WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Draw doesn’t phase Lady Tops’ coach

J. Michael Moore

For over four months the Lady Toppers had worked against stress.

With 14-straight victories and Sun Belt Conference regular season and tournament crowns, Western had done its part.

There was nothing to worry about — the Lady Toppers had a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

But Western’s palms were sweaty.

Their knees were weak.

And their arms were heavy.

Luckily, less than five minutes into the NCAA selection show Sunday, they breathed a sigh of relief.

Western will be a 13-seed in the field of 64, playing Rutgers in the Midwest Region Saturday in Athens, Ga.

The game will tipoff at 10:18 a.m. and be shown on ESPN2.

The seed and first round venue don’t matter to the Lady Toppers.

“I don’t know what kind of draw you could get that wouldn’t give you a great team to play,” Cowles said. “We’re in the Big Dance. If you want to advance, you have to beat some great opponents.”

Cowles said she thinks her team is better than a 13-seed.

But she isn’t picky.

And she isn’t putting so much emphasis on the game that it ruins the excitement of March Madness.

“I don’

t know how to describe the feeling,” senior forward Shala Reese said. “When they finally unveiled us … we were just glad we were in the first half of the show.”

The No. 23 Scarlet Knights (20-7, 13-3) were second only to Connecticut in the Big East Conference this season.

They lost 77-74 to Miami in the Big East Tournament last week.

But Rutgers’ four conference defeats came by a total of only 11 points.

Rutgers beat Big East Conference champion Villanova twice and is one of seven Big East teams that made it into the field of 64.

Connecticut, Miami, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Villanova and Boston College will all be dancing this weekend.

It will be a welcome return to the postseason for the Scarlet Knights, who went 10-20 last season.

According to coach C. Vivian Stringer, the team built off the failure.

“It forced this team to focus through the summer and commit themselves to not having the year that they had last year,” she said.

Stringer is mulling over Western’s scoring threats and the possible defensive match-up between Rutgers sophomore point guard Cappie Pondexter and Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Tiffany Porter-Talbert.

Porter-Talbert and Pondexter could be the game’s key match-up.

Western has had light workouts over the last week while waiting on an opponent and the chance to continue proving the critics wrong.

“Nobody seemed to have confidence in our team at the beginning of the year,” Porter-Talbert said. “We proved everybody wrong.

“This is not the end,” she said. “This is only the first round … It’s going to be a battle.”

Reach J. Michael Moore at [email protected]