden Eagles were 1-3 in four games against those two foes, dropping both games against SIUE and splitting games with EIU. Tech lost to EIU by one point at home in February but rebounded to claim an OVC Tournament semifinal victory over the Panthers in Nashville on March 2.

Tech reached the OVC Tournament Championship game and brings a 17-16 overall record into the WBI. The Golden Eagles are on a late-season roll, having won 11 of their last 14 games with two of the losses coming by a combined three points.

Bradley, meanwhile, won three of its last four games incuding a first round Missouri Valley Conference tourney contest over Southern Illinois (Carbondale) before bowing to regular season MVC champion Missouri State in the quarterfinals.

The Braves are led by head coach Paula Buscher, now in her 12th season at Bradley. The team features three players averaging in double figures in scoring, and has used its size advantage to dominate opponents in rebounds and also own a large advantage in blocked shots while shooting 41 percent from the field.

The Braves are led by 6-foot-3 senior center Leah Kassing, who tops the team in scoring (14.0 ppg) and rebounds (7.8 rpg). Also in double digits in scoring are 5-10 sophomore Catie O'Leary (10.4 ppg/4.5 rpg) and 5-11 junior Katie Yohn (10.9 ppg/3.5 rg). Another 6-foot senior, McKenzie Westcott averages 7.5 points and 7.2 rebounds.

Like Tech, Bradley has reached post-season play for the second time in three years. During the Braves late season push, BU posted an 86-69 win against Missouri State in Springfield, Mo., winning at Missouri State for the third time in the last four years. BU's 17 wins are tied for the fifth best season total in school history and Bradley has matched a school record for wins away from home with 10 (eight road wins and two neutral site victories).  A BU squad had not won 10 road or neutral site games since 1980-81.

Bradley took part in the inaugural WBI in 2009-10, topping 2009 NCAA national runner-up Louisville 69-59 in a first-round matchup at Freedom Hall before falling at College of Charleston (66-76) in the quarterfinals in the team's first-ever post-season tournament. 

Now in its third year, the WBI is a 16-team, single-elimination tournament.  All games will be played on campus sites with first round matchups taking place March 14 or 15.  The championship game is tentatively scheduled for March 24 or 25.  Appalachian State won the inaugural WBI title in 2010 with UAB earning last year's championship.

Tech fans unable to attend the game can listen to the live broadcast on the Golden Eagle Sports Network, beginning at 6:45 p.m.