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Sylvia Hatchell ends UNC's season by rejecting a bid to the WNIT

In four days, NCAA tournament games will tip off in Carmichael Arena, but North Carolina’s women’s basketball team won’t be one of the teams lacing up their dancing shoes.

For the first time in 11 years, UNC will not participate in the NCAA tournament after not receiving an at-large bid Monday.

After gathering to watch the selection show in hopes of seeing their name on the screen, the Tar Heels instead left with heads hung.

“I was in shock. I was disappointed and surprised,” coach Sylvia Hatchell said.

But the NCAA tournament was not the only postseason tournament to announce its bracket Monday night. The WNIT, a national invitational that offers bids to the best teams not granted bids to the NCAA championship, also released its own 64-team field.

But UNC’s name was noticeably absent from that list, too.

Though UNC was playing with the most complete roster it had all season, Hatchell declined the WNIT bid, effectively ending the season with a 1-point loss to Georgia Tech on March 2 in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

Hatchell said she declined the bid because her sights were set on the NCAA tournament, placing all other postseason play outside of her scope.

“We never really even considered it,” Hatchell said. “We were expecting to be in the NCAA and host.”

UNC showed NCAA tournament potential with a 20-win season and a tough conference schedule, but ultimately came up short.

The Tar Heels were not the only team from the conference feeling left out of the NCAA tournament. This year marks the first time in nine years that fewer than six ACC teams were taken.

Hatchell attributed this change to many factors. Because UNC has weaker non-conference teams on the schedule as a result of community ties and coaching relationships, the team’s Rating Percentage Index (RPI) dropped significantly, she said. The No. 89 ranking is the lowest of any ACC school selected for postseason play.

UNC was the only team to decline the WNIT on Monday, but it is not the first program to do so.

“We usually have a couple decline every year,” WNIT director Renee Carlson said. “Sometimes schools decline if they’re going through a coaching change, or if academically they would just miss too much class time … it’s unusual, but not rare.”

Upon receiving the phone call asking if the team was interested in participating in the WNIT, Hatchell responded without consulting her players.

“It was never a topic. We had never even discussed it,” Hatchell said. “Our sights were on the NCAA and we expected to be in the NCAA tournament. I mean that was never mentioned. I’m not even sure the players know what (the WNIT tournament) is because we never even talked about it.”

Team spokesman Bobby Hundley declined Daily Tar Heel requests to talk to assistant coaches and three players.

For a team that put all the emphasis on making the NCAA tournament, accepting anything less than an invitation to the big dance was not an option.

“We’re North Carolina. We should be in the NCAA,” Hatchell said. “And with our record and tradition and where we finished in the conference, we should be in the NCAA.”

“I don’t want it to sound like we’re too good to go to the WNIT, but that wasn’t even in our thought process.”

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