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A return to earth, Cape

Monday, March 20, 2006

When Southeast Missouri State's players awoke early Sunday morning, they were greeted by an overnight snowfall that pelted the Denver area with several inches of accumulation.

The local weather pretty much matched the Redhawks' ice-cold shooting performance during the program's first appearance at the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament.

Southeast, seeded 14th, did not fall all that short of setting early-round NCAA tournament records for offensive futility as third-seeded Stanford romped 72-45 Saturday night.

The Redhawks shot 21.1 percent from the field (12 of 57), which tied for the fifth-worst figure in first and second round NCAA tournament history. Long Island has the record, shooting 15.4 percent against Connecticut in 2001.

Southeast's 12 field goals tied for the third-fewest in first and second round NCAA tournament games. Three teams hold the mark of 10 field goals.

"Stanford played really well defensively. They really took us out of our rhythm," said Southeast coach B.J. Smith, whose squad also hit just three of 18 3-pointers (16.7 percent). "We just didn't make shots. That's probably a credit to Stanford defensively."

Smith said he thought the two-week layoff between games -- Southeast earned an automatic NCAA berth by winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title on March 4 -- adversely affected the Redhawks.

But Smith pointed out that Stanford had nearly as much of a layoff, having lost in the Pac-10 tournament final on March 6. The Cardinal shot 50 percent in the first half and finished at 42.9 percent (27 of 63).

"In all honesty, I thought two weeks off really hurt," Smith said. "We didn't execute very well. Our movement was not good.

"Maybe that's an excuse. They had almost as much time off as we did."

Smith and his players acknowledged that Stanford's tall front line, featuring 6-foot-3 Brooke Smith and 6-5 Kristen Newlin, along with other good-sized players, bothered Southeast (22-9) around the basket.

The Cardinal (24-7) dominated play inside, holding a 40-8 edge in points in the paint and outrebounding the Redhawks 52-35. Stanford blocked five shots.

Southeast, averaging 71.9 points per game, finished with its lowest point total of the season.

"They were really tall," said Southeast senior center Tatiana Conceicao, who scored 12 points but shot just one of 14 from the field. "They were blocking our shots. That was to their advantage tonight."

The Redhawks, who received 17 points and 13 rebounds from senior forward Natalie Purcell, never really challenged tradition-rich Stanford, which is participating in its 19th straight NCAA tournament and has won two national titles.

Southeast never led, and was tied just once, at 2-2. Stanford built a 15-4 advantage less than seven minutes in, as Southeast had just one field goal in the first 6 minutes 30 seconds.

Southeast trailed 20-15 before Stanford scored seven consecutive points. The Cardinal pretty much were in control the rest of the way.

Trailing 37-24 at the break, Southeast scored the first five points of the second half to make it 37-29, but Stanford responded with a 16-0 run that built its lead to 53-29.

Stanford's lead never dipped under 23 points and the Cardinal's biggest advantage was 29 points.

"We knew it was going to be physical. We knew they were going to crash the boards," Purcell said. "We kind of knew what to expect."

Stanford All-American sophomore guard Candice Wiggins lived up to her billing as one of the nation's top players. She scored 21 points in just 21 minutes to match her season average.

"She really hurt us on the dribble drive," Smith said. "The tough thing about her is she really doesn't have a weakness."

Despite not making a better showing, the Redhawks elected to accentuate the positive from their breakthrough campaign that resulted in a share of the program's first OVC regular-season championship and first OVC tournament title.

"I think we had a great season. I don't think we have to feel disappointed," Conceicao said.

Said guard Tiffanne Ryan, another of the Redhawks' six seniors who were so vital to their success, "We had a great season. As coach B.J. said, we made a thumbprint on the program.

"It's disappointing we didn't do better today, but it was a really good season."

Southeast wound up winning 16 of its final 18 games, after being 6-7 overall and 3-3 in OVC play at one point.

"It's been a great season for these kids," Smith said. "At one point when we were 3-3, a lot of people had written this team off. To get to the NCAA tournament is a great accomplishment."


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