Sunday, February 06, 2000

Xavier women on roll


Team winning by 18 points a game

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The hottest women's basketball team in the Atlantic 10 Conference, Xavier, begins a three-game homestand today against Dayton at Schmidt Fieldhouse (2 p.m.).

        The Musketeers (18-3, 8-3 A-10) have won seven straight, including the last three on the road.

AT A GLANCE
  • Today: vs. Dayton (11-10, 6-4 A-10), 2 p.m.
  • Thursday: vs. Virginia Tech (12-8, 5-4), 7 p.m.
  • Feb. 13: vs. Fordham (3-16, 2-6), 2 p.m.
  • Tickets: $4 adults, $2 kids
  BY THE NUMBERS

• 231: Nicole Levandusky's career steals. She needs two to become XU's all-time leader (She is already the school's career 3-point leader)
  • 1,076: Levandusky's career point total, ninth in school history
  • 1,025: Taru Tuukkanen's career point total, 12th in school history
  • 1,005: Kim Hotz's career point total, 13th in school history

        They have not lost since Jan. 9, at home against St. Joseph's. XU blew a 15-point halftime lead and dropped a 69-67 decision. Its only other defeats were in overtime to Cincinnati and by one point at Dayton.

        The St. Joseph's loss could have sent Xavier in one of two directions. The players could've been distraught and allowed that collapse to affect them in the future.

        Or, they could bounce back with even more resolve. Which is what they did.

        “Obviously we weren't happy about that,” junior Nicole Levandusky said. “We let them come back and take the game away from us. But we never quit. I have to say we came back harder than what we were playing beforehand. We've improved so much since then.”

        The Musketeers have won their past seven by an average of 18.1 points. They beat Rhode Island and La Salle each by 30. They're coming off an 87-68 victory at St. Bonaventure on Friday night behind Taru Tuukkanen's 30 points and 17 rebounds.

        XU remains unranked but received nine voting points in last week's Associated Press poll, and 10 points in the ESPN/USA Today poll.

        “I think we're playing well but not up to our potential,” Levandusky said. “We haven't peaked yet. Hopefully that's a good thing, that we'll peak at the end of the year when it really matters.”

        One reason the Musketeers believe they will continue to improve is because two key players — freshmen Amy Waugh and Reetta Piipari — get better every day.

        Waugh took over the point guard duties from the start of the season, and is already drawing comparisons to predecessor Nikki Kremer in her ability to run the team and make big plays.

        She is fourth on the team in scoring (10.7 ppg) and leads the Atlantic 10 Conference in 3-point field goal percentage (.483). Waugh has been selected A-10 Rookie of the Week three times.

        As a senior at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Homestead High School, the 5-foot-6 Waugh taped Xavier women's games whenever she could. She studied Kremer, learned the plays.

        “A week into practice, all of a sudden this kid's running our system,” coach Melanie Balcomb said. “I'm just shocked.”

        Piipari, a 5-7 native of Finland whose father is the Finnish National Team coach, has been another pleasant surprise. She comes off the bench to play either guard position. She backs up Waugh, and at the end of games XU typically has an all-freshmen backcourt in the floor.

        “You'd never know that they're freshmen,” Levandusky said. “They know the game so well.”

        The Musketeers are coming off their second ever NCAA Tournament appearance and began this season on a mission to return.

        But these days, the NCAA is never talked about. Neither are the possibilities of being ranked nor the Atlantic 10 standings.

        “Now we talk about the next game,” Balcomb said.



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