Wednesday, March 21, 2001

XU not satisfied with moral victory

Musketeers looking for real thing against Tennessee

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nicole Levandusky and Reeta Piipari
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        Xavier's five senior women's basketball players have won 97 games. But one of their biggest victories remains a moral one.

        The Musketeers, who have reached their first Sweet 16, remain immortalized nationally by their valiant near-miss at Connecticut in a second-round 1999 NCAA Tournament game.

        “We're tired of hearing about it,” senior guard Jennifer Parr said. “We are past that.”

        Said senior forward Jennifer Phillips: “It's good to be recognized, but it was recognized for losing to them. So it would be nice to be known for beating someone.”

        That chance comes Saturday. The perception of the Musketeers would be rewritten should they upset six-time national champion Tennessee in a Mideast Regional semifinal game in Birmingham, Ala.

        “The kids couldn't be more confident,” Xavier coach Melanie Balcomb said. “They wanted a shot at a big school again.

        “It couldn't be a better time, and it couldn't be a better group to take there. There's no way they're going into this game (thinking), Oh gosh, why do they have to run into Tennessee?”

        In fact, XU (30-2) wanted the top-seeded Lady Vols (31-2).

        “Since we knew they were in our bracket, we've wanted to play them,” senior guard Nicole Levandusky said.

        “If we win, I think it could change our national recognition. A lot of people look at us as, "Yeah, they can dominate the (Atlantic 10), but they still can't compete with the big teams.'”

        When these seniors were freshman, they might have agreed. Said Phillips: “We used to joke about playing Tennessee, saying, "They would kill us.'”

        But their sophomore year, they won 24 games and se cured a No.8 seed in the NCAAs. In the second round at top-seeded UConn, they led by 10 points with 4:50 left before the Huskies won 86-84 on two free throws with seven seconds left.

        “That was the turning point,” Phillips said. “We realized, "We really can compete with these national powerhouses.' We have the players and the facilities now to compete on a national level consistently.”

        XU is 56-7 since the UConn game. Three starters from that game are still in the Musketeers' lineup.

        Said Balcomb of her players: “If they think about the fact they weren't half the team they are now, and that they were on the other team's home court that day (but will be on a neutral court Saturday), it's got to be an experience that helps them.”

        XU's players insist they're chasing a Final Four, and the only thing that makes this different is the opponent.

        “It's not the focus on the (Tennessee) name,” Levandusky said. “It's, "We're in the Sweet 16. We have a job to do.'”

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