By JAMES COOK email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — DETROIT — If Autumn Rademacher is superstitious, Wendy's may be permanently off the University of Detroit menu.
Or on it, depending on how you look at it.
After a large portion of the team skirted the coach's orders and had Frosties from the fast-food joint the day before a game that ultimately cost the team a possible Women's National Invitation Tournament offer, the Titans instead jumped at a bid from the Women's Basketball Invitational.
The Titans ended up hoisting the WBI tournament trophy Saturday on the Dick Vitale Court at Calihan Hall, ending up 21-13 in the Traverse City native's fifth campaign guiding her alma mater.
"I can laugh about it now," Rademacher said of the Wendy's fiasco.
At the time, Detroit was making a push for third-place in the Horizon League, a push that would allow the Titans to put off a league tournament meeting with top-seeded Green Bay an extra round. Plus, a strong late push, would be another feather in the cap for a WNIT bid.
Detroit finished its league schedule with second-place Youngstown State and ninth-place Valparaiso.
After beating Youngstown 62-48, the Titans were staying in Valparaiso, Ind., at a hotel that had a Wendy's next to it.
"We had just beaten Youngstown the day before and drove to Valpo that day and I said, 'You guys need to get some rest,'" Rademacher said. "It was a noon game the next day. And I said, 'Don't be walking over to Wendy's and getting Frosties. Go to bed.' I was watching tape up in my room and I was thirsty, so I went down to the hotel snack bar to get a pop and I see half our team with Frosties in the lobby watching the Michigan-Michigan State (women's) game. And I'm thinking, 'What did I just tell you?' And so, I say, 'OK, you guys have your own ideas. You guys better win tomorrow. Better win.' Of course, we got blown out."
Rademacher took the 73-53 Valparaiso loss hard, and thought she had lost the team. After all, they disobeyed a direct order.
"It was actually a very low point for us," Rademacher said.
The players hung on to the technicality that they didn't go get Frosties themselves, Rademacher said. They had someone else go get them.
"I wasn't hearing any of that at that point," Rademacher laughed.
The Titans had a decision to make: Accept a guaranteed WBI spot or turn that down and risk not getting an NIT invite. The Valpo blowout seriously hurt Detroit's NIT chances, so Rademacher jumped at the WBI offer.
As it turned out, it was a good call on several fronts. Aside from eventually winning the whole thing, the Titans had a nice road — or lack of it. Detroit earned the tournament's top seed based on RPI ranking, and played all four of its games on its home court.
"All of the sudden, they decided the season wasn't over and decided to make this run," Rademacher said. "They were disappointed, because they wanted to beat Green Bay (in the Horizon League semifinals). It took a little coaxing to get them going and get excited again for the WBI. But as they started, I could tell they had a little more pep in their step."
After surviving a scare against eighth-seeded Belmont in the opening round in which the Titans built a huge lead, but ended up with only a three-point win, Detroit beat College of Charleston 79-67 and once again avoided an upset after building a big lead on Pennsylvania before settling for a 71-68 count (the exact same score as Belmont) to earn a title-game spot.
The Titans then ended the run of the tournament's Cinderella, McNeese State, with a 73-62 championship victory. McNeese was the West's No. 8 seed, and won three road games — in Georgia, North Carolina and South Dakota — to get the finals.
The Titans trailed the Cowgirls by seven in the first half before staging a second-half comeback.
Coming off a WNIT berth in 2011-12, the Titans could very well be going for a third straight post-season invitation next season.
"We have a big part of the core of our team back, so that is exciting," Rademacher said.
The Titans lose starters Demeisha Fambro and Yar Shayok to graduation, but bring back everyone else. They have three good recruits coming in, and Traverse City native Ellisha Crosby will be eligible to play after sitting out a year after transferring from Cornerstone University.
In addition to Crosby, the Titans have point guard Minisha Fredrick, guard/forward Haleigh Ristovski, and center Megan Galloway arriving next school year. Fredrick led all Minnesota prep players in assists last season, Ristovski was Michigan's Class C Player of the Year, and the 6-3 Galloway is expected to add depth in the middle.
"When Shareta (Brown), who is our dominant post player, is doubled and triple-teamed, we've got to have kids who can hit outside shots," Rademacher said of Brown, who averaged 28 points and 10.3 rebounds in the WBI.
That's where Crosby comes in.
"She's got some serious range," Rademacher said. "She's smart. Defensively, she's got quick hands and makes plays. We're very excited to add her. She's going to have a great shot — if she continues to work — to be a major contributor to our team."