The Maine women’s basketball team learned late Monday it will begin postseason play at Villanova.

The Black Bears had a bid in to host a first-round game in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, but instead will be heading to Philadelphia for a game Friday. Tipoff time will be announced Tuesday.

Maine (23-8) earned an automatic bid into the WNIT by virtue of its regular-season America East Conference title. But it’s clearly not the tournament the Black Bears were aiming for. They lost a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 when they were upset by Hartford in the conference tournament semifinals March 8.

Instead, it meant a long week of practicing and waiting, and hoping for another home game.

“We are very excited to be in the WNIT field,” Maine Coach Richard Barron said in a press release. “There are so many good teams represented and it is a great indicator of the progress that our program has shown. Playing at Villanova is a great test for our team and one that really excites us. Harry Perretta is one of the finest coaches in the country and I have copied much of what he does with his five-out offense. In many ways, we will be playing a mirror image of ourselves and this will be a game that comes down to execution and shot-making. It will be a fun game to watch and to play.”

Villanova (19-13) finished third in the Big East and was eliminated by DePaul in the league tournament semifinals. The Wildcats won an at-large bid into the WNIT.

“Villanova spreads the floor, shoots the 3 well with great frequency, and they take care of the ball better than any other team in the nation,” Barron said.

Maine has played in the WNIT three times before, going 1-4. The Black Bears played three games in Amarillo, Texas, in 1990, under a previous version of the tournament, losing to Kentucky and Illinois State before defeating Wyoming.

In 2003, Maine hosted Creighton in the WNIT, but lost 74-57. In 2005, Maine was eliminated in the first round with a 74-59 loss at West Virginia.

Last year, the Black Bears reached the postseason for the first time since that 2005 WNIT appearance, accepting an invitation to play in the Women’s Basketball Invitational.

They defeated Bucknell in Bangor before falling at Fairfield to finish 17-15 in Barron’s third season.

This year, Maine has gone one step farther, embarking on a 14-game winning streak in January and February to clinch the top seed in the America East playoffs. But the Black Bears lost in the regular-season finale at New Hampshire, beat Binghamton in the opening round of the league tournament and were ousted by Hartford the next day.

The Black Bears have bid to host as many games as possible and still could get a game in Bangor if they advance. Second-round matchups are scheduled for March 21-24. The winner of the Maine-Villanova matchup will play the winner of Virginia-Old Dominion in the second round.

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