The key to IPFW's women's basketball in their postseason tournament opener sounds like a contradiction, and coach Chris Paul realizes that.
IPFW (15-14) plays at the University of Illinois at Chicago (22-9) at 8 tonight in the first round of the Women's Basketball Invitational.
“One of the things we're trying to figure out is how to get the players to play with a sense of urgency, but play loose, if there is such a thing,” Paul said. “You've got to know in the back of your mind that if you don't play well, this could be the end. But you can't play tight.
“We're a much better basketball team when we're aggressive and we play loose.”
The Mastodons did not play well in their most recent game, a first-round loss to Denver in the Summit League Tournament.
IPFW's players had hoped to make a conference tournament run and push for an NCAA Tournament berth. Instead, the end was abrupt and most players figured the season was over with no postseason tournament in sight. But the WBI – a tournament staged entirely at campus sites -- was interested in IPFW.
The postseason invitation, which came Monday night, energized the team and especially revived the seniors, who will get a do-over on how they finish their careers.
“I couldn't be happier,” senior Amanda Hyde said. “You spend so much time working in the gym – for me, since I was 4 or 5 – and the realization of it finally being over was a big blow. I was devastated, as well as the other seniors. Then Coach Paul told us about this great opportunity we might have.”
It won't be easy to advance. UIC has played more consistently strong basketball than IPFW and finished 10-6 in the Horizon League. The Flames' leaders are guard Rachel Story (18.9 ppg), 6-foot-3 forward Ruyanne Campbell (16.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg) and 6-1 center Katie Hannemann (14.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg).
“They're athletic, they're long and it's a very, very good rebounding team, which scares me because we haven't been a very good rebounding team this year,” Paul said. “We feel like we'll be able to score, because we've been able to score for the most part all season, but we have to make sure we get all the loose balls, get on the glass, limit their second chances, all of those things.”
Hyde, who leads the Mastodons at 22.2 points per game, said she believes the renewed life of playing in the postseason will help IPFW step up its game and compete well at UIC.
“I don't know the percentages of teams playing in postseason tournaments, but I know it's not that many,” Hyde said. “We're thankful for the opportunity to be here, especially the seniors. This could be our last game so we'll go out and give everything we have and leave it all on the floor.”