Wright State women’s basketball coach Katrina Merriweather during Sunday’s game vs. Oakland. Tim Zechar/Contributed photo

Revitalized Raiders open WNIT play at Toledo

But they had a stretch of four losses in five games midway through the conference, twice blowing double-digit leads in defeat. And while outsiders may have been surprised by the skid, coach Katrina Merriweather could feel the season going off the rails long before hitting that slump.

“We played Belmont and scored 91 points and started to think we were this superior offensive team. And everybody knows how I feel about that — that’s the most inconsistent part of the game. Our identity needs to be defense, rebounding and toughness. We got away from that a little bit,” she said.

“We watched some film and showed where we weren’t as tough as some teams. Practice got ratcheted up a notch or two. I think it was a mentality switch for us about how we needed to play and get back to being gritty Wright State.”

The Raiders won five of their last six regular-season games and finished runner-up in the conference tourney. That propelled them to their fourth straight trip to the WNIT and seventh postseason appearance in the last eight years.

They beat IUPUI, another WNIT participant, twice away from home in that closing stretch.

“I’m extremely proud of the last 10 games our kids played,” Merriweather said. “We could have tanked it. This particular group, they don’t know what losing is like. And I would argue they were a little bit in shock that we weren’t playing well.

“I’m just really proud of their commitment to turning it around so the postseason was an option — because I don’t think it was before our last five or six games.”

Wright State (23-10) plays at Toledo (17-14) in the first round at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner will face either Michigan State or Cincinnati in round two.

The Rockets have lost their last four games but beat Dayton, 68-50, in November.

They’re coached by veteran Tricia Cullop, who led the team to the NCAA tourney last year and has two MAC regular-season crowns and four division titles in her 10 years. Before her arrival, Toledo had five straight losing seasons.

“I have a lot of respect for her. I’ve known her since I was a kid, back when she was coach at Evansville,” said Merriweather, an Indianapolis native. “She’s a tremendous coach and someone I view as a mentor. She invited me to do a clinic in Toledo in the beginning of the season. I just think a lot of her and her program.”

Merriweather is gaining respect for what she’s done in her two years as coach after serving as an assistant at Wright State and Purdue.

One of her deft moves this year was having an upbeat video made of the Raiders just before the league tourney. Along with clips of the team clowning on the court, the players and coaches danced together to a hip-hop song and mugged for the cameras.

“It lifted some of the pressure where they could have fun and play light,” Merriweather said. “That was a factor building some confidence and putting a smile on their faces.”

The revitalized Raiders want to carry that attitude and those smiles into the next phase of their season.

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