Women's CAA Basketball

WNIT Semifinal Preview: Rice vs Delaware, Ole Miss vs Northern Iowa

WNIT Semifinal Preview: Rice vs Delaware, Ole Miss vs Northern Iowa

Rice and Delaware square off in addition to Northern Iowa and Ole Miss in the WNIT semifinals. Here's what you need to know ahead of tipoff.

Mar 25, 2021 by Kyle Kensing
WNIT Semifinal Preview: Rice vs Delaware, Ole Miss vs Northern Iowa

Twenty-eight teams are gone from the 2021 Women’s NIT field, leaving just four in the Memphis area vying for the championship. 

Watch the WNIT Semifinals LIVE on FloHoops

Semifinalists Delaware, Rice, Ole Miss and Northern Iowa converge on Tennessee just two wins shy of the WNIT title. The four regional champions have already won some dramatic and impressive contests to reach this point, but the degree of difficulty climbs exponentially this weekend.



In the Fort Worth Region, it was Rice’s turn to do the cooking. The Owls won all three of their games by double-digit-point margins, including a 24-point rout of previously undefeated Cal Baptist in the regional final. 

Between its wins over Arizona State, Fresno State and Cal Baptist, Rice held Fort Worth Region opponents to fewer than 55 points per game and won by an average margin of 16.7 points per game. 

Lauren Schwartz comes into Memphis with a hot shooting hand, hitting 6-of-10 from behind the 3-point arc in regional play and averaging just shy of 20 points per. Nancy Mulkey, Rice’s 6-foot-9 center, blocked 12 shots in Fort Worth and put up 60 total points. 

The inside-outside combination of Mulkey and Schwartz leads Rice against the explosive perimeter combination of Jasmine Dickey and Tyi Skinner, who paced Delaware through the Charlotte Region. 

Dickey and Skinner combined for 44 points, 22 each, and Ty Battle shot 6-of-9 from the floor en route to 17 points in a hard-fought, 77-70 win over Villanova. In all three of its WNIT contests thus far, Delaware has hit for at least 77 points. 

The high-scoring Fightin’ Blue Hens offense has put up almost 75 points per game on the season. Their uptempo style contrasts the outstanding Rice defense, which ranks 10th nationally in opponent field-goal percentage. Teams make less than 35 percent of their shot attempts against the Owls, thanks in no small part to the 4.9 blocks per game Rice averages. 

While Delaware’s defensive metrics are not quite as impressive as Rice’s, one key takeaway from its regional final defeat of Villanova was UD holding explosive scorer Maddy Siegrist almost 10 points below her season average. 

A similar defensive effort on the perimeter, and Battle’s low-post and rebounding effort against Mulkey will shape the first semifinal on Friday. 



“Survive and advance” — you hear the phrase ad nauseum this time of year. Northern Iowa has lived it with a pair of close wins to push the Panthers into the WNIT semifinals. 

UNI followed up its one-point win over Creighton by grinding out a 58-50 defeat of Saint Louis in the Rockford Region final. 

The Panthers have been great in March, with their sole loss coming in the Missouri Valley Tournament, through a combination of tenacious defense and scoring balance. Rebounding specialist Bre Gunnels, for example, stepped up to score 10 points in the regional final — her first double-digit-point scoring game since Feb. 13. 

Gunnels is one of seven Panthers who average between 6.5 and 13 points per game. That sort of balance can throw off a defense. Ole Miss, however, has been locked in on that side of the ball. 

The Rebels won the Memphis Region by holding opponents Samford, Tulane and Colorado to 45, 61 and 56 points — an average of just 54 points per game. 

Ole Miss averages almost nine steals per game. Valerie Nesbitt, Mimi Reid, Shakira Austin and Donnetta Johnson all account for more than one per game. In the case of leading scorers Austin and Johnson, that commitment to defense also helps fuel a potent offense.

Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist in southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.