The University of Cincinnati women’s basketball team defeated the Youngstown State University (YSU) Penguins 76-62 in front of 1,951 spectators Thursday evening at Fifth Third Arena in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT).
UC improved to 22-10, while Youngstown ended its season at 22-10. The Bearcats trailed 17-15 after the first quarter before outscoring the Penguins 20-8 in the second to take a 35-25 lead into the locker room.
The win marked UC’s first postseason victory since 2012, and it gave first-year UC head coach Michelle Clark-Heard her 200th career victory, as she had previous stops at Kentucky State and Western Kentucky.
The team showered Clark-Heard with confetti as she gave her postgame interview.
“I want them to learn how to play through adversity,” Clark-Heard said. “I feel like that’s what we did today. The crowd helped us get back into it.”
UC sophomore forward Andeija Puckett finished with a career-high 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go along with six rebounds.
“I made a promise to my team that I wasn’t going to let them down anymore,” Puckett said. “It all starts at practice with me working hard and my teammates helping me to get better.”
Clark-Heard said she has been tough on Puckett during practice, and her improvements are becoming visible at a crucial point in the season.
“I’m on Andeija a lot, just like I am on a lot of the post players, because that’s the position I played,” Clark-Heard said. “She gets it a lot from me. Really proud of her. She told me today that she was going to show up, and she did. We needed her to.”
Three other Bearcats scored in double-figures: junior guard Antoinette Miller (16), junior forward Angel Rizor (14) and junior guard Sam Rodgers (10).
One key in the scouting report, Clark-Heard said, was taking away the strengths of Youngstown’s Mary Dunn. The 6-foot-3 junior forward entered the game averaging 12.6 points and 5.7 rebounds. UC’s defense held her to 10 points and five rebounds.
“I think we made it difficult for [Dunn] to get the ball and facilitate their offense,” Clark-Heard said. “That was our game plan, and I’m really proud that our team was able to execute that.”
Youngstown’s Alison Smolinski and Melinda Trimmer each tallied a game-high 17 points.
UC appeared in the WNIT last season but lost to Michigan State in the first round.
The Bearcats advance to face the winner of the University of Minnesota versus the University of Northern Iowa matchup, which takes place Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The time, date and location of the second-round game has yet to be announced.