Hokie Women Shoot for Second Sweet 16
by Jeff Ouellet, 3/24/03

Itís that time of year again. Last Thursday around lunchtime, a mysterious 24 hour flu bug struck basketball fans around the country, forcing them to take a little time off. The victims of this illness spent most of the next four days on their couch with activities limited to eating, drinking, yelling at the television and doing basic math (I think? I win my pool if Butler-Arizona is the final game). The first weekend of the NCAA tournament is always incredibly exciting, as Cinderallas emerge, tried and true programs struggle to survive and advance, and young student-athletes strive to have one shining moment.

What many hoop junkies tend to overlook is that the NCAA tournament doesnít take a break starting Sunday night. On Monday and Tuesday, the tournament continues with the womenís participants playing their second round games. If you really are a basketball fan, as many profess to be this time of year, you owe it to yourself to check in on these games as well. While the women arenít going to be dunking consistently and do not regularly make some of the athletic plays that you see in the menís game, the top womenís teams do play a brand of basketball that is "purer" in terms of strategy, execution and skill level. For the basketball purist, the womenís game harkens back to an era where the ultimate motivation was team, rather than individual, success.

Even if the womenís tournament isnít really for you, you should watch ESPN2 Monday night at 7:00 p.m. as the seventh-seeded Hokie women play their second round game against the second-seeded Purdue Boilermakers (assuming the game is shown in your area Ė ESPN will be televising tournament games regionally). For those of you that havenít closely followed VT, the team is exceptionally well coached and disciplined. Bonnie Henrickson Ė the "second best coach in the Big East", according to Sir Geno (Auriemma of UConn) Ė does a fantastic job of giving her players the best opportunity to win. The Hokies play hard, they play smart, and they do not beat themselves mentally.

Even more exciting for VT fans is the fact that only two seniors are on this squad, so the Hokies should be even better next year. In fact, with 6-4 first team All Big East forward Ieva Kublina heading the returning cast that includes, among others, 6-2 sophomore center Erin Gibson and a stellar freshmen class including 5-7 guard Carrie Mason, 6-1 forward Kerri Gardin and 6-1 guard Dawn Chriss, the Hokies may end up being the best team in the Big East next year not named Connecticut. Jump on the bandwagon now because the program is clearly on the rise.

With that being said, upsetting Purdue will be difficult. A two-seven game in the womenís NCAA is a little different from the menís bracket where in some cases an "upset" can be expected. Overall, the talent pool, primarily because of better developed AAU programs, is deeper in the menís game, enabling more programs to sign top talent. Also, the increased womenís scholarship numbers (15 versus 13) enables Tennessee, Duke and UConn to keep two more high school All-Americans away from the programs further down the pecking order. Finally, the WNBA doesnít pull the best talent out of the womenís game early, thereby enabling the teams at the very top to have retention levels that permit continued success. The male equivalents of the two best juniors in the womenís game, Dukeís Alana Beard and UConnís Diana Taurasi, are already playing for pay.

As for Purdue specifically, the Boilermakers finished tenth in both polls. Purdue is led by 5-10 junior All-American forward Shereka Wright, 6-5 senior center Mary Jo Noon, and 5-6 junior guard Erika Valek. Purdue plays an aggressive pressure defense which might pose problems for VT, as the Hokies have struggled with turnovers at times this year. Purdue is also 15-0 this year at home, so beating the Boilermakers at Mackey Arena, their home floor where this game will be played, is no easy task. Purdue dispatched its only two Big East foes this year, Boston College and Notre Dame, with relative ease.

However, this VT team has overachieved this year, so I wouldnít count them out. Coach Henrickson will have them well prepared, and if the Hokies can avoid turnovers and take care of the defensive backboards, they should be able to keep things close. And, just maybe for Hokie sports fans starving for basketball success, the VT womenís team can keep March Madness going a little longer. Regardless, I know that tonight should be a Big Monday for Hokie fans everywhere.

          

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