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Columbia sees WNIT Final run as next step for program

The Lions won a program-record 28 games last season, eying more next year

Columbia women’s basketball
Columbia has posted back-to-back 12-2 records in Ivy League play.
Photo Courtesy of Columbia Athletics

When Megan Griffith took over the head coaching position at her alma mater Columbia in 2016, the Lions had won just a single conference game the previous season and 10 over the previous five years combined.

Fast forward to April 1, 2023.

Columbia played for the WNIT championship after posting a second straight 12-2 mark in the Ivy League.

“We haven’t missed any steps,” Griffith said. “Every year, we’ve just done the next thing, climbed the next rung, sometimes that’s been bigger, a couple of rungs, sometimes it’s been one rung, especially earlier in my career back here. I felt like we were inching forward very slowly.”

In Griffith’s first three seasons, Columbia won nine league games. The Lions enjoyed their first winning season in the Ivy League in a decade with an 8-6 mark in 2020. After the 2021 season was entirely canceled due to COVID-19, CU pulled off a 12-2 record in 2022.

“We have the right foundation to allow the program to take bigger steps than we did five years ago,” Griffith said. “That’s where the growth in these last two years that we’re seeing has really been a byproduct of everything that happened in the five years prior to that.”

The Lions registered a program-best 28-6 campaign in 2023, which ultimately ended with a loss to Kansas in the WNIT championship game. The 28 wins topped the previous high of 25, which was set the season before.

The 2023 squad took home a share of the Ivy League regular season crown, another first for the program.

Megan Griffith
Megan Griffith has led the Lions to the two winningest seasons in program history.
Photo Courtesy of Columbia Athletics

However, the Lions entered the Ivy League championship tournament as the No. 2 seed and suffered a seven-point overtime loss to Harvard in the semifinals. With Princeton then moving on to win Ivy Madness and punching its ticket to the NCAA Tournament, Columbia received an automatic berth to the WNIT for a second straight year.

The Lions believed they had the talent to make it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. As part of a program-best 11-2 non-conference mark, they prevailed 78-71 on the road in November against a Miami team that eventually ran to the Elite Eight.

From the disappointment of being denied a March Madness moment, the Lions needed to switch their outlook over the seven days leading up to their WNIT opener against Fairleigh Dickinson.

“We probably had the hardest week emotionally, mentally of our season,” Griffith said. “We’re not playing in [the WNIT] unless we’re playing for a championship. Once we got everyone to commit to that on their own time, we had a renewed sense of purpose, and our season felt new again.”

Columbia knocked off the Knights 69-53 on a night full of milestones. It was Griffith’s 95th win leading the program, making her the program’s winningest coach. Seniors Kaitlyn Davis and Sienna Durr both reached the 1,000-career-point plateau.

The Lions then snagged a five-point victory over Fordham. It was a back-and-forth affair that featured 23 lead changes. The game came down to the wire as Columbia trailed by one with less than 30 seconds remaining. Davis nailed a putback layup to give CU the lead for good.

That set up a matchup with Syracuse in the WNIT Sweet 16. Columbia trailed by four at halftime and used 28 third-quarter points to surge into the lead en route to a six-point win.

In the Great Eight, the Lions had revenge on their mind as they matched up with Harvard, the team that ended their NCAA Tournament dreams. Columbia prevailed in this battle of conference foes 77-71. With the win, CU advanced to a national semifinal for the first time in history.

Columbia women’s basketball Photo Courtesy of Columbia Athletics

Each of those four wins in the WNIT were at friendly confines of Levien Gymnasium. For the Fab Four, the Lions traveled to Bowling Green. Columbia torched the nets by connecting on 54% of its shots on its way to a wire-to-wire 77-70 win.

“Teams that win late in March or April are only going to be set up to do great things the following year,” Griffith said. “That’s special for our program to understand. We are right at the precipice of where we want to be. We just have to take those final steps.”

Columbia lost to Kansas 66-59 in the title game.

The Lions are hoping to be the latest program to use a WNIT title game run as a springboard.

South Dakota State won the WNIT in 2022. The Jackrabbits ran the table in the Summit League in 2023, claimed a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached the second round.

Arizona claimed the 2019 WNIT title. In 2021, the Wildcats played in the NCAA national title game and had a shot to win it at the end but ultimately fell by one point to Stanford.

Florida Gulf Coast was the WNIT runner-up in 2016. The Eagles have participated in every single NCAA Tournament since then.

“I really do believe the best yet to come for our program,” Griffith said.