Sunday, December 30, 2001

Undefeated UC women put on show for poll voters

By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        University of Cincinnati women's basketball coach Laurie Pirtle was thrilled with a Bearcats defense that converted turnovers to points Saturday afternoon in a 74-57 win over Mississippi State at the Shoemaker Center. Only second did she mention the milestones the win guaranteed.

        The Bearcats, off to their best start in school history, improved to 11-0 while remaining in first place in Conference USA and strengthening the potential to debut in the next Top 25 polls.

        “We'll see if that happens,” Pirtle said. “I think everybody wants that kind of respect, but we still need to go out there and play our game. Today we proved to ourselves that we could defend against very good athletes and a very good team.”

        The Bearcats were 26th in the USA Today/ESPN poll released Dec.24, and Mississippi State and UC both received the 29th-most votes in the Associated Press poll entering the game. But the Bearcats obscured any other similarities once the clock started, breaking open a tied game on a 10-point run with 7:45 to play in the first half.

        Sophomore Valerie King scored nine of her team-high 25 points in the opening period, helping the Bearcats outscore Mississippi State 20-4 before breaking at the half with a 17-point cushion.

        Coach Sharon Fanning said part of the Lady Bulldogs' problems came from their 18 turnovers and the 23 points Cincinnati converted from them. Not to mention the combined six points leading scorers LaToya Thomas and Tan White were held to in the first half.

        “When you have a good team defending you, you need to set that extra screen and make that extra cut. I don't think our focus was where it needed to be,” Fanning said.

        White exploded in the second half, scoring 21 of her 25 points to cut Cincinnati's 20-point lead to 10. Consistent rebounding put the ball back into Bearcat hands as UC thwarted the comeback bid and expanded its lead in the final 18 minutes.

        The celebrations were short-lived for the Cincinnati women after time expired.

        “I'm glad we won, but we can't get big-headed about it,” King said. “We've got Louisville next weekend, and they beat us twice last year. We've got to be ready.”
        Six-foot-3 freshman center Debbie Merrill recorded her fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds. She also considered the win a reflection of teamwork, though she felt a twinge of satisfaction that her friends and family in Cumberland City, Tenn., could see Cincinnati's name in the polls as a result.

        “I was recruited pretty big in high school and some people downed Cincinnati when I chose it. Now they'll see that it was a good choice for me,” Merrill said. “Every game I just want to help this team get better.”

        MSU (57) — Stringfellow 1-2 0-0 3, Thomas 5-13 1-1 11, Fambrough 3-7 1-2 7, White 11-22 1-1 25, Anderson 1-2 0-0 2, Ferguson 3-6 0-0 8, Graham 0-0 1-2 2. Totals: 24-53 4-6 57.

        CINCINNATI (74) — Wilder 3-6 2-2 8, Young 2-4 2-2 6, Douglass 3-7 5-6 11, Sharp 2-5 1-4 6, King 9-22 4-5 25, Dozier 1-1 0-0 2, Alexander 1-3 0-0 2, Merrill 5-9 4-5 14. Totals: 26-57 18-24 74.

        Mississippi State ....... 23 34—57

        Cincinnati ....... 40 34—74

        3-pointers: MSU 5-15 (Stringfellow 1-1, White 2-7, Anderson 0-1, Ferguson 2-4 , Kates 0-1, Fambrough 0-1), UC 4-9 (Wilder 0-1, Sharp 1-1, King 3-7).


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