Friday, March 16, 2001

XU women want new memories


Veteran team vows to atone for past losses

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The past two NCAA Tournaments have ended in heartache for the Xavier women's basketball team.

        Two years ago, the Musketeers lost a 10-point lead with less than five minutes remaining at perennial power Connecticut.

        Last year, Xavier lost a first-round game against Stephen F. Austin by one point, blowing a 12-point lead with less than six minutes to play.

        “We don't want to end this season the way we did the last two,” coach Melanie Balcomb said Thursday. “It's still very fresh in our minds.”

        The 28-2 Musketeers play their first-round NCAA Tournament game tonight at Cintas Center against Louisville, Conference USA regular-season champion. The game will begin at about 8:20, after the Clemson-Chattanooga game, which will start at 6p.m.

        The winners will play at 1:05p.m. Sunday for a berth in the Mideast Regional at Birmingham, Ala.

        Unlike past seasons, when Xavier might have sneaked up on other teams, nobody's looking past the Musketeers.

        “I don't know if anyone else in the country has a better starting five,” Louisville coach Martin Clapp said. “Those five play a lot of minutes. They seem to stay out of foul trouble. You can sure tell they've been playing together a long time.”

        Xavier starts four seniors: guards Nicole Levandusky and Jennifer Parr and post players Jennifer Phillips and Taru Tuukkanen.

        Levandusky, Phillips and Tuukkanen average 51.5 of Xavier's 79.5 points a game.

        Phillips and Tuukkanen received honorable mention on the Associated Press All-America team.

        The other starter is sophomore point guard Reetta Piipari, whose 8.5 assists a game led the nation.

        The 28-2 Musketeers have had the same starting five for all 30 games, and they like to run.

        So does Louisville, but only when it's working.

        “We're not sure if they're as much of an uptempo team as we are,” said Parr, who became a starter when sophomore Amy Waugh suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon before the season.

        “So I think we're going to see a fast-paced game, because that's how we like to play.”

        Louisville (19-9) is a guard-oriented team. The Cardinals start three perimeter players — Marju Sober, Sara Nord and Kara Kessans — all of whom average in double figures.

        Point guard Nord, a 5-foot-4 freshman, was named to the Conference USA all-league team. Kessans was the only returning regular, and Louisville had a rough start this season, losing five in a row.

        “Our post game has improved,” Clapp said. “But our guards have carried us all year.”

        Louisville starts a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors. Xavier starts four seniors, who have gone 95-28 in four years. But they're just 1-3 in three NCAA Tournaments and one Women's NIT. This is their last chance to make a tournament run. The last two have ended painfully.

        “It's definitely been in the back of their minds; it's been in the back of my mind,” Balcomb said.

        The opening game pairs 20-9 Clemson and 24-6 Tennessee-Chattanooga.

        The Tigers, led by coach Jim Davis, have made 13 NCAA Tournament appearances since 1999 — the most by a coach at one school beside Virginia's Debbie Ryan, Tennessee's Pat Summitt and Louisiana Tech's Leon Barmore (14).

        The Tigers' leading scorer is guard Chrissy Floyd (16.9 points a game), but their most dominating player if 6-4 center Erin Batth. She averages 12.3 points and 8.6 rebounds a game.

        Chattanooga was regular-season co-champion and tournament champion of the Southern Conference. Coach Wes Moore is 60-28 in three years with the Lady Mocs.

        Chattanooga starts only one senior, 6-foot center Katarika Bank, and is led in scoring by junior guard Damita Bullock (14.2).

Online pool and college hoops coverage at Cincinnati.com



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