Tuesday, March 16, 1999

Xavier women recovering from loss

UConn, fans give credit

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A few Xavier women's basketball players and coach Melanie Balcomb were in a Hartford, Conn., mall Monday when some University of Connecticut fans started applauding.

        The ovation was for the Musketeers' effort in a heart-wrenching 86-84 Mideast Regional loss Sunday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Game story)

        “Every store you went in, there was someone telling us how great we played,” XU senior Nikki Kremer said. “All these UConn people are completely amazed with us. I think that's helping some of the players deal with it.”

        Dealing with this defeat has not been easy.

        Top-seeded UConn (29-4), a perennial national power, came into the NCAA Tournament ranked

        No.4 in the country and had won 65 out of its last 66 games at home. There was a sellout crowd of 10,027 at Gampel Pavilion.

        None of which fazed eighth-seeded Xavier.

        The Musketeers (24-9) talked amongst themselves Saturday and decided that the only way to go into Sunday night was believing they could win.

        That's exactly how they attacked the opening minutes.

        “None of us were going to go in scared, because there'd have been no reason for us to even show up,” Kremer said. “We all truly believed it. It wasn't just something said. I could see it in all my teammates' eyes.”

        The Musketeers were ahead most of the night and led by 10 points with 4:50 remaining. It was their game to win.

        But in the final 1:37, Xavier committed two crucial turnovers, and Kremer missed two foul shots with 38 seconds left and the game tied; she had made her first eight attempts from the line.

        Two free throws by Dayton native Tamika Williams with 7.1 seconds left gave UConn the victory. The Huskies play this weekend in Cincinnati.

        “We wanted her to be at the line,” Balcomb said of Kremer. “There was no way that I even questioned whether she'd make those free throws, that's how much I believe in her.

        “She was devastated; I don't know how else to put it. She's very, very hard on herself normally, and she's very hard on herself to end her career that way. It will be hard for her to let go of that. The team and I just keep telling her that we wouldn't have gotten this far without her, we wouldn't have been in that game without her.”

        Indeed, Kremer played all 40 minutes, tied her career high with 23 points — 17 in the first half — and added six assists.

        ESPN analysts Mimi Griffin, Robin Roberts and former Huskie Rebecca Lobo raved all night about the Musketeers, especially Kremer.

        “Everybody's been giving me compliments,” Kremer said. “The papers here have been very complimentary,

        “I am very proud of my teammates and I think we did play as good as we can. But it's hard for me to be happy with the way I played because of the way it ended.”

        She left the court in tears.

        “I think that in the future, hopefully soon, I'll be able to be satisfied with it and know that ... we almost pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history, but right now I'm not satisfied,” Kremer said. “I can't stop thinking that we could be in the Sweet 16.”

        Balcomb said it was the most heartbroken locker room she had ever walked into.

        “I felt like I had to be strong for the team,” Balcomb said. “I didn't know what to tell them. It's very rare that I am speechless. How do you lift a team up that's absolutely devastated?

        “It's still hard. We still think we should've won the game and we're still very upset at how we played the last two minutes. It might take more than a day — I think it might take a couple weeks — before we can look back and really be proud of ourselves.”

        The Musketeers were stuck in Hartford on Monday because of the weather and were unable to get back to Cincinnati. Meanwhile, e-mails and phone calls came into the Xavier athletic department from UConn fans praising XU's performance.

        The game was televised live on ESPN2 and received strong national attention.

        “I hope everyone stayed up late and was watching it,” Kremer said. “And little kids who have dreams, I hope they were watching. I think it will give the program a lot of respect. I hope it does. It should.”


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