Only Southeast assistant coach Pace has NCAA tournament experience

Saturday, March 18, 2006

DENVER -- No current Southeast Missouri State player has ever participated in an NCAA tournament game. Ditto for head coach B.J. Smith.

But that doesn't mean the 14th-seeded Redhawks (22-8) are totally devoid of NCAA playoff experience entering tonight's first-round game against third-seeded Stanford (23-7).

Assistant coach Lisa Pace, in her sixth season at Southeast, played in the 1997 NCAA tournament for Eastern Kentucky, which like Southeast competes in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Pace said she has talked to the Redhawks about the entire NCAA experience.

"The big thing I told them is to cherish it from the moment they got here," Pace said. "This is a memory you'll have the rest of your life, something you'll tell your kids and grandkids about. I told them to live in the moment."

While Pace said she thoroughly enjoyed her NCAA tournament participation as a player, the outcome of the game was not very pleasant. Host Georgia mauled Eastern Kentucky 91-55.

"That wasn't a lot of fun, but everything else was," she said. "We came in scared to death, and they had a real good team."

Pace actually regrets that she only played in the NCAA tournament once. She was part of three OVC regular-season championship teams at Eastern Kentucky, but the only time the Colonels even reached the OVC tournament final during her career was in 1996-97, when she was a junior.

"My senior year, we had exactly the same team as the year before," she said. "We knew we were good, and that probably hurt us. We didn't have that fire."

Smith is simply pleased that Pace is at Southeast, where she serves as recruiting coordinator. Pace is the lone holdover from previous head coach Ed Arnzen's staff after he retired following the 2001-02 season.

"She's been such a big part of the success we've had," said Smith, who has led the Redhawks to the OVC's best record -- overall and in conference play -- since he took over the program four years ago.

Other matchups

The winner of tonight's game will play either sixth-seeded Florida State or 11th-seeded Louisiana Tech on Monday at a time to be determined.

Florida State (19-9) and Louisiana Tech (26-4) square off at 7 tonight, with the Southeast-Stanford contest to follow.

Today's other two games at the Pepsi Center as part of the San Antonio Regional, comprising the early session, will pit second-seeded Oklahoma (29-4) against No. 15 Pepperdine (14-16) and No. 7 Brigham Young (25-5) against No. 10 Iowa (17-11).

Oklahoma features the nation's premier freshman -- and one of the nation's top players period -- in 6-foot-4 center Courtney Paris, who averages 21.4 points and 15.1 rebounds per game. She has already set eight Big 12 Conference records and two NCAA marks this season.

Paris and her twin sister Ashley, a 6-3 backup center who also plays for the Sooners, are daughters of former NFL offensive lineman Bubba Paris.

Monday's two winners advance to the regional semifinals next weekend in San Antonio.

National exposure

For the first time in the program's history, Southeast will appear on live national television as ESPN2 will broadcast tonight's game.

Pam Ward will handle the play-by-play, with Nancy Lieberman doing color and Heather Cox serving as sideline reporter.

"Being on national television is just great exposure for our program and our university," Smith said.

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