Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Tired legs lead to tough loss

        BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In the end, their shots were short. Xavier's women's basketball team finished its run at the Final Four with an uncharacteristic flurry of futility.

        They started clanging 3-point attempts off the front of the rim, and then they started missing the basket altogether. The Musketeers' 21-game winning streak, their remarkable NCAA Tournament run and their splendid season ended as the spring disappeared from their jump shots.

Jennifer Phillips, Nicole Levandusky and Shavon Bell feel the Final Four slipping away.
(AP photos)
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        Melanie Balcomb's team had lived and died — and mostly thrived — on the strength of its outside shooting this season. But Monday night, they had to work harder for open looks, and their shots down the stretch were dismal. They opened the Mideast Regional championship game as the nation's second-best shooters and ended it a distant second to Purdue, 88-78.

        “I wouldn't say we hit a wall,” said senior forward Nicole Levandusky. “At that point in time, that's the way it kind of fell. Nobody was complaining that they were tired or anything. We were talking about things we had to prepare for.”

        Despite missing 18 of their first 27 shots from the field, the Musketeers were ahead by as many as 12 points in the first half. They were still leading at the seven-minute mark, 63-62, thanks to Levandusky's 3-point shot. But they would make only one shot from the field over the next six minutes, and their slender lead dissolved into a 12-point deficit.

Amy Waugh dives for a ball. | ZOOM |
"Took us out of our game'

        First Amy Waugh missed a 3-pointer off the front of the rim, then Levandusky fired up an airball, then Waugh missed another 3-point attempt, then Waugh was replaced by Jennifer Parr. Purdue, meanwhile, was off on a decisive 12-3 run.

        If fatigue was no factor down the stretch, as Balcomb claimed, it sure didn't look that way on the scoreboard.

Kate Kreager
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        “We were taking a lot of perimeter shots,” Balcomb said. “We were not executing our offense. Purdue had a great game plan. They did things defensively that no one had done all year against us.”

        Purdue coach Kristy Curry noticed that Xavier's opponents normally neglected to apply pressure to its point guards. So she instructed her players to pick up Reeta Piipari and Waugh in the backcourt, and to contest their every dribble.

        “We tried to show them some different looks and it was successful,” Curry said. “Thank goodness.”

        Getting the ball across mid-court became such a chore that Piipari and Waugh may have grown weary from the exertion. In any case, they were of little use in the offensive end: Piipari 1-for-8 from the field, Waugh 2-for-10.

Kate Kreager
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        “They took us out of our game,” Waugh said. “We didn't get the ball into the post as much as we needed to. That really hurt us. We got away from from what we wanted to do ... We didn't attack as much as we should have. We held back.”

        At the end, there was no holding back. As the Purdue fans started chanting, “Final Four,” the players on Xavier's bench sought vainly to stifle tears. Purdue's Camille Cooper performed a handspring at the final buzzer. Xavier's Parr pulled her jersey up over her face to shield her emotions.

        That's how things work this time of year, when each game carries such ferocious finality. The Musketeers are 31-3, and finished.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.


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