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Originally published Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 8:18 PM

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Seattle U ready to make WNIT debut

The Redhawks are putting the disappointment of a loss in the WAC tournament final behind them as they prepare to face Saint Mary's Thursday night.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

Seattle U @ Saint Mary's, 7 p.m.

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Kacie Sowell's shock grew with every clip of this season's highlight reel for Seattle U women's basketball.

In the madness of the Redhawks' conference tournament run that ended three points short of an NCAA tournament bid, Sowell and her teammates had forgotten the team's humble beginnings. An 0-3 start, with each game decided by one possession. A 3-6 record in nonconference play.

It was all on the projector screen at the team banquet at the Space Needle on Monday.

"I forget about it sometimes because I feel we're a different team now," said Sowell, whose Redhawks (20-10) play at Saint Mary's (20-10) of Moraga, Calif., at 7 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament. It's their first appearance in the WNIT.

In SU's first season in the Western Athletic Conference, the Redhawks were regular-season champions and Sowell, a junior forward, was named WAC Player of the Year.

"People like to ask about when was the change in our season," Sowell said. "I go back to that first conference game (at Idaho). We left for Christmas break at 3-6 and it was one of those things where right now was time to make the decision of, 'Are we going to step up or let the season roll over us?' "

The Redhawks beat the Vandals 76-71 on Dec. 29.

"That was the game where our team came together," Sowell said.

Seattle U won its final seven WAC games en route to the regular-season title, and reached the conference tournament final before losing 67-64 to Idaho.

Seattle U last played Saint Mary's at Connolly Center in December 2011. The Gaels got a basket in the final 15 seconds to win 71-70. They are 4-0 all-time against Seattle.

"Saint Mary's had a good season, and I think they're better than they were a year ago when we played them," said Redhawks coach Joan Bonvicini.

The Gaels are 10-2 at home. They feature a big lineup that's good at drawing fouls. Saint Mary's has attempted 251 more free throws than opponents. Jackie Nared, a 6-foot-1 junior forward, led the West Coast Conference at 16.6 points per game. Danielle Mauldin, a 6-foot junior forward, averages 13.8 points and 10.8 rebounds.

Sowell leads SU in scoring (16.6) and rebounding (9.8). Yet the Redhawks usually get rolling when Sylvia Shephard is making steals (3.2 per game), leading to layups by senior reserve guard Daidra Brown.

"Our team is at our best when we have our defensive intensity going," Sowell said. "We have the ability to pressure teams into doing what they don't want to do, especially with Sylvia and Daidra; people don't like that.

"We're going to match up well with them," Sowell said.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @JaydaEvans

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