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What playing in the inaugural WBIT means to BYU women’s basketball

The Cougars will play Santa Clara on the road Thursday in the first round.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Coach Amber Whiting as BYU hosts Iowa State, NCAA basketball in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024.

Provo • The BYU women’s basketball team didn’t like the way its season ended with the loss against Kansas. But the Cougars, who finished 16-16 overall and 6-12 in their first Big 12 year are chomping at the bit to make noise in the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament.

BYU got the spot in the WBIT as an at-large selection, and will face Santa Clara on Thursday on the road. But aside from getting the opportunity for some postseason play, the Cougars understand just how meaningful it is to be part of the first-ever WBIT.

“It’s super special to be playing in the first one ever,” coach Amber Whiting said. “But also, if you look at women’s sports, it’s growing so fast and so rapidly, and so many people are watching it more and more and appreciating the game. So I just feel like the opportunities that are there for us, we have to take advantage of them.”

Men’s college basketball teams have had the National Invitation Tournament since 1938, when it was owned by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association. In 2005, the NCAA bought it for $40.5 million.

A postseason Women’s National Invitational Tournament has existed since 1998. But it is a for-profit event owned and operated by Triple Crown Sports. Teams can pay $6,500 to host games in the first round, and $7,500 in the second round.

The NCAA started the WBIT in accordance with a recommendation from the 2021 Gender Equity Review.

“Honestly, I think it’s pretty cool,” Amari Whiting said of the new tournament. “I feel like women’s basketball has grown a ton over the past couple years. ... So for us to be able to have another tournament besides NIT, I think it’s really cool just to show we do have more than a handful teams and we can be able to play in you the second competitive bracket.”

Utah basketball coach Craig Smith said getting an NCAA-backed invitation tournament for women is “long overdue.”

“That’s the way it should be,” Smith said. “Everybody in the same setting, same environments ... same equities and things that are involved to help you compete at the very best level.”

The Cougars will face Santa Clara on the road in the first round of the WBIT. The 32 teams in the tournament learned their matchups Sunday after NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday. Amari Whiting said waiting for the WBIT announcement was like its own mini March Madness anticipation.

“We’re all kind of antsy, waiting to see who we play, where we play, if we host, if our friends and family could come,” Amari Whiting said. “So it was really cool. Once we found out, our group chat was blowing up.”

Amber Whiting said any postseason play for the Cougars is a goal for the team — not only to erase any bad mojo after the Kansas loss but also to build chemistry for the future.

Amber Whiting, though, doesn’t want the Cougars to just be happy they are in the WBIT.

“Grateful for sure. Thankful for sure,” Amber Whiting said. “But also, we want to make some noise. We want to do something. I feel like motivation is there as far as we’re not hosting. So let’s go make some noise.”