Sunday, March 18, 2001

XU women claim underdog role

Clemson coach: It's not true - check the seeds

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In preparing for today's second-round Mideast Region game against Clemson, the Xavier women's basketball team has returned to familiar ground.

        “From everything we've read and heard, we're supposed to lose tomorrow,” XU coach Melanie Balcomb said Saturday. “We're back to being little Xavier from here on out, and that's where we like to be. A seed means nothing right now.”

  • When: 1:05 p.m. today.
  • Where: Cintas Center (10,250).
  • What: Mideast Region second-round game.
  • Records: Xavier 29-2, Clemson 21-9.
  Reetta Piipari-5-7-So.-11.1
  N. Levandusky-5-9-Sr.-15.3
  Jennifer Parr-5-8-Sr.-6.9
  Taru Tuukkanen-6-3-Sr.-19.3
  Jennifer Phillips-6-3-Sr.-16.7
  Krystal Scott-5-8-Jr.-10.9
  Chrissy Floyd-5-9-So.-16.6
  Erin Batth-6-4-Sr.-10.9
  Marci Glenney-5-11-Jr.-10.1
  Nuria Forns-6-2-Sr.-7.8
        Clemson coach Jim Davis isn't buying Balcomb's line.

        “I'd say the same thing if I were her,” Davis said. “But they are 29-2. They're the fourth seed playing at home. We're the fifth seed.”

        Xavier and Clemson will play 1:05 p.m. today at Cintas Center for a Sweet 16 berth at Birmingham, Ala.

        The Musketeers, fueled by a 24-2 first-half run, defeated Louisville 80-52 Friday night. The Tigers edged underdog Tennessee-Chattanooga 51-49 when Nuria Forns made two free throws with .8 seconds left.

        XU expects a tougher game from traditional Atlantic Coast Conference power Clemson, and Davis said his team will have to play better to stay with Xavier.

        “They're a very different team than Louisville in that they're bigger, more athletic and very, very physical,” Balcomb said. “We have a lot to do (Saturday in practice) to prepare for a very strong ACC team.”

        Said Davis: “This is a monumental task for us. They are tremendous perimeter shooters. They have a point guard (Reetta Piipari) who can dish the ball. (Jennifer) Phillips is a versatile post player. The gal inside (Taru Tuukkanen) can score.”

        The 21-9 Tigers like to run but were forced into a halfcourt game by Chattanooga. The 6-foot-2 Forns led Clemson with 16 points Friday, and 6-4 center Erin Batth had 14 rebounds.

        Batth's job will be to stop the 6-3 Tuukkanen inside. The XU center had only seven points Friday.

        “Louisville had two or three people on me most of the time,” said Tuukkanen, who Saturday was named a finalist for Kodak All-America honors. “Our guards shot the 3s, so that's all we needed. If they hit their shots like they did (against Louisville), let them shoot.”

        Said Batth: “(Tuukkanen) can't touch the ball. We'll try to keep the ball out of the post.”

        Balcomb credited her team's defense and rebounding for its first-round win, but XU is clicking offensively, too. The Musketeers have scored 80 or more points in seven consecutive games and have won 33 straight when reaching the 80-point mark.

        Phillips, who's also 6-3, led Xavier with 20 points, and senior guard Nicole Lev andusky had 18 points.

        Defensively, Xavier will have to come out farther in its zone to contend with Clemson's outside shooters, particularly Forns.

        Xavier is no stranger to second-round NCAA Tournament games. Two years ago, XU lost by two at Connecticut.

        The Musketeers are not looking beyond Clemson, which, under Davis, has made 13 NCAA Tournament appearances since 1988.

        “This is a great team with a great program and a great history,” said Balcomb, who wasn't too proud to ask for as much fan support as she could get.

        Friday's crowd was 6,802, but that number was the result of four teams playing on one night.

        “Louisville had a great fan base,” she said. “The home court really feels good. There is a comfort level here you don't have if you're on the road or a neutral court. I think that could really help us in a closer game. I'm hoping it will be a big advantage.”

        Balcomb won't have to say much, if anything, to her players to get them ready for a game that could get them to the first Sweet 16 in Xavier women's history.

        “They don't need a lot of motivation right now. That's what's nice,” she said. “I think my team is very self-motivated, and to be honest, I haven't had to come in there with any Knute Rockne speeches. They are very businesslike.”

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