Stephen F. Austin, San Francisco Are Women’s Tourney Cinderellas
By all rights, Stephen F. Austin and San Francisco should be out of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament by now. That’s what the seedings would have you think, anyway.
Evidently, the two teams thought differently.
Here it is the round of 16, the regional semifinals, and 11th-seeded Stephen F. Austin and 12th-seeded San Francisco are still playing. They’ve defied conventional wisdom so far, and they’re about to get a chance to do it again.
Stephen F. Austin (27-3) is playing in the Midwest Regional on its own floor in Nacogdoches, Texas, on Saturday. Tempering the excitement is the opponent: fifth-ranked Georgia (25-4), which once was ranked No. 1 and features All-American point guard Saudia Roundtree plus a host of other talented players.
``A guy from Atlanta called me and said (Georgia coach) Andy Landers told him that when he looks at our team, he sees a reflection of his,″ Stephen F. Austin coach Royce Chadwick said. ``I said to the guy that when I look at his team, I see the Houston Rockets.″
San Francisco (24-7), one and done in its first NCAA appearance last year, also has a tough draw. The Lady Dons meet second-ranked Connecticut (32-3), the defending national champion, in Rosemont, Ill., outside Chicago. But they’re going in with confidence.
``I believe we can do it,″ guard Jamie Shadian said. ``We can go in there and beat UConn. That’s why it’s called March Madness. Anything can happen.″
The other regional semifinals also are Saturday. In the East at Charlottesville, Va., Tennessee (28-4) meets Kansas (22-9) and Virginia (25-6) takes on Old Dominion (29-2). Iowa (27-3) plays Vanderbilt (22-7) in the other Mideast game, and Louisiana Tech (30-1) faces Texas Tech (27-4) in the Midwest.
In the West, it’s Stanford (27-2) against Alabama (24-7) and Penn State (27-6) against Auburn (22-8).
Stephen F. Austin got home by way of Clemson, S.C. The Ladyjacks upset sixth-seeded Oregon State in the first round, then beat third-seeded Clemson 93-88 in overtime, rallying to tie the score on Katrina Price’s 3-pointer after trailing by four with 49 seconds left in regulation.
``Against Clemson, we kept the crowd out of it until the second half,″ Chadwick said. ``Then, when the crowd starting buzzing and Clemson went ahead of us, the girls did a great job, especially the seniors, of keeping their focus and composure and being able to execute down the stretch.
``Basically, we executed and we hit the shots. Clemson executed and they didn’t hit the shots. Lucky us. We get Georgia.″
It’s lucky compared to the alternative, which would be watching from the stands. With that in mind, Chadwick figures his team will show up.
``We certainly will,″ he said. ``There’s a lot of people who bought tickets who at least expect us to warm up.″
San Francisco also won in a hostile setting to reach this point, pulling out a 64-60 victory at fourth-seeded Duke. That followed a 68-61 victory over fifth-seeded Florida.
The Lady Dons rely on center Valerie Gillon, a 6-foot-3 senior who averages 16.4 points and 8.9 rebounds, and a defense that has held opponents to an average of 52 points in the 24 victories.
But they’ve yet to face anyone this season like Connecticut, which has first-team All-Americans in 6-7 Kara Wolters and guard Jennifer Rizzotti and Final Four veterans Jamelle Elliott, Nykesha Sales and Carla Berube.
``It will start with our team defense. We’re doing a great job on the defensive end,″ said Mary Hile-Nepfel, who shares the San Francisco coaching job with her husband, Bill. ``Somebody will have to step up on offense.″
Georgia, Tennessee and Stanford also are seeking repeat trips to the Final Four. Freshman Chamique Holdsclaw has helped keep Tennessee rolling after the Lady Vols lost All-Americans Nikki McCray and Dana Johnson. And guard Latina Davis, known mostly for her defense, has turned into a scorer in NCAA play.
Davis scored 18 points in a 97-56 first-round rout of Radford and followed that with 25 points in a 97-65 victory over Ohio State.
``My primary focus was defense,″ Davis said. ``You can get sidetracked like that. I never thought I couldn’t (score). I never thought to do it.″