Cavaliers Hosting First Round for 11th Straight Year
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) _ Virginia has opened postseason play at home for 11 straight years, and this season the Cavaliers are playing host to the first four rounds. But that’s not why this year is different.
This chance is the last one for seniors Wendy Palmer, Jenny Boucek and Jeffra Gausepohl to bring the Cavaliers (23-6) a national title, and Palmer wants her younger teammates to appreciate that.
``I’ve said it in practice for the last 12, 13 days,″ the two-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year said Thursday on the eve of Virginia’s opening game against Manhattan. ``This is my last go-round, and there is no way I’m going to accept defeat because we’re not working hard enough.″
Palmer, a second-team All-American in a season spent with searing pain in both knees, has been hit hard by a few losses this season. A 63-59 loss to Clemson at University Hall on Jan. 2 was especially crushing. It ended a 61-game home winning streak, and was Palmer’s first career home loss.
That game, and two more losses to the Lady Tigers _ at Clemson and in the ACC tournament _ left Virginia with two weeks to prepare for the NCAAs, and gave Palmer more time to talk to her teammates about being ready.
``If we work hard and we lose, there’s nothing else you can do,″ said Palmer. ``You walk away with your head held high. But if you walk away thinking about what you could have done, you obviously didn’t do enough.″
Manhattan (19-10) is making only its third NCAA trip. The Lady Jaspers are led by center Gina Somma, the nation’s No. 3 scorer at 25.8 ppg, and guard Wanda Camps, who averaged 20.8 and 6.5 assists in her last four.
Somma, a senior center, also averages 9.2 rebounds. She said a schedule that included highly rated Vanderbilt and Duke will serve the Lady Jaspers well when faced with a hostile, partisan crowd in University Hall on Friday.
``If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we’re pretty confident this won’t be the blowout everyone seems to be assuming,″ she said.
Camps averaged 8.2 points during the regular season, then blossomed with averages of 23.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists in leading the Lady Jaspers to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title.
``If this is going to be our last game and we’re going to lose, then we’re going to die losing,″ she said.
The first game features Maine (27-4), led by national scoring leader Cindy Blodgett (27.9 ppg) and inside force Stacey Porrini (10.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game), against George Washington (25-6), paced by junior Tajama Abraham (19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.6 blocks per game).
The Black Bears have won 19 straight, the Colonials 19 of 20.
``We have to try no to get caught up in who we’re playing and just do the things we’ve done all year,″ said George Washington coach Joe McKeown.
Blodgett, who chose Maine over several top-notch programs that recruited her, said this year is already easier than 1995, when the Black Bears lost 105-75 to eventual unbeaten national champion Connecticut in Storrs, Conn.
``We didn’t have any experience to compare this to,″ she said. ``But this is still new to us, and there’s still so much that we haven’t done.″