YSU women visit Cincy in WNIT

YOUNGSTOWN – Wright State University is an hour north of the University of Cincinnati campus.

When the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team prepares for tonight’s first-round Women’s NIT game in Cincinnati, starting at 7 p.m., the two are much closer in the mind of YSU men’s coach John Barnes.

More than two months ago, the Penguins (22-9) beat Wright State by 15 points at home. The Penguins had 10 more free-throw attempts and had six more points in the paint against a Raiders team that won this year’s Horizon League championship and went to the NCAA Tournament.

The Bearcats are a small, but physical squad, like the Raiders.

“They remind me a lot of Wright State,” Barnes said. “They’re that kind of team.”

Winning on the UC campus isn’t going to be easy, most teams found that out this season as the Bearcats went 14-2 inside their home facility.

Freshman Imar’i Thomas, a 5-foot-10 forward, powers the Bearcats (21-10) with 13.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. She shoots nearly 61 percent from the floor, a fearsome competitor and a force the Penguins have to overcome tonight.

Antoinette Miller, a 5-6 junior guard, adds 12.7 points and 5.4 assists per game.

However, none of the Cincinnati players are taller than 6-2 and their tallest players are not the Bearcats’ main contributors.

That gives YSU a size advantage with 6-3 junior Mary Dunn, a Horizon League first-team selection. However, she and 6-1 senior Sarah Cash were limited to a combined four points and were 1-of-8 from the floor in YSU’s last game, a league semifinal loss to Green Bay.

“We’ll try to get the ball more inside this game,” Barnes said. “They’re not very tall.”

YSU’s 3-point shooting is the best in the Horizon League and the team relies on it for its success. The Penguins make almost nine 3-pointers per game, led by senior Alison Smolinski with 104 triples. YSU has five players who shoot better than 33 percent from beyond the arc.

“That gives our post players a lot of space inside,” Barnes said.

That said, this Cincinnati team has won five of its last six before being eliminated in the American Athletic Conference tournament by Central Florida, one of the top 35 teams in the country. The Bearcats played national power Connecticut twice this season, only losing by 10 at home to the Huskies.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Barnes said of tonight’s game.

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