Friday, March 02, 2001

Xavier women hope to land NCAA home games

A-10 tourney success could help down road

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This is the last women's basketball season in which first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games will be at campus sites. It is the first season Xavier has had a facility that could house such an event. It has the best team in school history.

        In short, the heavens have aligned.

        Win the Atlantic 10 Tournament this weekend, and the Musketeers probably will begin the NCAAs in Cintas Center.

        “The timing would be amazing,” XU coach Melanie Balcomb said. “If there's any shot of getting it, it's because of our crowds and our new arena. I think we could sell it out.”

        The 12th-ranked Musketeers (25-2), A-10 regular-season champs, are top seeds in the league tournament at Temple's Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. They begin play with a quarterfinal game at noon Saturday against the winner of today's Massachusetts-Rhode Island game.

        The title game is at 5 p.m. Monday on ESPN2.

        The NCAA home-court scenario is critical for a team longing for the first Sweet 16 appearance in the program's history. The nation's top 16 teams as viewed by the NCAA's Selection Committee — the top four seeds in each region — get to host subregionals.

        Despite its ranking, XU isn't on safe ground yet. It ranks 21st in the Ratings Percentage Index. RPI guru Jerry Palm projects XU as a No.4 seed, but losing in the A-10 tourney could drop it a spot.

        Winning three more games seemingly would cement a top-four seed.

        “That would be awesome,” senior guard Jennifer Parr said. “It'd be a huge advantage and a great payoff (for the tourney title).”

        XU is 13-0 at home, its first unbeaten home record. After averaging 786 fans a game last season in Schmidt Fieldhouse, it has nearly tripled that figure (2,058 average) this season. The home finale against Dayton drew 4,879.

        “We've had some great accomplishments, but I don't think anyone's satisfied yet,” senior center Taru Tuukkanen said. “We haven't gone beyond the second round of the (NCAAs) yet, and that's a goal we definitely want to reach.”

        XU takes aim at repeating as A-10 tourney champ with one of the nation's most balanced teams.

        Four players own double-figure scoring averages. XU ranks second nationally in field-goal percentage (.516) and sixth in 3-point shooting (.403). Sophomore point guard Reetta Piipari leads the country in assists (8.7 avg.).

        Chief competition is expected to come from George Washington (20-8, 14-2 A-10), which split two games with XU, and host Temple (18-9, 11-5).

        “I don't think we've played our best basketball yet,” Parr said. “Hopefully it's going to come out starting this weekend.”


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