Austin: Shootouts in the Heart of Texas

By Jean Neuberger - March 14, 2007

The brackets are set, and some of the more intriguing matchups of the tournament are taking place this weekend at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. It's win or go home for eight teams; four of which hope to head to Dayton, while the other four want to be California dreamin' in Fresno.

Before I even take one step further, let's pay tribute to Texas Coach Jody Conradt, a pioneer in women's athletics. She took over at Texas as a women's program was just finding its foundation, and leaves with 900 wins, a 34-0 season and a national title in 1986. There is no doubt that Conradt was a huge piece of Austin getting these first and second round games, and it was a pleasure to witness firsthand her 900th win, followed by her final game.

Well done, Jody. Well done.

Having said that, let's see what makes these first round matchups so intriguing....


(6) Xavier vs (11) West Virginia

Xavier looks to be one of the hottest teams, having won it's last 10 straight. However, the question remains as to just how tough the A-10 really is. Xavier dodged the GW bullet and won the A-10 Tournament thanks to upsets, but the Lady Musketeers are 0-2 against Top 25 teams, while West Virginia is 2-5, having played a much more difficult schedule. It should be a high scoring WVU loves shooting the three, and Xavier is 65-3 over the last five years when they score over 70 points.

The player to watch though is Amber Harris, Xavier's great 6-5 center, who broke the national freshman blocks record set by Oklahoma's Courtney Paris. She's going to be a defensive nightmare and a LOT of fun to watch.

(3) LSU vs. (14) UNC-Asheville

Ahhh the drama in Red Stick. Since the recent demise of Pokey Chatman, the critics have come out and questioned the focus of the Lady Tigers. However, given they've managed through Sue Gunter's tragic death and Hurricane Katrina, where refugees were gathering on their home court, something tells me that this is just another familiar bump in the road for LSU. And remember the Michigan men of '89 with Steve Fisher????

UNC-Asheville has depth, which is great, considering that Sylvia Fowles will wear them out in droves inside. What's intriguing though is UNC-Asheville's first real shot against a major program this year. Sure, they beat Wake Forest, but that's not one of the elite programs right now in women's basketball.


(6) Marquette vs (11) Louisiana-Lafayette

This could be a statement game for the Sun Belt, who finally got a second team into the Big Dance. Granted, UL-Lafayette will have their hands full with Marquette, who gave UConn all they could handle and had quite an impressive showing in the Big East. The one I'd like to watch is senior forward Efeuko Osagie-Landry, who has stepped up to be a dominating presence inside for Marquette this season. She's also married to Wisconsin's Marcus Landry (whose older brother plays for Purdue, and younger sister plays for Temple...4 Landrys in March Madness!!!).

I really like Lafayette's chances though. For one, the Sun Belt is a VERY underrated conference in women's basketball (check out Middle Tennessee this year and Western Kentucky in the WNIT). Secondly, when teams win because of hot shooting, they're shaky in March. ULL wins with defense though. They average 7.9 steals a game, 3.6 blocks per game, and hold a +9.8 margin in rebounding per game. That's the mark of a serious darkhorse.

(3) Oklahoma vs. (14) SE Missouri State

Sherri Coale and her Sooners were expecting a #2 seed, so being sent to Austin will only fuel Oklahoma even more. This is one dangerous, determined ballclub that thrives under pressure. As Leah Rush put it after the Big 12 Tournament Championship "It's win or go home, and we love to play, so we plan on staying".

Courtney Paris might meet her biggest challenge yet though in SEMO's Lachelle Lyles. Lyles, a 6-2 center, leads the nation in rebounds (Paris is #2), and is not going to back down from anyone on the boards. With that in mind, keep an eye not only on how Lyles can contain Paris, but also on if and how Coale changes her attack. If she does, expect Rush and Jenna Plumley to expand their roles in the OU attack.

Also, don't question SEMO's resilience. LSU isn't the only one in Austin with an acting coach. BJ Smith resigned before the season started, as knowledge of violations in the RedHawk program grew. John Ishee should have the 'interim' peeled off his label, as winning the Ohio Valley title was quite the accomplishment for his first year on the job.

We'll have eight teams playing with all they have here in should be some great basketball deep in the heart of Texas.

Posted by Jean Neuberger at 01:01 PM on March 14, 2007

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